NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

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COMMENTARY: How The City of Gloucester City Has Changed

 
by DOROTHY PHILBIN | CNBNewsNet
 
While reading some old newspaper articles last night I came across one particular article about the BLM protest/march almost three years ago.  The article from the Courier Post, was dated June 8, 2020.  In that article a man from Camden City, Isaiah Conteh, said "It shows this town is changing."  Gloucester City's own Joe Gorman added "Gloucester is thriving because it is more welcoming and supporting of people who in the past may have been viewed as outsiders, blacks, Hispanics, LGBT and artists."
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by DOROTHY PHILBIN
CNBNews Reporter
 
 
That was a comment that made me say "WHAT?"  Gloucester City is thriving?  Is this the same Gloucester City where I've lived for the past 71 years?  There is no denying that Gloucester City was a "sundown town" in the 1950s into the 1960s.  However, even the 2020 article admitted that "Gloucester City was more integrated than most of the towns it borders."  We never hear about segregation in Brooklawn, Westville, Bellmawr, etc.  But it is Gloucester City which gets the bad publicity and our own citizens which lead the way.
 
 
Let's take a look at Gloucester City 60ish years ago.  
 
 
We had neighborhood schools so we didn't need buses to transport our students to and from home.  The streets were safe enough that it wasn't necessary for parents to drive their kids everywhere - we walked or rode  bikes.  There was no tuition at St. Mary's elementary school or Gloucester Catholic High School.  In the elementary school there were two classes for each grade and 65 - 70 students in each class.  There was one nun teaching and no aides, co-teachers, etc.  Imagine a 70 - 1 ratio today.
 
Gloucester City's population in 1960 was 15,511. Today, the city's population, according to the 2020 census totals 11,438
 
 
 
Ask anyone who was a kid back then "when did you have to be home?"  The universal answer was "when the street lights came on."  And you went home; no ifs, ands, or buts.
 
 
 
Adults were addressed as Mr. or Mrs.  Kids never addressed adults by first names.  When meeting on the street a child would always say "hello, Mr. _____ and Mr. _____ would always reply, sometimes even tipping his hat.  Kids helped adults carry grocery bags into the house, shovel snow or any other task which needed to be done.
 
 
Neighborhoods were "big families."  If one person was out running errands and it started raining, a neighbor would take the laundry off the outside clothes line, fold it, and give it back when the rain stopped.  That camaraderie went both ways.  If an adult in the neighborhood saw a kid do something wrong, it was as if the parents saw it him/herself.
 
 
 
The only apartments were Highland Park.  Houses between the railroad and the river Screenshot 2023-01-22 at 21.56.48 were locally-owned, owner-occupied homes.  There were two families on welfare.  TWO.  There was no Section 8 housing.  Doctors charged $5 for an office visit or $7 for a house call so Medicare and Medicaid were an issue, they just weren't needed.  
 
 
Families went to church - as a unit. We prayed in school and stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem. Kids belonged to the boy or girl scouts. Men were volunteer firemen or weremembers of the Rotary, Lions or Knights of Columbus.  Women belonged to the PTA.  People participated in their community.
 
 
The city government looked completely different.  Never to anyone's knowledge did the firemen have fist fights or set each other on fire as a prank.  They considered themselves as professionals second and gentlemen first.  We had four police cars and made out just fine. We actually knew where the cars were.  The Chief of Police walked to work, he didn't need his own SUV.  There has always been nepotism of some degree but not to degree that six families held 38 local-government jobs. The residents knew everyone at city hall.  It was easy as there were so few employees and bills weren't paid my home computers, they were paid in person.  This gave the employees a chance to know the people who paid their salaries.
 
 
Some of the changes were mandated by the courts.  Most were not, they just evolved over time as the "Greatest Generation" aged out of the workforce.  Their kids, "The Babyboomers," followed in the parent's footsteps as best they could.  But once families were broken and women went to work outside the home, the next generation became latch-key kids with McDonald's for dinner. Not only Gloucester City, but all towns stopped thriving.  It will take a lot of work, physical or moral, for the city and country to thrive again.  Sadly, the Greatest Generation no longer exists and the Babyboomers are also dying out.  Who is left to mentor the current generation and show them what thriving looks like?
 
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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HUGHES AVENUE APARTMENTS?
 
Screenshot 2023-01-22 at 21.43.55
Hughes Avenue Apartments, 1300 unit block of Market Street pictured in the 1970s or thereabout.
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (January 23, 2023)--Mrs. Abromowitiz, from North Jersey, owned the 360 apartments. In the 1980s, the City Housing Authority kept levying fines against her for code violations, she was keeping up with the repairs but the violations kept coming. Around 1989, the city took her to court, and her property was condemned. The government claimed eminent domain and got the ground for half of its worth. In an interview with this reporter at that time, she said she had the property sold to a developer who was going to level the back of the apartments and build a 55 and over housing project starting on Market Street and going back to Hughes Avenue circle. He was going to pay Mrs. Abromowitz $1 million to purchase it.
But, the powers to be, mainly the Board of Education and the Mayor and Council, wanted her property to build a K-3 and Pre-School complex. If they could get that property, they would be named an Abbot District, which guaranteed those two political bodies millions of dollars in state aid and plenty of patronage jobs for family members and friends. 
Years later, this reporter spoke with retired City School Superintendent Jim Hetherington. He said no when asked if the Cold Springs School complex was necessary. That there was a plan in the 1980s to upgrade the Neighborhood School system for $20 million. The state would provide half of that money and the taxpayers would have to float a long-term bond to pay for the other half. 
That proposed 55 and older housing project would have produced an excellent tax ratable. And, the City of Gloucester City would have looked a lot different today if the local government and school board hadn't got involved in real estate dealings. But, once the plan was in motion, there was no stopping it. 
Today, the City is listed in the top 30 communities with the highest tax rate coming in at 23. There are more rental properties (3,300) than homeowners (1,300). It has the unwanted distinction of not only being an Abbot District but a UEZ Zone
~William E. Cleary Sr. CNBNews editor
 
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