County of Salem Open Space and Recreation Plan 2006

This Plan is based in part upon data contained in the Salem County Natural Resources Inventory (2006) and the Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory (2006).  PDF download:


The geography of Salem County is typical of the Coastal Plain Province. Its topography is level with only gradual changes in elevation observed throughout the County. Elevation ranges from areas at sea level along the Delaware Bayshore to 160 feet above sea level in Upper Pittsgrove Township in the northeastern portion of the County. The highest elevations in Salem County serve as the headwaters for six regional river systems: the Salem River, Alloways Creek, Maurice River, Oldmans Creek, Stow Creek, and the Cohansey River. The County’s level landscape allows these rivers to wind and bend over broad floodplains on their paths to the Delaware River. These rivers are commonly associated with wetland areas, such as Mannington and Supawna Meadows, which occupy 30% of the County. (see Natural Features Map) Tidal marshes are another common feature of Salem County. The lower stretches of the Delaware River are heavily influenced by the tides in the Atlantic Ocean, which cause large areas of land adjacent to the River to flood twice daily. The southwestern areas of the County are predominately marshlands. Further north, tidal marshes are found in the western sections of the County at the mouths of river systems including the Salem River and Oldmans Creek. (Salem County Natural Resources Inventory)4 Agricultural land uses keep a large part of the County cleared of tall, woody vegetation.

This offers visibility over large continuous areas and expansive agricultural viewsheds can be enjoyed in many parts of Salem County. Agricultural areas predominate in a horseshoe shaped swath of land starting in Lower Alloways Creek Township and running north through western Quinton, Mannington and Pilesgrove Townships before turning south through Upper Pittsgrove, western Pittsgrove, and eastern Alloway Townships. Where agricultural areas have not been maintained, former farm fields have undergone ecological succession into natural forest communities. These areas are spread throughout the County, but concentrations exist in Pittsgrove Township and eastern Quinton and Alloway Townships. (see Natural Features Map)

Cultural and Historic Resources of Salem County

“So that if there be any terrestrial Canaan, ’tis surely here where the land floweth with milk and honey.” – John Fenwick (1675)

Salem County is a place where history and culture are intimately associated with the natural environment. A strong tradition of agricultural production and a rural, country lifestyle have thrived upon the fertile soils in the east. Meanwhile, urban living has been the mainstay among the swampy, industrial “river towns” in the west. In both areas, the lives and cultures of local residents have evolved in conjunction with the natural resources available to them. Despite their differences, both regions of the County share an environment that evokes the past at every turn. Farmhouses in Mannington and homes in Salem City date back to pre-Revolutionary War times. Likewise, both regions share a common backdrop of sweeping fields, forests, and meadows that are reminiscent of an earlier age. The combination of historic structures and historic landscapes creates a unique and vivid ambiance that residents and visitors to the County cannot fail to appreciate.

European Colonization

At the time of European colonization, Salem County was occupied by three Native American tribes of Lenni Lenape who congregated on the banks of the “Shanaigah”, now known as the Delaware River. The first Europeans to settle in the region were the Finns and Swedes who established Wilmington, Delaware, in 1638 and began looking for high quality agricultural land across the river. Fort Elfsborg was constructed in Elsinboro during the 1640’s to protect their expanding interests, and remained the most significant military presence in the County for much of its early history. (Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory)1

The Scandinavian settlers obtained additional land around Pennsville in 1665 after making a number of trades with Chief Obisquahassit of the Lenni Lenape. They proceeded to establish agricultural homesteads in this area, many of which still stand today. (Pennsville Township Historical Society, “Area History”)2

English Quakers began arriving in 1675. Led by John Fenwick, they settled at the confluence of the Salem and Delaware Rivers on the site of present-day Salem City. Salem County, named after the Hebrew word for peace (Shalom), was established in 1681 and encompassed lands that now comprise both Salem and Cumberland Counties as (Salem County Open Space and Recreation Plan – December 2006) well as parts of Gloucester, Cape May, and Atlantic Counties. Fenwick later negotiated a treaty with the Lenape beneath the Salem Oak tree and acquired the area around Penns Grove and Carneys Point. Fenwick’s ownership of “West Jersey” was short-lived, however, and his worsening financial affairs forced him to sell his holdings to William Penn in 1682. (Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory)

Agricultural Beginnings

Salem County’s early colonists were soon joined by flocks of English immigrants searching for religious freedom and new beginnings. Agricultural farmsteads radiated out from the settlement at Salem City in every direction. Native forests were felled and replaced with farmland, which spawned a successful agricultural industry. Lumber mills also flourished along the County’s numerous streams by handling the timber being removed from the County’s interior. Hancock’s Bridge was constructed over Alloway Creek in 1708 to link the growing towns of Salem and Greenwich in Cumberland County. Small communities were also established in places like Alloway, Daretown, and Woodstown during the 1700’s, and the network of settled lands continued to grow. (N.J. DEP Division of Parks and Forestry, “Hancock House”)3

Agricultural production continued to bolster the local economy through the Revolution and into the nineteenth century. Historical accounts tell of numerous skirmishes at Quinton’s Bridge and the Hancock House between the local militia and British troops over access to the County’s fertile fields. (N.J. DEP Division of Parks and Forestry, “Hancock House”) The tomato was later introduced as a viable crop in the 1820’s and grew to be one of the County’s major products. The canning and processing of the tomato crops became a major industry in Southern New Jersey, and occupied 30 factories

in the County by the turn of the twentieth century. (Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory) Agriculture and agricultural products remain the most important piece of Salem County’s economy.

Economic Expansion

In addition to the agricultural products flowing from southern New Jersey, Salem County began producing a variety of other goods as well. The region’s sandy soils grew to support a thriving glassmaking industry. The Wistarburg Glassworks, founded near Alloway in 1738, was the first commercially successful glassworks in the country and grew to be the largest such operation in the colonies. The glassmaking industry continued to expand through the nineteenth century with the establishment of the Salem Glass Works (1862) and Gayner Glass (1874). Many of these plants were consolidated during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, but a few still operate as subsidiaries of the Anchor Glass Container Company. (Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory)

The County’s location on the Delaware Bayshore has made it attractive to maritime industries as well. Salem City provided an early hub for the processing and transportation of seafood including oysters, fish, and crabs. Many seafood preservation Salem County Open Space and Recreation Plan – December 2006 31 techniques were pioneered in area plants. Ship building, iron making, and milling were other industries in the County that prospered due to its proximity to the Delaware Bay. Salem County’s industries were connected to Philadelphia by the West Jersey Railroad in 1883, making its agricultural and industrial goods more accessible to the Pennsylvania markets. (Borough of Woodstown, “Open Space and Recreation Plan”)4 This made the County increasingly more attractive for industrial and commercial growth. The most

significant investment was made by the DuPont Chemical Company when it established the Carneys Point Smokeless Powder Facility in 1892. The site eventually housed an entire complex devoted to chemical manufacturing. At its peak during World War I, the Carneys Point Facility employed 25,000 workers and one-quarter of the households in Salem County. (Dupont Company, “Carneys Point: 1892”)5

Historic Resources

There are forty-three sites, twenty buildings, and four historic districts listed on either the State or National Register of Historic Places in Salem County. (U.S. National Park Service, “Reconnaissance Study: New Jersey Shore of the Delaware Bay”)6 While only a few of them are mentioned here, a complete list is available from the N.J. DEP Historic

Preservation Office and in the Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory. Unlike natural resources that are well documented by the State of New Jersey, historic resources do not have the same level of detailed documentation. The majority of historic resources in Salem County have not been evaluated to determine what structures might be eligible for the State or National Register. Salem and Gloucester Counties are part of a prototype project by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office to develop a system for evaluating and mapping historic resources with GIS data. (Ron Magill, Salem Old House Foundation, N.J. Advisor, National Trust for Historic Preservation) Salem County contains a remarkable number of surviving historic buildings from the 17th through 20th centuries that include agricultural, commercial, and residential structures. Most unique are those houses described as patterned-brick, constructed primarily by Quakers of English descent. These structures were built with a varying number of specially glazed bricks that appear light blue in color and contrast sharply with the traditional red bricks. The vitrification of brick is caused by extreme heat during firing which causes a blue-green glaze on the ends of the brick. These “glazed” bricks, when selectively placed, were used to form the designs for which these structures are noted, including geometric patterns as well as a display of the initials of the builders and the dates of construction. At this writing there are 25 recognized structures that were built using vitrified brick on the exterior to incorporate this high level of decoration.

One of the more distinctive structures of this era is the 1722 Abel and Mary Nicholson House, the only Federally recognized National Historic Landmark in all of Salem or Cumberland Counties. The Nicholson House with both a diamond pattern and date of construction, is said to be the most original, intact patterned-brick house to survive in the

Delaware Valley and possibly in the United States. The National Historic Landmark Salem County Open Space and Recreation Plan – December 2006 32 designation is given to only about 2% of structures on the National Register and is

considered to be equivalent to that of a national park. (Ron Magill, Salem Old House Foundation, N.J. Advisor, National Trust for Historic Preservation) Another, more accessible example of this form of architecture, is the Hancock House

State Historic Site in Lower Alloways Creek Township (right). This example has a herringbone design in the west gable façade along with the date of construction, 1734, and initials of the original owners (William and Sarah Hancock).

This house is otherwise famous as the site of a 1778 Revolutionary War massacre of Salem County militia men.

Salem County also contains a number of landmarks with military significance. Finns Point National Cemetery in Pennsville is the burial place for more than 2,000 Confederate prisoners and a dozen Union guards who died while at Fort

Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Adjoining Finns Point is Fort Mott State

Park – a fortification that was constructed in 1896 to defend the mouth of the Delaware during the

Spanish-American War. Fort Mott still contains its original embankments and gun turrets, which are open for public viewings. (Salem County Cultural Resources Inventory)7 Historic districts generally contain a group of buildings, structures, or objects that display common historical theme. Some historic districts are comprised of old buildings that have simply retained their architectural integrity over time. Others contain structures that express a unique architectural style, such as patterned bricks, that are historically significant. Still others exude intangible characteristics that have invaluable importance to an area. The four historic districts that are so designated in Salem County include the Broadway Historic District, the Fort Mott and Finns Point National Cemetery District, the Hedge-Carpenter-Thompson Historic District, and the Market Street Historic District. The following chart provides details about each.

1 Salem County Planning Board. “Cultural Resources Inventory”. January 24, 2006.

2 Pennsville Township Historical Society. “Area History.” Accessed August 23, 2006.

3 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry. “Hancock House.” . Accessed August 23, 2006.

4 Borough of Woodstown. “Open Space and Recreation Plan for the Borough of Woodstown.” 2006.

5 Dupont Co. “Carneys Point: 1892.” Accessed August 23, 2006.

6 National Park Service. “Reconnaissance Study: New Jersey Shore of the Delaware Bay.” May 2001.

7 “Hancock House”. Photo. . Accessed December 4, 2006.

8 National Register of Historic Places, “New Jersey – Salem County – Historic Districts” . Accessed August 23, 2006.

The New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route

The Coastal Heritage Trail is a project run by the National Park Service. The Trail was established by Congress in 1988 to promote appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of the cultural and natural sites found along the coastal areas of New Jersey. (New Jersey Audubon) Salem County is part of the Delsea Region of the Trail. The Delsea Region features bird watching areas, wetland and wildlife preserves, parks, marinas, and American Revolution and Civil War sites. The Regional Welcome Center is located at Fort Mott State Park.

Scenic Drives

The New Jersey Audubon Society created and published the New Jersey Birding and Wildlife Trails book, including 9 driving tours in New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore region. Two of these driving trails are located in Salem County. (New Jersey Audubon)

Trail #1

  1. Fort Mott State Park/ Finn’s Point Lighthouse, Pennsville
  2. Riverview Beach Park, Pennsville
  3. Pennsville Historical Society – Church Landing Farmhouse museum, Pennsville
  4. Memorial Lake, Woodstown
  5. Camp Crockett County Park, Pilesgrove
  6. Daretown Lake, Upper Pittsgrove
  7. Elmer Lake Wildlife Management Area, Elmer
  8. Parvin State Park, Pittsgrove

Trail #2

  1. Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
  2. Pointers – Sharptown Road, Bridge at Nimrod Road
  3. Salem River Wildlife Management Area
  4. Elsinboro Neck, Elsinboro
  5. Alloway Creek Watershed Wetland Restoration Site, Elsinboro and Lower Alloways Creek
  6. Abbotts Meadow Wildlife Management Area, Elsinboro
  7. Stow Creek Bald Eagle Nest Viewing Platform, Canton
  8. Stowneck Road to Mad Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area, Lower Alloways Creek
  9. Maskell’s Mill Wildlife Management Area, Lower Alloways Creek
  10. Mill Pond Road, Lower Alloways Creek