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Gloucester City History

Gloucester City: Reinvention over centuries

 

TINA MARKOE KINSLOW/Courier-Post file
St. Mary's Catholic Church was built in 1888, replacing the original church, which was built in the 1840s.

DID YOU KNOW?
Gloucester City has significant but little known ties to Major League Baseball. Gloucester Point Grounds ballfield was home to the Philadelphia Athletics -- the forerunner of the American League team -- on Sundays from 1887 to 1889. At the time, Philadelphia's blue laws prohibited the A's from playing on Sundays in their usual park, the Jefferson Street Grounds. Several accounts showed that the A's drew 12,000 fans several times while playing in Gloucester City.


HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS
1626: Fort Nassau is built.

1664: English take control.

1680s: Irish Quakers fleeing England aboard the Kent settle  here.

1686: Area becomes part of original Gloucester County.

1686: City, called Gloucester Town, is the seat of Gloucester  County.

1686: Gloucester County's courts are established here, holding  sessions four times annually.

1721: The Hugg family builds Hugg's Tavern near the courthouse.

1778: Some 15,000 members of the British army disembark at Hugg's Ferry and trod through to Monmouth and New York City after evacuating Philadelphia.

1786: County courthouse burns down, leading to Woodbury becoming  the new county seat.

1787: A village-like era begins with the loss of county business.

1831: The area becomes part of Union Township.

1840s: David Sands Brown creates a "company town' by forming the Gloucester Land Company and building the Washington Mills factory.

1844: Union Township becomes part of Camden County.

1868: Area is incorporated as Gloucester City.

1881: Resident Frank Loper captains the America's Cup champion.

1890: William J. Thompson, "the Duke of Gloucester," opens  the Gloucester Race Track.

1893: Thompson builds a trolley from the ferry hub to the racetrack  through the outfield of the Gloucester City Grounds.

1911: Thompson dies and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.

1926: Portions of Haddon Township known as Gloucester Heights  and Highland Park are annexed to the city.

1929: Hugg's Tavern demolished by Camden County to make way  for Proprietor's Park.

Source: "Courier-Post" archives, Gloucester City Historical  Association


LANDMARKS IN GLOUCESTER CITY
1. St. Mary's Catholic Church, Monmouth and Atlantic streets. The church was built in 1888, replacing the original St. Mary's constructed in the mid-1840s at the site now occupied by Gloucester Catholic High School on Sussex and Cumberland streets.

2. Gloucester City Water Works, Johnson Boulevard. This structure remains in use after being built by local government in 1883. The single-story, red brick building was one of the earliest attempts by a municipality to supply water because of health concerns raised by private water wells.

3. The Immigration Station, Somerset Street at the Delaware River. Now used as offices of the Holt Shipping Company, it was built in 1915 and housed Immigration and Naturalization Services detainees.


 
Courier Post Thursday, October 19, 2006

This working-class community has often reinvented itself since Capt. Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, a Dutch explorer, came here when Fort Nassau was built at the Big Timber Creek in 1626.

The city became a refuge for Quakers, but Gloucester City also was once the county seat -- of Gloucester County -- and in the Gay '90s it was becoming a politically powerful den of iniquity. But by the 1940s, it had become an industrial town, whose lifeblood businesses are now shuttered, said David Munn, the city's historian.

Swedes and Dutch trading companies controlled the area until 1664, when the New World came under British rule. But in the 1680s, a group of Irish Quakers was among groups to populate the area and in 1688 it became part of Gloucester County's original turf. For the next 100 years, Gloucester City, then called Gloucester Town, was the county seat of Gloucester County.

The area became part of Camden County in 1844 while it was known  as Union Township, Munn said.

In the years preceding the Revolutionary War, Huggs Tavern was built near the current gazebo in Proprietor's Park off Powell Street, Munn said. It became a famous stopping off point between South Jersey and Philadelphia. In the tavern, on Nov. 4, 1773, John Ross made Betsy his wife.

By the late 19th century, several mills and factories were in  operation along the city's riverfront, Munn said.

Shad, sailing, swimming, a beer garden, prizefights, gambling, horse racing and the Philadelphia Athletics all could be enjoyed here. It was the work of one William J. Thompson.

Thompson, an entrepreneur nicknamed the Duke of Gloucester, created this somewhat scarlet era by making the city an Eastern playground for the rich and the common and rolling up his economic fortunes to get legislators and Gov. George Werts elected in 1893. At that time, the city had some 5,000 residents and 91 bars, Munn said.

After Thompson died in 1911, the city soon lost its power and  favor. Thompson is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.

It took some 40 years, but the city replaced those Thompson-era memories with factories, schools and new housing. It was during this time that the current city hall, at 313 Monmouth St., was built, replacing the former city hall on the same lot. It wasn't until the late 1970s that Holt Corporation opened a shipping terminal on the city waterfront.

-- Mike Franolich

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