Somewhere around 1994 or 95, I got a copy of the history of Voorhees. I lost my copy, but a few years later, the new township website put a slightly updated version up. When I went back a few years after that, it was gone.
I was looking for something on my computer today, and I stumbled across that history (which I must have copied and pasted into a document many computers ago, and have just been transferring that file for years).
If anyone has pictures, information, or memories about Voorhees and is willing to let me borrow them, I’d be happy to add them to the post to help expand and illustrate it. Credit will be given to anyone sharing.
History of Voorhees
Compiled by Geri Egizi Borbe
Voorhees Township Schools
Public Information Officer
Information for this historic review came from numerous resources. Their contributions were invaluable. To them we send our deepest appreciation:
Joseph Augustyn, 1998 Master Plan.
Peggy Barger, Voorhees Playground.
Dennis Burt, Eastern H.S. Social Studies teacher, Research on 1900 census and Alonzo Small.
John Geaney, Township History.
William Mariner, Kresson.
John Maurer, Voorhees Parks and Recreation.
Mae Onishchuk, Fifth Grade Gifted and Talented Program, teacher, Kresson III School (Route 73), A History of Voorhees, 1983.
Ed Simpson, Retired Voorhees Police Department, Voorhees Lake Resorts and Early Police Department.
Ruth Tavani and Mary Barczak, Voorhees Women’s Club, Voorhees History Research 1976.
Voorhees Women’s Club, 1976 Feats of Yore and Eats Galore (Township History).
Lieutenant Mark Wilson, Voorhees Police Department.
Countless residents who confirmed dates, offered background information, related stories and gave leads.
11.6 square miles
Voorhees Township was named in honor of Foster McGowan Voorhees, the governor of New Jersey who granted the petition for Voorhees to become a separate township on March 3, 1899. “Voor” is a Dutch prefix for “in front of.” “Hees” was a village near Ruinen, Drenthe, Holland.
Governor Foster McGowan Voorhees gave permission for Voorhees to become a township separate from Waterford Township on March 3, 1899. This does not give a textbook account of the past, with lists of dates and names. Numerous good and notable people contributed to making Voorhees one of the most sought after addresses in Southern New Jersey, but space prevents naming them all. Instead, this is the story of the past and present, with turning points, milestones, achievements, growing pains and trends.
While it will satisfy the curiosity of some readers, it might serve others as a launching pad for further reading and study. More detailed accounts of the history, including resident interviews can be found at the Eastern Regional High School District’s Social Studies Department, the Voorhees Public Schools Information Office and the Voorhees Township Historical Society.
The First Residents – The Lenni-Lenape
The Lenni-Lenape Nation of the Algonquian People migrated to New Jersey from the “North Country,” crossing the Mississippi River. While the exact date of their arrival is unclear, it is known that humans inhabited New Jersey 10,000 years ago. The Lenni-Lenape Nation was known by the Algonquian tribes as the “Original People,” “Grandfather,” or “Men of Men.”
While only about 2000 Lenni-Lenape lived in this area, many neighboring tribes came to New Jersey to hunt, fish and cultivate the rich soil. Although basically nomadic, they raised crops of corn, pumpkin and beans. In warmer weather they walked to the Atlantic Ocean. There they often lived for the summer months, enjoying cool sea breezes, collecting shells, smoking fish for the winter, and eating crabs, oysters and clams. One path they made to the seacoast was so worn that it eventually became a stage coach route, known as Long-A-Coming Road. Today it is known in Voorhees as Route 561, or Haddonfield-Berlin Road.
In the early 1600s the Nanticoke People from southeastern Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland migrated north and united with the Lenni-Lenape already living in New Jersey.
Between the areas of town still known as Ashland and Kirkwood, once lived a small Osage tribe. These people were actually part of the Sioux of the Midwest. An area of town and train station were named after them, as is the Osage School on Somerdale Road.
The Lenni-Lenape enjoyed living in what became known as Voorhees. They loved the forest for its plant foods and hunting grounds. They fished the many lakes in their bark canoes and log dugouts. Well into the 20th century residents in the Kresson area found arrowheads on their properties.
When Cornelius Mey explored the Delaware River and claimed it for Holland in 1623, New Jersey was a woodland wonderland. Early European settlers wrote about its amazing beauty and bounty. The soil was rich and the woodlands teemed with birds, some the Europeans had never seen. Rivers ran with perch, catfish, and carp. There were panthers, wolves, deer, beaver, and minks, as well as a “strange creature called the possum.”
Berries grew wildly, as did fruit and nut trees, and roots and herbs used as medicine.
In the early 1600s Swedes settled in the Delaware Valley, and for many years they fought with the Dutch over control of New Jersey. The Dutch took control in 1655. By 1664 England conquered the territory, and New Jersey was established as a British colony.
Since early European settlers entered the area through the rivers, early settlements grew along the waterways during the 1600s. By 1695 what is now Voorhees was part of Waterford Woodlynne in the County of Gloucester.
Mills and Farms in the 1700s
As development of land along the Delaware River pushed clusters of homes and fingers of roads ever east into New Jersey, the forests, streams and lakes in Voorhees attracted both the wealthy and working class. Wealthy families bought thousands of acres of land in what became Voorhees. They built homes, sawmills and farms, attracting workers to the area.
The family of Timothy Matlack, Jr., penman of the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War hero, purchased 1000 acres in 1701 in the Glendale section of Voorhees. He built a house and a sawmill on Coopers Creek, between Kirkwood and Gibbsboro.
Wood from the surrounding forest became lumber to build homes in neighboring towns. Borton Sawmill stood on Route 73.
As farms replaced forests, an agrarian culture took root. Sawmills became flour (grist) mills.
The 1800s – A Giant Step
In 1844 the County of Camden was created. This included Waterford Township, of which Voorhees was a part. Prior to that year the area that became Camden County was part of Gloucester County.
Many Quakers from Burlington County settled in Voorhees. They were known for being industrious and well educated. As abolitionists they led the fight against slavery.
Small Communities Form
From the beginning, transportation patterns drove development. The Voorhees area of the early 1800s was a sparsely populated farming community. With roads little more than sand paths, small neighborhood communities grew first along major roads traveled by horse and carriage – Milford Road (Route 73) and Long-A-Coming Road (Route 561).
Stagecoaches carried passengers along these roads between Philadelphia and the seashore. Farmers transported their produce and livestock to market along them, as well.
With the arrival of the railroad, more communities grew around the three stations of Ashland, Osage and Kirkwood. A general store which also served as post office and gathering spot could be found near each train stop.
Over the years six “neighborhood” communities took root; Ashland, Glendale, Kirkwood, Kresson, Osage and Gibbsboro. Residents held strong loyalties to these sections of town, rather than to the town itself. One result of this divisive attitude was Gibbsboro’s secession from Voorhees in 1924.
Located on Long-A-Coming Road (later known as Berlin Road and Route 561), Glendale was one of the first sections to be settled. Stagecoaches and farmers going to market passed through. Travelers frequented a general store on the northwest corner of Long-A-Coming and White Horse roads. The Cross-Keys Tavern, another popular gathering spot, was on Long-A-Coming Road, between Glendale and Gibbsboro.
Today the Stafford Farm on the corner of White Horse Road and Evesham Avenue in the Glendale section is a cherished landmark. Its pastoral landscape of grazing horses and cattle offers a welcome respite to harried drivers in traffic passing by. Still farmed in 1999, as it has been for over 150 years, the 100 acre Stafford farm was originally settled by the son of John Stafford, who first settled on neighboring Short Hills Farm in Cherry Hill in 1773. John Stafford served in the Revolutionary War as George Washington’s personal guard. The Stafford Farm has been worked and owned by its original family longer than any other property in Voorhees.
Founded in 1855, Glendale Methodist Church was first known as Glendale Methodist Episcopal Church. The Quaker Alexander Cooper donated the land and stone for the church. One story passed down suggests that Cooper, who was opposed to alcohol, gave the land in direct response to the building of a tavern just south of the site of the proposed church. Over the years Glendale Church has served as a school and community center, as well as a house of worship. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior.
Between 1873 and 1888 it is said that the poet, Walt Whitman often visited Glendale from his home in Camden.
Kresson (formerly Milford)
The name “Kresson” was given to the area along Milford Road (later named Route 73) around 1907. It was named for George Kress who ran the local general store. Before the 1900s it was known as Pendleton, Milford and Dutchtown. Settled in 1867 by Bavarians, it was a German community, which accounts for the name of “Old Dutchtown Road.” The general store served as a center for neighbors to buy necessities such as food and clothing, a place to bring and pick up mail, and a social opportunity to chat with friends. In 1990 a Commerce Bank branch was built on the site of the original store at Route 73 and Kresson Road.
Around 1823 a saw mill operated in the vicinity of the current Kresson Golf Course. The sawmill became a flour mill, used as recently as 1916.
In 1846 Kresson’s natural sandy soil attracted glassmakers who purchased land and formed the Milford Glassworks. Bound by Route 73, Braddocks Mill Road and Dutchtown Road, it consisted of a glassworks factory, five workers’ houses and a general store. Items produced included druggists bottles, goblets and green beer bottles. The glassworks closed around 1863 due to financial problems.
Kresson had an African-American population dating back to 1800. Artifacts found in the Kresson area indicate the presence of Native Americans prior to the first African-American settlement. The Barney home at the corner of Cooper and Kresson-Gibbsboro roads dates back over 100 years. Clarence Jackson, father of baseball great Reggie Jackson, was raised in Kresson.
Cedar Lake and Sunshine Lake in Kresson were once productive cranberry bogs. Lions Lake began as a pond but was enlarged in 1949. All of these lakes have been used as summer swimming and picnic resorts.
The German community that settled in the Kresson section attended a German Lutheran Church on Dutchtown Road. As with other churches in the area, prior to the public schools, the church was used for community gatherings and as a one room school. It was later destroyed by fire.
The section of Voorhees known as “Ashland” took its name from Henry Clay’s Kentucky estate. Ashland first bustled as a stage coach stop. In the 1880s it became a station on the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. The train stop at Burnt Mill and Evesham roads, along with a general store/post office was the center of life for the farm community surrounding it.
Later the train with its route from Camden to the shore encouraged laborers in those areas to settle in Ashland. Many natives rode the train from Ashland to Camden to work at the Victor Talking Machine Company or the Campbell Soup Company.
Ashland Presbyterian Church was dedicated on the corner of Alpha Avenue and Evesham Road on April 16, 1908. The present church on the corner of Evesham Avenue and Greenridge Road was dedicated in 1957.
The Osage area stands between Ashland and Kirkwood, along Somerdale Road. Osage was named after a small group of Indians of the Sioux tribe from the Midwestern U.S. that settled in the area.
The Kirkwood area was first known as White Horse, then Marl City and finally Kirkwood. On an 1850 map, the White Horse Tavern, located on what is now White Horse Pike in Lindenwold, was a post office for the local residents. In 1854 the railroad was laid and the “station” or stop was called White Horse. This later became the final stop on the PATCO High Speed Line to Philadelphia.
In 1879 the Kirkwood Marl and Fertilizing Company worked marl beds near Kirkwood. The name of the railroad station was changed to Marl City, probably due to the influence of John Lucas, president of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad as well as the Marl Co. It eventually changed to Kirkwood to honor Joel Kirkbride, who donated land on which to build a passenger and freight station at the original stop site.
The Kirkwood Icehouse played a prominent role in the area’s economy well into the twentieth century. In wintertime residents watched as large ice cubes cut from Kirkwood Lake were hoisted into the icehouse for storage until train delivery to Philadelphia and Atlantic City. A side-rail from the Kirkwood station brought trains to the Icehouse along Kirkwood Lake.
Gibbsboro- Part of Voorhees Until 1924
Gibbsboro was originally part of Voorhees. In the early 1800s, stage coaches moving south from Haddonfield traveled through Glendale and Gibbsboro as they headed for the Long-A-Coming Tavern in Berlin. By 1852 the Lucas Paint Company opened in the Ford gristmill beside Long-A-Coming Road (Route 561). In 1924 paint factory owners led and won a move for the Gibbsboro section of Voorhees to become a separate town.
The Railroad Arrives in 1854
The arrival of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad in 1854 in the west side of Voorhees made a lasting impact on Voorhees history. Linking Philadelphia to the seashore, it carried visitors and workers to and from Voorhees. The train brought to market produce and cattle from Voorhees farms. It carried visitors and newspapers with world and national news to our once remote farm community.
Philadelphia became a frequent and popular destination for visiting and selling, since the train stopped at the ferry from Camden to Philadelphia. Steam-powered ferry boats were important to the people of Voorhees who often moved their farm products west across the Delaware River to Philadelphia.
But the railroad shaped the town in a more directly when it bought 60 acres of land along Kirkwood Lake, adjacent to its Kirkwood Station. By building picnic areas and summer cottages along the lake, the railroad created a recreation destination, boosting travelers on its lines.
Formed as a result of a 1933 rail merger, the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Line stopped at three stations in Voorhees; Ashland, Osage and Kirkwood. These stood on the right-of-way that is now the PATCO high speed line. Towards the end of the rail lines’ life some of the stations were no more than large three-sided wooden shelters, open to the tracks as the train pulled in.
The Ashland station stood on the spot of today’s PATCO Ashland station. Clustered around the station were the original Ashland Fire House, the Ashland Thriftway Market, the Post Office, barbershop, the Ashland Delicatessen, the Ashland Presbyterian Church, the Ashland Lumber & Millworks and the Chas. A. Ober Coal & Fuel Oil Co., as well as dozens of homes. In order to build the speed line station and its parking lots, vast parcels of property were purchased and all of these buildings razed. To secure the electrified PATCO rails, a six-foot barbed wire fence enclosed the tracks and bisected the tight knit Ashland community.
The Osage station stood on Somerdale Road, east of the Ashland and west of the Kirkwood stations.
The Kirkwood station was next to White Horse Road just east of the present day bridge. In its heyday it was one of the largest and busiest stations in the area. There were several side railways that switched from the main line to area businesses including the Kirkwood Icehouse. Vacationers passed through the station headed for the cottages surrounding Kirkwood Lake.
A Mill Town
The importance of mills to the area’s economy grew during the 1800s. Early settlers lived near streams, lakes and creeks before roads were built. Sawmills and gristmills were constructed on the banks of these waterways. Most land was forest with a scattering of houses. Lumber dominated the area’s economy in the early 1800s. The mill was the center of commerce, and a place for lumber men and farmers to gather socially and exchange news.
But these mills supplied other products besides local lumber. They made charcoal for the Philadelphia market, cedar rails for all parts of the country, and poles for the sugar and molasses trade in the West Indies.
As farming became more important and farms more numerous, lumber mills were converted into gristmills (flour mills).
- Matlacks or Hillards Sawmill on Coopers Creek between Kirkwood and Gibbsboro was one of the earliest, dating back to the early 1700s.
- Built before 1753 Borton Mill stood on the intersection of Route 73 and Haddonfield-Kresson Road.
- In operation throughout the 1800s, Stokes Sawmill near Kresson was also known as Milford Sawmill.
- Hopkin’s Gristmill-White Horse Gristmill-Kirkbride’s Gristmill were names given the mill along Kirkwood Lake on White Horse Road. Originally a sawmill in the early 1800s, it later became one of the largest grist (flour) mills in the county. In 1876 the sixty acres of land on which this mill was located, were bought by the railroad and converted into picnic grounds known as Lakeside Park.
- General Jackson Mill dated back to 1823. It sat on 350 acres in the Kresson section of Voorhees.
- Marple Sawmill, located near the Jackson Glassworks, was also owned by the Richards from 1823 to 1828. This was originally called Marple’s Mill in 1812.
- The Iron Mill belonged to the Richards family, who owned an iron business in Batsto.
- Burnt Mill, so called because it replaced an older mill along Burnt Mill Road (Peterson’s Mill) that burned down.
With the invention of the steam engine in the mid-1800s, these mills, dependent on water flow, became obsolete.
The Civil War
During the Civil War Voorhees men served in the Union Army. Major Edward Winslow Coffin who established the first field bakery, was from Voorhees. He developed an oven on wheels that provided soldiers with fresh bread.
The Coffin family operated a farm for many years at the intersection of Evesham Road and Route 561, known as Coffin Corner. The Coffin house dates circa 1850 with one section built even earlier. Over the years the Coffin house has served as a residence, school, store, post office, stage coach stop and commercial office.
At least 20 veterans of the first African-American regiment to fight in the Civil War are buried in the churchyard of the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church on Route 73 in the Kresson section. Alonzo Small was one of these soldiers.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1839, Alonzo Small, a mason by trade, came to the Philadelphia area where he enlisted in the Union Army on March 16, 1864. He served in Company B of the 43rd Regiment of the U.S. Infantry Colored Volunteers, which distinguished itself at the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia in July 1864. After the war Alonzo settled in Voorhees with his wife.
Mt. Zion AME Church
The original Mt. Zion Church was a log cabin, built around 1800 at the far end of the cemetery. It stood along Egg Harbor Road, a sand path used by Indians and early settlers.
The early interracial congregation first named the church, The People’s Church of Milford. Over the years, the congregation became mostly African-American.
According to stories passed down through families in the congregation, the original church was a stop on the “Underground Railroad.” They tell of how the original log cabin had an unusual back door which allowed fleeing slaves to escape unnoticed when a lookout at the front door spotted a bounty hunter.
In the 1920s a new church was built along what was to become Route 73, where the present church stands, in front of the cemetery. Dedicated in 1924, this structure was extensively damaged by an arson fire in 1986. But the congregation immediately began rebuilding, and in 1998 the white wood frame church is the third to house the congregation.
The First Public School
In 1884 the first public school, a one-room school house, was opened on Route 73 near the northern intersection of Dutchtown Road in the Kresson section. This is near the site of the planned Historic Society Museum in the two-room school house built in 1927.
Voorhees is Born
A Separate Township 1899
Three residents of Waterford Township in 1899 petitioned the State Legislature to make the current boundaries of Voorhees a separate township. They were Ephraim Tomlinson of Glendale, Albert Sayers of Gibbsboro (at that time Gibbsboro was part of Voorhees) and J.Curtis Davis, of Kirkwood. Since Governor Foster McGowan Voorhees granted the request, the township was named in his honor.
As Voorhees grew, even though it was governed as one town, many residents continued to hold loyalties to the section of town in which they lived (Ashland, Kirkwood, Kresson or Glendale), rather than to the town.
The Early 1900s –
From Farms to Suburbia
As the century opened, 969 people lived in 202 homes, in one-year old Voorhees Township. The first Voorhees census in 1900 included Gibbsboro, then a part of Voorhees. It revealed that, 171 (44%) of the 390 wage earners in town worked in farm related jobs. The Lucas Paint factory, then within the bounds of Voorhees employed 108 (28%), while the remaining 111 (28%), held other jobs. These included railroad jobs and individual occupations, such as grocer, dressmaker and house painter.
For the first half of the 20th century Voorhees remained a quiet “country” town of mostly farmers.
Voorhees residents swam in nearby creeks and lakes, sledded on rolling hills, rode horses to nearby towns, and lived quiet, slow-paced lives in a small farm community. There were peach and apple orchards, blueberry farms, and cranberry bogs. Horses and cattle grazed in rustic pastures.
When the automobile came into vogue, it brought greater mobility to Voorhees residents. Natural gas lines first came to the Ashland section in 1912, with electricity arriving around 1920.
In 1901 a pound of coffee cost $.20, and five pounds of sugar, $.30. In 1926 a ten-day maternity stay in Cooper Hospital cost about $43.
Fire Companies in the Early Years
Local volunteers founded the Ashland Fire Company in early 1911 on Alpha Avenue. When construction for the Ashland Station of the PATCO Speedline began in 1951, the Ashland Fire Company moved to Evesham Avenue, and later to Burnt Mill Road. In the early 1960s the Ashland Fire Department held popular Friday night dances, featuring nationally known entertainers.
In 1916 the Kirkwood Volunteer Fire Company was born. Men pulled the fire wagon with long handles. Buckets hanging on the side were used to carry sand or water from the nearest stream. The firehouse at the intersection of Burnt Mill and Kirkwood roads became a social center holding dances and showing movies.
In 1948 the Kresson section organized its first volunteer fire company. At first the truck, (donated by a car dealership) was kept in a gas station because there was no firehouse. Land for a firehouse on Route 73 was donated by one of the members of the fire company who lived nearby. The firemen and women’s auxiliary raised money for building materials and fire-fighting equipment. It moved to Cooper Road near Kresson-Gibbsboro Road in 1979.
Voorhees Fire Company Number Four was incorporated in 1973, and was located on the southern end of Route 561.
A Farming Economy
From its founding in 1899 until after World War II, the character and economy of Voorhees remained unchanged. Farming dominated the economy. While few of these farms were wealthy, most provided ample food, clothing and other essentials, even during hard times. Life revolved around family, work, neighbors, school and church.
In 1924 the Gibbsboro section seceded from Voorhees to form a separate town, creating a dual challenge for Voorhees. Lucas Paint Company in Gibbsboro generated significantly more tax revenue than the modest farms of Voorhees. And until 1924 many Voorhees students attended public school in the town’s Gibbsboro section. Therefore, when Gibbsboro seceded, Voorhees was faced with building additional schools, with less revenue for their construction.
Public Schools Grow in Number
The second public school, the one-room Ashland School on Burnt Mill Road was built in 1900 with one and two-rooms added in 1915 and 1922. This was later torn down.
In 1909 the one room Glendale School, was built on the site of today’s municipal complex parking lot on Berlin Road. It later became the municipal building.
By 1924 a two-room schoolhouse on Route 73 replaced the town’s first public school in Kresson. Today it is being refurbished for use as the Township Historical Society Museum.
In 1924 a similar school was built in Kirkwood on White Horse Road. This served as a school until 1957 when it became the Kirkwood Library, and later, VFW Post 10116
These simple, wood-frame buildings, without indoor plumbing, provided schools for children in each geographic section of Voorhees.
1930s – The Great Depression
In the mid-to-late 1920s the abundance of land in Voorhees attracted developers with an interest in building more homes and businesses. But these plans changed with the stock market crash of 1929.
The Great Depression hit Voorhees especially hard since it came on the heels of Gibbsboro’s secession. During the Depression many Voorhees property owners lost their homes and farms to back taxes. At one point the township paid its employees in script because it had no money.
Times were tough. A Kresson School teacher wrote to the federal government, explaining that her students came to school hungry because their parents could not afford enough food. In response to her letter the government sent food which was prepared in school for the children.
Through WPA, one of the depression’s federal works programs, Lafayette Avenue was built and Ashland Terrace received sidewalks. Also, Burnt Mill Road was moved and paved. It originally ran next to the railroad tracks, near a stream, and flooded repeatedly.
Some daily occurrences in the 1930s and 1940s reveal much about life in Voorhees at that time. Most women did not work outside the home, and few drove cars. There were few stores, and families were lucky if they owned one car. For food shopping women relied to a large extent upon visits from the bread man, milkman, farmer and grocer. Telephones arrived in much of Voorhees during the 1930s.
After the depression speculators and developers bought the numerous properties lost to taxes. In many cases tenant farmers worked ground owned by these wealthy, absent landowners.
A Resort Town
The numerous lakes and natural terrain surrounding them in Voorhees have offered a fitting setting for recreation for over 100 years. But their popularity fell as water grew polluted.
By 1900 Kirkwood Lake on the west side of town became a sizable resort, attracting city dwellers who arrived by train at Kirkwood station. Vacationers rented cottages around the lake. Today permanent residents live in the cottages and own the land surrounding the lake.
As the automobile became more common, the many lakes on the east side of Voorhees became popular destinations.
Kresson Lake on Route 73 and Kresson Road was a large recreational lake in use into the 1970s.
Lions Lake, next to Kresson Lake, was another large recreational area with bungalows along Dutchtown Road. Today Lions Lake and surrounding grounds comprise a township park.
Cedar Lake, a large recreational complex next to Lions Lake in use until the 1970s, had it’s entrance off of Dutchtown Road.
Editor’s note – This is now part of the Kresson Golf Course.
Ole’s Ranch, off of Dutchtown Road, was a small lake front complex. It began as a dude ranch owned by Ole Larson featuring two of the largest log cabin structures in the area. In the mid 1960s television personality Sally Starr purchased the “ranch” and turned it into a restaurant/dance hall complex called “The Ponderosa.” The complex failed as a commercial venture and was abandoned in the early 1970s. The vacant log cabins were destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s. (Editors note – This is now part of the Virtua Hospital property. Some of the above information is incorrect, you can see our article on this amazing place for the bigger story).
Sunshine Lake, off of Cooper Road at Victor Boulevard, was the site of a recreational lake complex into the 1970s. Today, surrounded by upscale townhouses, it is owned by the Alluvium Lakes condominium association.
Mike: For more pictures of Sunshine Lakes from the 1930s, please see our post on Sunshine Lakes.
The Haddon Cabaña Club was a private swim club located off of Hazel Avenue (now Las Brisas Boulevard). The club opened in the late 1950s as a lead in for residential development, but closed in the early 1970s.
During the 1970s developer Bob Scarborough built Sturbridge Lakes, a housing development centered around lakes in the southeastern corner of Voorhees. Houses were built on the lakes which are used for swimming and recreation as well. Homeowners pay a fee to a community association to maintain common areas.
Rogers and Jeanette Smith bought land on Somerdale Road in 1939 and built an airport, which they named Echelon, after their flying club. The airport was in operation until the early 1960s. But as recent as 1987, pilots preparing to land at Philadelphia International Airport set their bearings with the Echelon Intersect located above the former airport.
Building Boom Begins
World War II
Gas rationing during World War II decreased automobile traffic along Route 73. As a result the Kresson section of Voorhees saw little growth compared to the bustling east side of town near the railroad. Workers settled near the three train stations, commuting by rail to jobs in Camden and Philadelphia.
1950s – Post World War II Boom
Between 1900 and 1950 population rose from fewer than 900 to 1500. This gradual increase of about 600 people over 50 years, or 12 residents per year would soon accelerate. The years following World War II saw Voorhees evolve from a quiet farm community to a fast-growing suburb.
Schools Get Indoor Plumbing as Town Grows
One significant sign of the town’s changing life-style occurred when indoor plumbing was first installed in the public schools in 1951.
Shortly following this benchmark improvement, a growth spurt between 1955 and 1966 gave rise to the first of the housing developments in fields that once grew crops and livestock. In fact, population grew from 1500 residents in 1950, to 3784 in 1960, or by 152% in ten years.
Two larger, multi-room brick schools were built in 1957. Osage School was built on Somerdale Road. And the third school to be named “Kresson” was built on Route 73, next to the Kresson II School, and the site of Kresson I, the first public school.
Sizzling Sixties & Soaring Seventies
Just as the 1960s brought political turbulence and social change throughout the country, events unfolding in Voorhees altered its history no less.
Completed in 1969 the PATCO (Port Authority Transit Corporation) Speed Line replaced the railroad, carrying passengers between Voorhees and Philadelphia. The railroad’s last passenger trains serviced Voorhees between 1966 and 1969. With stops in the Ashland section of Voorhees and nearby Lindenwold, the Speed Line was faster and gave greater access to more areas of Philadelphia than the railroad.
Schools Respond to Growth
To educate a growing number of children, E.T.Hamilton School opened in 1970, with Voorhees Upper Elementary School (later renamed Voorhees Middle School) opening in 1973. Before Eastern Regional High School opened in 1965, Voorhees students attended other high schools including Camden, Haddonfield, Lower Camden County and Collingswood.
In 1972 E.T. Hamilton School was named a “Model School” by the New York Times. In 21 years Voorhees matured from a simple, country school system with primitive facilities, to one of the best in the state in all respects.
Voorhees Police Department
From Porch-Light Signals to High-Tech
Constables and part-time officers handled law enforcement in Voorhees from its founding until 1961. Since there were no police radios, they used the porch-light system. Whenever residents needed an officer, they called the home of an off-duty officer to explain the problem. The off-duty officer would turn a porch light on to signal the officer on patrol. During the course of his shift the patrolling officer would drive by, stopping in when he saw the signal light. This practice ended in 1960 when Voorhees purchased it’s first marked patrol car with a radio.
By 1961 a full-time police chief led a force of six part-time officers. The number of full time officers on the force rose to four with the addition of a sergeant and two patrolmen in 1963. Rising steadily to 50 officers, the force currently includes a chief and captain, three lieutenants, seven sergeants, a detective division, a traffic division, bicycle patrols and two canine units.
There are two patrol video cameras currently in use, with the future goal of one for each patrol car.
A substation opened on Route 73 on the township’s east section in 1998.
Future plans also call for a Mobile Display Terminal (MDT) in each patrol car. Scheduled for implementation during 1999, each system includes a lap-top computer that will contact the Voorhees Police Department Communications Center through the patrol car radio system. It will allow an officer to check drivers’ licenses, registration and license plates on motor vehicles, stolen property, and fugitives and other wanted people. MDTs will decrease the officer’s time on the radio since it will give instantaneous checks.
Airport Gives Way to Mall
as Housing Development Takes-off
By 1970 an airfield and dairy pastures gave way to the Echelon Mall, with surrounding apartments and offices, and eventually the Camden County Library. Between 1970 and 1980 housing development soared.
Growing families moved to Voorhees from cities and neighboring towns. Grown and married, World War II Baby Boomers sought good schools, attractive and secure neighborhoods, convenient shopping and an easy commute to jobs. Voorhees offered it all.
With Voorhees providing a destination for jobs and area shopping, as well as an easy commute to Philadelphia and other areas, housing boomed, replacing farms, fields and forests. Population rose from 3,784 residents in 1960, to 6,214 in 1970, to 12,919 in 1980. This was an increase of 9,135 people in 20 years for a 241% increase.
Community Education and Recreation – CER
The growing family population brought a desire for programs for both children and adults. In the fall of 1974 the Board of Education, with support from the Township Committee created the Community Education and Recreation Program. In its first year CER offered 32 classes/activities. By 1999 that number has grown to over 150.
Reflecting a national trend, CER began offering soccer in Voorhees in 1978. Eventually the Voorhees Soccer Association became a sizeable independent organization. This joined a full compliment of sports programs including, midget football, softball, baseball and basketball.
With a growing number of two working parents, CER began offering Before and After School Childcare in 1984. By 1998 over 500 Voorhees families used CER childcare. CER also schedules evening gym use by adult residents, performances at the Voorhees Community Theater at Voorhees Middle School and all playing fields.
Through this award winning program schools became community centers for thousands of residents during non-school hours.
During the 1920s there were no physicians in town. Doctors from Magnolia and Haddonfield made house calls to Voorhees residents for $2. But as population grew, doctors’ offices followed. In 1973 the combination of available land and a growing market brought West Jersey Health System to Voorhees. The 226 bed West Jersey Hospital was the first of the Health System’s facilities on its 52-acre campus. By 1998 the complex included several buildings housing ancillary services, as well as Summit Surgical Center. It also includes an employee childcare center, a health education center and over 50 private physician offices. A health and fitness center will be added by 2000.
Between 1980 and 1990 Voorhees population grew by over 1000 people per year.
Two new elementary schools opened in the 1980s. Kresson School was built in the Avian section in 1983. This fourth school to be named “Kresson” is located on Samuel Lippincott’s 835 acre farm, purchased in 1735. Signal Hill School opened in the southeastern corner of town in on Signal Hill Drive in 1989.
By 1992 Voorhees Middle School received three major additions as well as a 900 seat state-of-the-art theater. All elementary schools received at least two major classroom additions between 1980 and 1998. Eastern Intermediate High School was built in 1992 with a 1000-seat performing arts center. The original school became Eastern Senior High School. All public schools offer full educational technology programs with Internet access.
After use as an elementary school for 25 years, Kresson School on Route 73 (on the site of the town’s first public school) became a kindergarten school in the late 1980s, and was renovated to accommodate the school district’s administrative offices in 1989. But one remaining vestige of the past remains with this building, on historically significant land. It still uses well-water and a septic system, since Route 73 remains without sewer or water lines in 1998.
As more families moved into the township, they grew protective of our beautiful woodland community, with its network of lakes and bounty of wildlife. Many feared that over-development would destroy the town’s natural environment. In March of 1985 Township Committee created the Voorhees Township Environmental Advisory Board to advise and assist the Township Committee, Planning Board, Zoning Board and other municipal leaders on environmental issues. This volunteer board is responsible for protecting the development and use of natural resources and promoting their conservation.
As the need for more schools and municipal services grew with the population, a reduction of state aid to local schools and governments caused taxes to rise. Voorhees Township Committee recognized that the solution to rising taxes was attracting more business ratables to strengthen the tax base, and reduce the tax burden on residential property owners. To address this need it created the Economic Development Committee in 1983. This volunteer group of residents was charged with attracting clean commercial development. To strengthen the existing business community, the EDC helped to create the Voorhees Business Association in 1989.
An Emerging Identity in the 1990s
One Voorhees in Name and Spirit
From Six Post Offices to One Voorhees Zip Code
Although Voorhees was founded in 1899, it took nearly 100 years to establish its identity. And the reason had much to do with who delivered the mail.
In the early days, each section of Voorhees had a post office located in part of a local general store. All mail had to be picked up at the post office, with no home delivery. Until 1985 and the opening of the first Voorhees Post Office, Kirkwood residents still picked up their mail at the tiny Kirkwood Post Office on White Horse Road at the foot of the Kirkwood Bridge.
In fact, prior to the opening of the Voorhees Post Office in 1985, six different post offices served Voorhees. This made for much confusion, because instead of an address being “Voorhees, New Jersey,” a Voorhees resident’s address might be Marlton, Gibbsboro, Somerdale, Cherry Hill, Berlin, West Berlin or Kirkwood. Some Voorhees residents actually believed they lived in the town whose post office delivered their mail.
One Voorhees Fire Company
In their early days fire companies were far more than equipment and fire fighters. The stations offered residents in the section of town they served a place to gather, socialize and celebrate. But this changed as the town grew. By the 1990s Voorhees was on its way to becoming one in spirit as well as name, not separate communities in one town. The fire companies followed suit.
Voorhees No. 4 merged with Kresson Fire Company in 1992. With consolidation of the remaining three companies into one department in 1995, the Ashland and Voorhees No. 4 buildings were sold.
The unified fire department now operates out of two stations, West Side Station 2 (formerly Kirkwood) and East Side Station 3 (formerly Kresson).
the years the range of responsibilities of the fire department has grown along with the community it serves. This is reflected in the size of its staff. Between the fire company and ambulance squads, over 85 staff members serve Voorhees; 18 career fire fighters, eight career Emergency Medical Technicians, and 60 volunteers.
Until 1967 Voorhees residents called Cherry Hill, Gibbsboro, Berlin and Marlton ambulance squads in emergencies. In February of that year twelve volunteers met in the Kirkwood Library to form the Voorhees Ambulance Squad. Volunteers went door to door for donations and area businesses gave blankets and other supplies. The first ambulance was a 1950 Packard donated by the Glendora Ambulance Squad. It was first kept in the driveway of the volunteer on duty. Later ambulances were housed in the Ashland Fire Station and a garage behind the police station on Route 561.
In 1990 the squad’s two ambulances were moved to fire houses. By 1998 four ambulances were housed in two fire stations.
The Voorhees Playground
Another sign that residents felt a growing sense of belonging to one Voorhees community occurred in May of 1993. Between Wednesday and Sunday, May 19 to the May 23, more than 800 volunteers built a quarter of an acre, $90,000 playground at Main Street. People from all sections of Voorhees, of all ages and professions donned construction gear and tools to build this state-of-the-art complex on land donated by Main Street. They hammered, raked, shoveled, sawed and created every child’s dream playground. Volunteers held fundraisers and businesses donated materials. During construction, workers feasted on homemade dishes prepared by residents.
Since its completion, the Voorhees Playground has been maintained by the township Parks and Recreation Department.
Outdoor Recreation Facilities
As the number of families grew, school playgrounds and fields alone could not meet the demands for sports and recreation that followed. Meanwhile, sports and fitness grew in national and local popularity. Playing fields and play grounds grew in number and sophistication. By 1998 these were the following recreation areas:
- Giangiulio Field on Victor Boulevard
Football Field (lighted)
Baseball Field (lighted)
- Rabinowitz Field on Kresson Road
3 Little League Fields
Babe Ruth Field
2 Swing Sets
- Mairoto Field on Echelon Road
4 Soccer Fields (lighted)
2 Small Soccer Fields (lighted)
- Kirkwood Field on Laurel Oak Road
Softball Field (lighted)
Picnic Area and Walking Path
- Lions Lake 15 Acre Park on Dutchtown Rd.
Picnic and Barbecue Area
Lake for Fishing
- Eastern High Schools
Tennis Courts/Marching Band Area
Practice Football Field
4 Soccer/Baseball Fields
2 Field Hockey/Lacrosse Fields
2 Softball Fields
- Sandpiper Dr. Tot Lot
- Round Hill Road Tot Lot
- Main Street Community Playground
- Shepherd Lane Basketball Court
- Paradise Dr. Tot Lot
- Cornell Dr. Tennis Court, Basketball Court & Tot Lot
- Voorhees Middle School
2 Tennis Courts with 6 Basketball goals on perimeter (lighted)
Inline Hockey Rink
2 Softball fields
- E.T.Hamilton School
- Kresson School
4 Softball Fields
2 Half-court Basketball
- Osage School
2 Softball Fields
- Signal Hill School
A Microcosm of the Nation and World
According to the 1990 census, Voorhees population rose to 23,620, up by 10,701 residents from 1980, or 83%. By 1998 population reached 27,000. According to a brochure published by the Economic Development Committee, in 1996 the median family income was $76,394. Twenty-five percent of the population over 25 years old held bachelors degrees, with 14.8% holding masters degrees.
Voorhees residents are culturally diverse – 79% European, 12% Asian/Pacific Island, 8% African and 1% Hispanic. At least 20 languages other than English are spoken in Voorhees homes.
Nursing Homes and Nursery Schools
The rising number of Americans over 65 years of age is reflected in a Voorhees pattern. In 1970 there was one nursing home in Voorhees. By 1998 there are 10 facilities for older residents, including nursing homes, assisted living complexes, senior citizen apartments and senior day care centers. In fact, the recently revised Master Plan creates a new zone for Critical Care Retirement Communities.
Since 1970 when there was one nursery school in Voorhees, 12 additional nursery school/day care facilities have opened in town. This reflects the national trend of both parents in the work force.
A Thriving Health-Care Center Blossoms
By 1998 besides West Jersey Health System, other major health systems located facilities in Voorhees; Cooper Hospital, Cooper Regional Pediatrics, Voorhees Pediatric Center, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and John F. Kennedy Hospital. In addition, over 350 physicians, dentists, chiropractors and other health care professionals and organizations have offices in Voorhees.
100 Years Later – The Same But Different
While some things have changed since 1899, others remain the same. A century ago life in Voorhees generally revolved around family, work, neighbors, school and church. This is still true.
Parents in the township’s early days poured foundations for their schools. Parents in 1997 ran cable through their schools for Internet access. In 1884 Voorhees residents cared enough about their children’s education to open the first public school. Between 1970 and 1998 the public school system is the primary reason parents give for moving to Voorhees.
In 1899 neighbors met at general stores that sold a variety of products. Today the Echelon Mall, Eagle Plaza, Ritz Plaza, Main Street and any number of professional and shopping centers offer customers and clients everything from accounting to x-rays, and axles to zucchini.
The handful of churches of the town’s early days have grown in number and size. More than 20 religious organizations, representing a variety of faiths, now worship in Voorhees. And just as in the town’s early days, they are frequently the center of family life.
While Voorhees was once a rural farm community with clusters of homes, in 1998 it is a sophisticated, affluent suburban community of homes and businesses punctuated by occasional woods, fields, a golf course and farm. Some of these areas retain woodland characteristics, despite housing developments and shopping centers. In parts of town muskrats, raccoons, possum, deer, weasels, fox, rabbits, squirrels, heron and hawk still live. Wild geese and ducks swim on lakes and ponds.
A Master Plan for the Future
The township’s revised Master Plan of 1998 will guide the direction Voorhees will take as we enter the twenty-first century. With “build out” for Voorhees projected for 2015, the Plan emphasizes preserving open space, limits developers to fewer houses per acre and proposes an 18-mile bikeway through the township. It reduces the potential for additional housing by 2000 residential units. This Plan aims to achieve balance in the tax base, and decrease future impact on school enrollment.
The Next 100 Years
Over the past 50 years the township has directed its energy and focus toward guiding, controlling and responding to growth. As Voorhees matures, leaders will turn their attention toward nurturing and maintaining a stable community. Building a sense of community pride, and ensuring neighborhood vitality will take precedence. Families will become less transient.
Preservation and protection of natural resources and open spaces will remain a priority. When the economic environment changes, commercial properties will take on new lives, as different kinds of businesses grow in popularity.
As we celebrate our centennial, we thank the thousands who brought our town to where it is today. Voorhees has been blessed with amazing amenities, natural and man-made, and exceptional people, young and old. The future looks bright.
Geology and Geography of New Jersey, Kemble Widmer, p. 100.
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ.
American Indians. Story of New Jersey, Hagaman, pp. 5-34.
Personal Interviews by Students in the Mrs. May Onishchuk’s Fifth Grade Gifted and Talented Program in Kresson School in 1983.
Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey,and Delaware, 1630-170?, I. Franklin Jameson.
Camden County, 1681-1931, Paul F. Cranston, Camden County Chamber of Commerce, Camden, NJ 1931.
Gibbsboro Salutes the NJ Tercentenary, 1964.
This is New Jersey, John T. Cummings, p, 164.
Old Inns and Taverns in West Jersey, Charles S. Boyer pp. 136, 145.
Editor’s Personal Observations and Interviews.
Voorhees History, Women’s Club of Voorhees, 1976.
May Onischuk, History of Voorhees Township.
C.S. Boyers, Old Mills of Camden County.
Heston, South Jersey, A History.
Prowell, History of Camden Co.
By Rail to the Boardwalk, Richard M.Gladulich, 1986, Trans-Anglo Books.
Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, Frederick A. Kramer, 1980 Crusader Press.
1900 National Census