Facts and Figures

Bricks and Mortar: The colonists who arrived with John Fenwick spread up and down the creeks that flowed into the Delaware and built fine manor houses. With the pride the owner had the date of construction inserted in one end of the house, often including his and his wife’s initials in unique patterns. There are still a number of these homes that can be seen throughout the county.

The durability of many of these old brick houses can be attributed in part to the fact that these early settlers submitted to a law passed in 1683 which regulated the size of bricks. The early masons were unusually careful of their work and the materials they used. The brick law required that the bricks be 2 ¾ inches thick, 4 ½ inches broad and 9 ½ inches long and that they be well-burnt.   There were in those days, brick appraisers whose duty it was to view the bricks made and to destroy those they found faulty. The vast majority of Salem homes were built, made, and manufactured on the premises. The early colonists soon mastered the art of brickmaking and supplied their own needs. The raw materials were at hand, and the brick kilns were not hard to construct.

The names of the brick artisans who came from England to Salem have been lost except for the name of Richard Woodnut.

Calendars in 1700s: By the early 1600’s the Dutch generally were using the new style calendar. But England and Sweden persisted in continuing with the old one. England finally adopted Pope Gregory’s calendar in 1751 – more than a century and a half after it was put in use.

Members of the Society of Friends followed the English method of dating letters and documents – with one exception. Instead of using names for the months, Friends numbered them in sequence. This meant that, before 1752, March was the first month. Although March 24 is the day before March 25, the days are a year apart by old style calculations. Diarists and others often tried to avoid future bewilderment by writing for example, March 24, 1707-08 and following this by March 25, 1708.

Reconciling dates can be confusing while reading or researching the history of Salem County and West Jersey before the 1750s. That’s because of variances between the old style and new style calendars.

Under the old style (Julian) calendar a year began on March 25 and ended the following March 24. Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with the present one, known as the Gregorian, in 1582. The new one, which was ten days ahead of the old one installed January 1 as New Year’s Day.

As seen by others: In 1721 the Governor of the province, William Burnet, described Salem, the county-seat, as a very poor fishing village of about twenty homes, and not above seven or eight voters, and no other place was as large.

Education : Prior to 1817, the few public schools were supported solely by their respective communities. That year, however the New Jersey Legislature first recognized the need for public education and provided for a state school fund. The Legislature invested $15,000 for a permanent public education fund; two years later this had increased to $113,238. By 1824, one-tenth of the state taxes were conferred to education annually, and townships were authorized to levy taxes to provide education for the poor, as well as to build and repair schools. Despite recognition that education was a public and government responsibility, private schools continued to outnumber public institutions. The first public school in Salem was built in 1850 on Walnut Street.

Lights and lighthouses

In 1837 the federal government bought land at Finn’s Point to erect a battery that would help Pea Patch Islanders defend Philadelphia and the river in the event of attack. At first slated as a temporary facility, it was made permanent in 1878, Fort Mott boasted two 8’ guns, and the battery was strengthened ten years later during the Spanish American War. The fort was named after General Gersham Mott, commander of New Jersey volunteers in the Civil War. Finn’s Point National Cemetery, located next to Ft. Mott, was used during the Civil War as the burial site of Confederate soldiers who succumbed to cholera and other diseases while imprisoned on Pea Patch Island. In 1875 the government designated it a national cemetery.

Finn’s Point Rear Range Lighthouse (1877) is in what today is the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge near Ft. Mott. This light was erected to guide naval traffic around the shoals and islands of the Delaware River. Completed in 1877 by the Kellogg Bridge Company of Buffalo, NY, the tower measures 100’ from base to focal plane. Constructed of wrought rather than cast iron, the skeleton tower rests on a freestanding masonry base, a type of construction popular from the 1860’s. The light was automated in 1939 and discontinued in 1951.


Quakers: The Quakers appear to have been the most influential in the seventeenth century along the shores of the Delaware River, where they are attributed with founding Salem, Penns Neck and Greenwich. Those in Salem and Cumberland counties arrived with Fenwick. Eventually some, like Richard Hancock, left the waterside environs for interior towns that were more typically settled by Baptists or Presbyterians. The first Quaker meetings were held in the house of Samuel Nicholson near Salem. In 1681, he deeded a sixteen acre town lot to the Friends as the site of their first meeting house – beneath an oak tree where John Fenwick is popularly believed to have signed the treaty with the Indians; the Friends also established a cemetery there. Quakers believed gravestones should be proper and simple – or without markings. Salem cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall and they only markers are from burials in the late eighteenth century.

In 1696 the Friends opposed the importation of slaves, and by 1776 barred membership to slaveholders. By 1794, South Jersey had three antislavery societies, at Trenton, Burlington and Salem. In addition to ardent abolitionists, the Quakers also assisted runaway slaves (see Underground Railroad).

Baptists: The first Baptist church was established in 1683, a split created the Seventh Day Baptist Church with the belief that the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday instead of Sunday.


The Presbyterians were the third religious group to establish a church in Fenwick’s Colony in the seventeenth century. Like the Baptist, the Presbyterians came from New York and New England and settled on both shores of the Cohansey River in 1680-85.

The first Presbyterian Church built in Salem proper was in place in 1821 thanks to Robert Gibbon Johnson and other Presbyterians, after they were denied permission to share the Episcopal church. The First Presbyterian Church in Salem is one of the most exuberant in the region. It was designed by Philadelphia architect John McArthur Jr. (1823-90), who served as chief architect of Philadelphia City Hall in 1869. It has a dramatic 165’ spire.

Methodists: The Methodists organized in Salem County in the late eighteenth century, though by the late nineteenth century their numbers proliferated beyond all other religious groups. In 1772 Benjamin Abbott of Pittsgrove Township, a religious skeptic and acknowledged drinker, had a dream that converted him into a fire and brimstone evangelist who succeeded in uniting Methodists in Salem and inspiring others as far away as the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In 1774 he moved to Salem. A church was built on Walnut Street in 1784. As they grew larger they built a new larger church on the site in 1838. Twenty years later part of the congregation split and built yet another new church on Broadway — Broadway Methodist Church. Of the three 19th century gable-fronted churches in area three are constructed of brick: Broadway Methodist (1858) and Mt. Pisgah AME church (1878) in Salem and he Cedarville Methodist Church (1868).

African Methodist Episcopal (AME): The first African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey was formed in Salem in 1800. Several upstanding members of Salem’s black community purchased the land for their church. Worship services commenced in 1802, though the church was unfinished. Mt. Pisgah burned in 1839 and the present edifice was built in 1878 with a date stone inscribed: “Built 1878 – Mt. Pisgah AME Church – for the people had a mind to work.” The Mt. Pisgah congregation was one of the first five AME churches in the nation.

Other denominations: Among other eighteenth century religious establishments in the area were smaller numbers of Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics. In 1724 Reverend John Holbrooke, a missionary for the Church of England, arrived in Salem and organized – and eventually saw to the construction of – St John’s Episcopal Church. During the Revolutionary War, the British seized the church to use as headquarters, and after their departure it remained in disrepair until the early 1800s

In the mid eighteenth century, the first Roman Catholics and German Lutherans appeared in Salem County. The members of these two organizations worked for Casper Wistar in his glass factory in Alloway. The Lutherans established a church in Friesburg in Alloway Township in 1748. The Catholics arrived ten years previous to the Lutherans; however, they did not establish a church until 1852. Until the Revolutionary War Catholics were often restricted from worshiping openly.

The Way we tell time: A New Jersey man by the name of William F. Allen set out to change the way we tell time.

Allen brought standard time to the United States on November 18, 1883, just seven months after he announced he would engineer a way to switch time so everything could run smoothly.

For thousands of years, people measured time based on the position of the sun. When the sun was highest in the sky, no matter where you were that was considered noon. This was and is called apparent solar time. Sundials were used into the middle ages, and then clocks began to appear. But even then cities would set their town clocks by measuring the position of the sun, so every city ran on a slightly different time. This was fine if no one ever left his or her hometown, but when passenger travel by railroad was made available, schedules became hectic. With apparent solar time there were seventy different local time zones. For each 13 miles traveled westward, a person would have to set his watch back by a minute. Railroads used their home station time, thus three or four trains could converge into one station because each had used its own time.

Punctuality was a matter of guesswork, luck, or faith. For the railways it was a matter of chaos.

Allen was the son of a Bordentown railroad man and became a railroad man himself at the age of sixteen. By the time he was 26 he was so fascinated by trains and their schedules hat he became the editor of the Official Guide of the Railway and Steam Navigation Lines. He became determined to make time a servant, not a master that had to be listened to every 13 miles.

Basing his plan on an idea that a Professor Dowd of Saratoga, NY had conceived in 1869 but was never accepted, Allen divided the county into four equal time zones along the 75th, 90th 105th and 120th meridians. He was determined to get rid of a time table that meant if it was noon in Washington DC, then it was 12:14 in Albany, 11:41 in Augusta, Georgia, 12:02 in Baltimore, and 11:06 in New Orleans. No one could simply ride the train, they had to do the Pythagorean Theorem just to get somewhere on time.

Allen figured out that there should be an hour’s difference in each of his four time zones. Time “slowed” in a westward pattern. The plan had its critics; a few newspapers claimed the change was “contrary to nature,” some churches felt it was “tampering with God’s law,” the US attorney General warned the federal agencies that they were not to accept the “Allen Plan” without an act of Congress.

The day became known in history as the “Day of Two Noons” since every town east of the controlling lines first had its noon according to the sun, then minutes later had the newly established standard time noon. The railroads had made the country confirm.

The United States Congress was more stubborn. They didn’t agree upon standard time until 35 years later, on March 19, 1918, during the First World War, when they instituted both Standard and daylight savings time.

Time zones have changed since Allen’s ingenious plan was put into action. It is still changing. By law, the principle standard for deciding on a time zone change is for “the convenience of commerce.” Requests for change are reviewed by the Department of Transportation.

The Blizzard of 1888: On Saturday, March 10, 1888, weather in New Jersey was pleasant with temperatures in the fifties and the mildest winter season in 17 years was drawing to a close. At the time the main weather station was the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Washington, D.C.

Three times a day 154 local weather stations around the country telegraphed data about the surrounding regions to the D.C. office. On March 10 there were reports of two storms, one in the mid-west and one in the south. After careful consideration the D.C. office decided that neither storm posed a real problem. It was a Saturday and the last weather station personnel left at midnight. For the next 17 hours no one across the nation would be monitoring the changing weather patterns

Instead the two storm systems joined into a massive force, the northern storm armed with snow and bitter cold and the southern storm with a battery of moist gale wind turned into a legendary blizzard.   For the next three days, a storm of epic proportion raged so powerfully that meteorologists considered it a 500-year event.

By seven o’clock on Sunday over a foot of snow was being pushed into drifts of five or six feet and thick ice had built up on the streets making it difficult to walk. People out to church events or just out for a spring outing were having a hard time getting home.

That Monday morning, despite the weather, thousands tried to make it to work for fear of losing their jobs. Few laws were in place protecting workers’ rights. Hundreds of children went off to school only to find them closed. No food or supplies could be brought into the cities and every hotel was filled with stranded passengers.

People had to watch out for downed electric lines. There were no litter laws at the time. Newspapers, household garbage, broken glass, 500,000 pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of horse urine were hardened into chunks that were picked up with the winds and thrown in people’s faces. On Monday night a newspaper summed it up: “No paths, no streets, no sidewalks, no light, no roads, no guests, no teams, no hacks, no moon, no meat, no milk, no paper, no mails, no news, nothing – but snow.

On Tuesday morning March 13 the storm was as strong as ever. City officials tried to figure out a way to clear railroad paths and roads so the people could get to work or other destinations. In New York and New Jersey, thousands of Italian immigrants were hired to shovel the streets and dig out the railroads. In all 17,000 workers had removed twenty-four million cubic yards of snow just to get traffic moving. The piles of snow were so high that one lady said it was strange to see sleighs at the level of some second floor windows.

On farmlands, cows froze in pastures. Sheep and goats blindly drifted in to nearby ponds and drowned. Farmers trying to find and feed their animals got lost and in some cases froze to death.

The blizzard winds blew and low tides literally blew out all the water in the Delaware River leaving cities like Camden with water pumps that couldn’t work. On average 24 inches of snow fell in New Jersey. Houses were buried in snow drifts as high as 52 feet.

The blizzard brought about long term changes. New city ordinances put in effect the first antilitter laws, garbage and coal containers were required. Store owners were required to clean up in front of their shops. Cities had to devise detailed emergency plans in case of future snowstorms and other disasters, leading to city-controlled snow removal in most places.

Weather bureaus were affected, too. In 1891 control was taken away from the Signal Corps and handed over to the Department of Agriculture, thus creating the United States Weather Bureau. New laws required that weather bureaus stay open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Westward migration: In the early years of the 19th century, a number of Salem County residents abandoned their failing farms and headed west, to the frontier won in war or purchased by treaty. Great-grandchildren of the county’s early settlers now became the settlers of America beyond the Appalachians.

In 1803, Zadock Street of Salem founded a new town in Ohio and named it Salem. Susan York and her family made their way to the Tennessee Valley, where she later married Andrew Donelson Jackson, adopted son of Pres. Jackson. A descendent of Christopher White, who had come here soon after Fenwick, navigated the Ohio River and a flatboat and lived to write about. As they moved west other towns named Salem were established as far west as Oregon.

Ships and ship building: From the Salem messenger Wednesday, September 4, 1822: “A large stick of timber, drawn by thirteen horses, passed through this town (Salem) last week. We learn by Mr. Smith the timber merchant, it’s one of the number that is to form the keel of a one hundred and forty gun ship that is to be soon laid at Philadelphia. We also learn there have been cut within a few miles of here, in about a year past, between seven and eight hundred oak trees, for naval ships.”

Ship building during and after the Revolution was carried on with great spirit in Philadelphia and on the Delaware.   It was asserted that such beauty and durability of construction, swiftness of sailing and skill in navigation had not been surpassed.

The White Oak of Salem County is compared well to the Live Oak of Florida and much of it was used during the revolution by vessel builders on the Delaware River.

The steamboat: The first steamboat running from Salem was the “Aetna” in 1816, a good-sized boat for the times. She ran to New Castle, Delaware, connecting with the stage line running to Frenchtown, in route for Baltimore and Washington, making two or three trips a week.   By the 1830s, steamboats were running regularly between the port of Salem and Philadelphia. Ships brought in goods and new residents, but more importantly, they took to market the products of Salem County farms and small industries.

East Broadway in 1886: (Description taken from a 1934 publication of the Salem County Historical Society) It is probable that one of the first hotels in Salem County was the old “Union” which was taken down about 1847. It covered the front on East Broadway, now occupied by Washington Hall and the Nelson House. The end toward the creek was two-story brick, with a large ballroom in the attic, used for balls, political meetings, theatricals and puppet shows. Here was organized first secret society in the County, the old Masonic Lodge, and No. 19. It had a shed in front with a long bench for the weary: a sign hung on a post in the road front, with the liberty cap and “Union” printed on it. It was a common sight to see a party of fox hunters accompanied by a pack of hounds dashing through the driveway at the left leaving their weary steeds in charge of the grooms.

The Mansion House which stood on East Broadway, formally Joseph Clements comfortable dwelling, was by John S. Wood made a hotel in 1835. In 1892, William E. Finlaw had this building torn down and in its place erected the present building now owned by Butcher and Harris.

Most of the early merchants of Salem were in some way engaged in shipping. The fur trade was once a source of much profit, both to the merchant and the trapper, consisting of skins from the beaver, otter, deer, mink, muskrat, raccoon, fox and cougar. In those times the farmers dispose of all his salable produce to the storekeeper, receiving only a portion in cash. The farmers around Salem have always plowed the good land. It was not unusual to see a customer on the street from the border land with a few small oxen or a lean horse on the lead. The creaky old wagon loaded with the a quarter of a cord of wood, a sack of grain, four or five pairs of live chickens, one raccoon skin, three opossum, several rabbit skins, which after some dickering with the clerk is driven back of the store and unloaded. When he returned he took in exchange for his load one quart of rum, 4 pounds of brown sugar, 1 pound of powder, 4 pounds of shot, 4 gun flints, a quart of molasses, 2 clay pipes, one paper of tobacco, 4 yards of muslin 5 yards of chewing tobacco bottle of Bateman’s drops, for the baby, a Barlow knife and one Jews harp.

A fire in recent years caused the closing of both the Washington Hall and the Nelson House until renovations can be made. The Finlaw building was renovated by Stand Up for Salem after the roof collapsed and the building was heavily water damaged. It now houses state and county offices.

Just off Broadway on Market Street was Sherron’s Hotel which opened in the 1840s. Over the years it became the Garwood House, then the Green Hotel and then the Garwood house again. It was beautifully renovated recently and is now the City Café. At one time it also housed the Salem City library. The current library on West Broadway is one of the oldest in New Jersey.