Edward Winslow Coffin & Coffin’s Corner – History of Voorhees, NJ
Updated: 12/2/19 – 2nd chance for the Coffin Tenant house!
The Coffin family can be traced back to 12th Century England, but entered into South Jersey history in the 1800s with William Coffin, whose father had come down from New England (where the family had roots going back to the Mayflower). William Coffin became, among other things, the proprietor of the tavern at Long-a-Coming (now Berlin) before going into the glass making business. As part of this business, he went on to found the towns of Hammonton (named in honor of his son John Hammond Coffin) and later Winslow (in honor of another son, Edward Winslow Coffin).
And it’s this second son that interests us. Born in 1824, Edward attended schools in Burlington and Woodbury. He later followed his dad and brother into the glassmaking business and was married in 1844. He later sold out his shares in Hammonton Glassworks in 1851, exiting the glass making business. He went on to become postmaster at Hammonton and later Winslow, helped found a local branch of the International Order of Odd Fellows, and spent some time in mining in Pennsylvania.
But he really came into his own when he enlisted in the Union army with US Volunteers on March 24, 1862. He was commissioned as a captain and put in the “commissary of subsidence”, which provides food for soldiers. In 1862, he took part in the ill-fated Peninsula Campaign as far as Yorktown, and remained on the peninsula in 1864. He later served at Fort Monroe (which became famous later for imprisoning former Confederate President Jefferson Davis), Fort Fisher, back to Yorktown, and then and with the Army of the James. He has been credited for developing the first field ovens used to bake break for Union troops, which was later adopted widely in the army (while I haven’t found any documentation for this, it certainly fits with the type of person that he was) . He was brevetted as a Major in March of 1865 “for meritorious services in his department during the war” before being mustered out in December of that year. After the war, he joined the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
After spending some time in Arizona, Winslow began working for the Camden & Atlantic Railroad in 1870 (which had reached the future town of Voorhees in 1854), by which time he was living at the intersection of White Horse Road and Haddonfield-Berlin Road in what was then Waterford Township, now Voorhees Township. According to the US Census in 1870, Coffin was worth $2500 with a land value of $6000. He continued to work for that railroad after it’s merger with Pennsylvania Railroad in 1883, and retired in 1890.
At the same time, he farmed his land in Ashland, and was known to grow strawberries, which grew well thanks to the nearby Kirkwood marl pits. According to the Camden County Courier, Major Coffin majorly expanded the farm buildings on his farm, building a large barn that he planned to keep cows in.
He must have taken this route, because he received a patent in 1888 for a milk cooler.
Major Coffin passed away on December 11, 1899 at the ripe old age of 88, nine months after Voorhees Township was founded. He is buried at Colestown Cemetery in Cherry Hill, NJ.
According to a History of Voorhees no longer available on the Township website, “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, stagecoach stop and commercial office.” That house was sadly knocked down years ago, and funeral home currently stands where it was. However, that history may have been somewhat mixed up with another interesting home just across the street..
This building (most recently a real estate office) was never lived in by Edward Coffin, but once served as a tenant home on the Coffin Farm. According to an interview with Ruth Millman Stratton Engle on March 16, 1983, the parlor of this building served as a girls school in 1825 while owned by the Coffin family. The 1857 Barnes map backs up that this was a school, as the property between what is now Evesham and Somerdale Roads is clearly labeled as a school.
Later on, this property would be owned by the Crawford family and in the 1940s or so was the home of local New Jersey historian Arthur Pierce, who wrote such books as Iron in the Pines, Smugglers Woods, and Family Empire in Jersey Iron.
Unfortunately, if you want to go see this house, stop by sometime soon. The property has recently been purchased and reportedly already has has their demolition permit approved, as the old home is to be replaced by an office building. The new owners (who, by all accounts, are lovely people and do good work for charity locally) are sad to see the building torn down, but the days of the old Coffin tenant house and school are numbered.
UPDATE – since the last time I spoke with someone who had spoken to the township (early last summer), the plan to demolish the building have been abandoned. This building and grounds are now for sale. Anyone looking for a neat old building for an office?
HUGE thank you to Paul Schopp and Pamela Brown for digging up a lot of great sources on Edward Coffin.
Want to learn more about Voorhees history? Why not join the History of Voorhees, NJ Facebook group, where folks share stories, pictures, articles, and more. Also, check out the History of Voorhees Township written in the ’90s and slowly being updated (and having pictures added).
Beck, Henry Charlton. Jersey Genesis. Philadelphia: Rutgers University Press, 1945. (Author’s collection)
Biographical Review: Volume XIX: Containing life sketches of leading citizens of Burlington and Camden counties, New Jersey. Boston : Biographical Review Pub. Co, 1897. Online (Archive.org).
Coffin, E. W. APPARATUS FOR AERATING AND COOLING MILK. E.W. Coffin, assignee. Patent No. 379,051,. 1888.
“Edward Coffin.” Find A Grave, 2019, www.findagrave.com/memorial/10521154/edward-winslow-coffin.
“Mr. E.W. Coffin.” Camden Courier. Camden, 28 November, 1884: 3. Online.
“NJ Civil War Record”. New Jersey State Library, Accessed 2/21/19. <https://www.njstatelib.org/slic_files/searchable_publications/civilwar/NJCWidx29.html>
Prowell, George. The History of Camden County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & co., 1886. Online (archive.org).
Sinnott, Mary Elizabeth. Annals of the Sinnott, Rogers, Coffin, Corlies, Reeves, Bodine, and Allied Families. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott company, 1905. Online (Library of Congress).
Towle, Charles L. “History of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad and Associated Railroads 1852-1897.” The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, no. 73, 1948, pp. 16–45. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43517493.
4th and 5th Graders at Kresson and Osage Schools. Voorhees Township, New Jersey: A Look at Our Past. Self-published, 1984.