Salem County Economic Development

Many of the emigrants brought with them hand mills, for the purpose of grinding their own grain, but the settlers soon found it essential to their existence to turn their attention to the immediate erection of grist and sawmills bringing about the first economic development. Accordingly, there was a horse-mill erected for the grinding of grain in the upper part of the town of Salem. Of water-mills, the first kinds were tide-mills; they were located in Elsinboro, Salem and Mannington, on the south side of Alloway Creek and at Carney’s Point. There were also three wind-mills – one near the wharf in Salem, another at Kinseyville, in Penn’s Neck and the third on the farm of Samuel James, Esq. The first saw-mill was erected by William Hampton in 1682.

By 1682 Salem had become a place of some foreign trade – so much so that it was made a port for vessels entering and clearing therefrom. By exacting from all vessels less than 100 tons, one shilling for entering and one shilling for clearing; all vessels of more than 100 tons, double that amount they financed the port.   The same year, a weekly market was by law held every Tuesday near the wharf in Salem and annual fairs were established also by law for the buying and selling of all manner of lawful goods, wares and merchandise. They were held in Salem on the 1st and 2nd of May and the 20th and 21st of October.

As the population increased so did the saleable goods ready for the market. Store-keepers or merchants established themselves in Salem, Cohansey and Greenwich. They carried on considerable business in the way of trade. The articles for export were deer and other pelts and skins which the woods, swamps and marshes afforded with abundance. In addition there were cedar posts, shingles and bolts, staves, wheat, corn, some beef, pork and tallow. A partner was located in New York, to whom the cargoes were consigned, and on the return trips their vessels brought such goods as would be most saleable to the country people. Ships from Salem traded as far as Boston and the West Indies.


Agriculture has been a way of life in South Jersey since the Indians planted their first crop, and all three counties have remained devoted to some agricultural pursuit into the twentieth century. The first farmers here were the Lenni Lenape Indians who cleared the land by burning the underbrush and girdling trees. Among the plants they domesticated and cultivated were several varieties of corn – flint corn, popcorn and sweet corn – kidney and lima beans, pumpkin, Jerusalem artichoke, sunflower, and tobacco. They also harvested wild rice and gathered chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories and butternuts. Indians taught the first whites about indigenous wild foods and they are credited with providing the newcomers with many of today’s popular commercial products: corn, blueberries, cranberries and sugar maples.

The sequence of white settlements also introduced familiar farming practices from European homelands and other countries. The Dutch introduced cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radishes, parsnips, beets, spinach, and onions as well as a variety of flowers and fruit trees. In the late eighteenth century the Irish brought with them white potatoes and visitors to the Caribbean returned with sweet potatoes. Livestock supplemented crops: sheep, cattle, horses, pigs and chickens. All but easily victimized sheep roamed the woods and open fields freely; to protect the crops colonial law required that fields be enclosed by worm or Virginia fences made of split rails laid in a zigzag pattern.   Farms also contained houses, barns drive in corn cribs and sheds.

Market Days/Fairs

Seventeenth century farmers sold crops and acquired new agricultural knowledge through fairs and written material. That fairs functioned as a glorified market day was an Old World tradition, and despite their commercial importance, social activities were also a major element.

In 1681 the West Jersey Assembly established two annual fairs, to be held in Burlington and Salem Counties. Market Days were established as Saturdays in Burlington and Tuesdays in Salem. Also semi-annual fairs in Salem were slated for May and October.

Despite efforts to keep the fairs orderly, some outsiders caused problems by selling liquor and encouraging horse racing. In 1698 Salem officials banned the sale of liquor at the fairs. Nevertheless, eventually the concept of fairs coinciding with market days was lost in an atmosphere of gambling and drinking. By 1763, the chaos of the Salem fair increased so much that the New Jersey Assembly discontinued the privilege; two years later the town of Greenwich lost its rights also. By 1797 the Assembly abolished fair privileges throughout the state. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, agricultural societies participated in the establishment of county fairs. In 1826, Robert Gibbon Johnson, a prominent Salem County farmer and member of the Pennsylvania and Salem Couty Agricultural Societies, promoted the reorganization of the Salem County fair.

The New Jersey Society for Promoting Agriculture, Commerce and Arts advertised for members in the New Jersey Gazette in August 1781. Both Salem and Cumberland county agricultural societies were founded ca. 1800. These societies, especially the one in Salem, boasted prominent members who were continually experimenting with ways to improve the crops and farming techniques in the area. Robert Gibbon Johnson, a member of the Salem Society, recognized that the land was exhausted from over farming – and business was depressed as a result. The New Jersey legislature appointed him to oversee Salem County’s agricultural-relief fund loan office. In an effort to restore farmer’s’ faith, he stressed the use of calcium-rich marl to replenish the soil. According to popular legend, Johnson also proved that the tomato was not poisonous and more important that South Jersey’s sandy soil was an excellent location to grow them.

Robert Gibbon Johnson writes in his history of the aftermath of the Revolution in Salem County: “It was fortunate for our country, that shortly after our war terminated, a trade was opened by American merchants with almost all the European nations.”

As new channels of commerce were opening so was the spirit of agriculture beginning to revive. The price of grain averaged as follows, from 1782 to 1791 – wheat, $1.11 per bushel; corn, 56 cents.

Loan office – The Legislature of New jersey directed an emission of 100,000 pounds of paper money, which was loaned out on mortgage on landed security, evidently with a design to assist the agricultural interest of the state. According to Johnson, “Of that sum, our county took $16,000. I closed the loan office account for this county on the 1st of March, 1797.”

As soon as farmers could grow more crops or raise more animals than they needed to feed their families, agriculture became an industry in Salem County. Oxen were the beasts of burden and horses and boats were used for transportation. There was a definite effort to import sheep and improve the breeds of all livestock. Combined with the domestic animals of the farms and the naïve animals such as deer, muskrat, mink, otter, and beaver, it was only natural that some families would specialize in the tanning of hides. Much of Salem County was covered with oak and the bark from this, as well as sumac, was used in tanning. This was an outlet for an otherwise unused product by the farmer who could sell off timber for ship repairs, construction. No doubt because of the sheep it was reported even before 1700, that there were professional weavers making garments for the local people. These neighborhood shops persisted until nearly 1800 and “ready to wear” were not apparent until after 1820.

It becomes rather evident that agriculture was the established basic industry up until the Revolutionary War time. Southern New Jersey and Salem County supplied food and fiber to the Revolutionary War troops as well as militiamen. After the Revolution and up to 1810, there was a new felt independence. A terrific economic upheaval and the start of a reconstruction era caused farmers of the land to incorporate off farm employment in their slack season or to leave the farm entirely and to develop the trades and services. During the time of the self-sufficient individual family economy, rye and barley were the popular crops. The barley was a livestock food and also brewed for beer. Sheep, cattle, goats, swine and horses were the beasts of burden and/or the animals which provided food and fiber. Some tobacco was grown and even exported, as well as some flax.

Immediately after the Revolution low prices were predominant. There was little desire to farm and the farmers had poor help and poor tenants. A lot of the land had been used up. This economic upheaval marked the beginning of the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy.

In the period from 1810 to the Civil War, the farmers began to specialize to some degree. They not only produced for their own use, but they also sold something in the market. Roads were becoming more usable, canals were opening, and the railroads were soon to come which provided greater markets for their product. The use of marl raised crop yields. Over 500,000 tons of marl were applied on land in Pilesgrove and Pittsgrove townships.

The Agricultural Societies began to blossom. The first agricultural society in Salem County was the Salem County Agricultural Association in 1826. Later the Salem County Agricultural and Horticultural Society was founded in 1850 and the West Jersey Agricultural Association in 1870. The latter was the forerunner of the Salem County Board of Agriculture.

Some inventive genius evidenced itself in early Salem County with David Pettit devising a cultivator with five small plows to a frame. Immediately after the Civil War, mechanization began to offset farm labor and everyone enjoyed extremely high prices for farm products during the Civil War. History has shown since the country was founded that the farmers really only has a profitable operation in comparison to his industrial cousins, during a time of stress such as war. Immediately following the Civil War the west was opened and the resultant surpluses, low prices, and urban and industrial growth were merely repletion of the cycle immediately following the Revolutionary War.

Immediately after the Civil War farmers began to specialize even further to a one crop basis and became organization conscious. Grange, Farm Bureau, and marketing organizations came into being and great acreages of white potatoes and canhouse tomatoes soon became the predominate scene in Salem County.

Just prior to the Civil War, more trades and services became available to the farmer as transportation improved. Wheat became an important product to the farmers of the area because of its sale value as a crop to bring in ready cash. The White Stone Flour Mill on Front Street in Salem at Penns Neck Bridge was purchased by the Salem Steam Mill and Banking Company. Here first class flour was made and sold to Delaware City, New Castle, Penns Grove and Chester. The Mill operated on Front Street and the bank operated at 61 Market Street. Later the name was changed to the Salem Banking Company and the mill which was losing money sold off to the Salem Steam Mill and Manufacturing Company. The banking company which was now separate became the Salem National Bank. Banking services had come to the farmer.

Since the first Swedish settlement Salem County has grown a wide variety and succession of crops. Back in 1812 in Pittsgrove township there was even an oil mill which produced some 950 gallons of oil from flax seed at a dollar a gallon.


Maritime activities

While whalers prospered in Cape May during the seventeenth century, residents of Salem and Cumberland counties were pursuing shipbuilding and trade. The first ports in South Jersey were Salem and Greenwich. Salem became an official port of entry in 1682, Greenwich in 1687. As such, these towns contained custom houses where British taxes were collected from arriving ships. A port of delivery served as a ship’s destination port as opposed to any other port where the ship might receive provisions, orders, or refuge from storms. The locations were ideal. They remained important centers of trade until the Revolutionary War, and Salem was fully operational when Philadelphia was still a foundling colonial hub. The founder of the towns, John Fenwick, foresaw their potential, and devised wide streets to accommodate the traffic: Salem’s Wharf Street or Salem Street was 90’ wide, and Greenwich’s Ye Greate Street was 100’ across. Both were lined with houses and shops that terminated at water’s edge amid a cluster of docks.

Items exported: wheat and corn, beef, tallow and animal pelts. The woodlands supported the production of shingles, boards, staves, hoops and raw timber.

Ship building

Many of the ships that were built and based in the area were sloops or schooners. Shallops and sloops were popular around the Delaware Bay and its rivers in the early colonial period for oystering, fishing and trading until the versatile schooner was introduced in the colonies in 1760. They led to the development of the bay schooners used for oystering. The industry grew.

The arrival of the railroad to the Maurice River area in 1876 enhanced the oyster industry. The first year and average of ten cars of oysters per week were shipped out, a decade later – about the time protective laws were being enacted – an average of 90 cars per week departed Bivalve in Cumberland County. At the same time, more than 300 dredge boats and 3,000 men were involved with Delaware Bay oystering. There was also a demand for oyster shells to be ground down to make lime. By 1917 the Delaware Bay oystering had become a $10 million a year industry.

The sturgeon fleet

A summer fleet fished for sturgeon for meat and caviar. In the Penns Grove area four shipyards supplied sturgeon fishermen with boats at various times. In addition, the fishermen were dependent upon local men, women and children to make the necessary 12’ mesh nets; in 1890, machine knit 11-13’ nets replaced the handmade ones. There was also a cannery in Penns Grove that packed the caviar in glass jars. By 1925 factory and sewage pollution coupled with over fishing caused the end of the industry. The crab industry came close to the same fate. It almost came to an end in the 1890s but was saved by regulations that restricted how the crabs were caught. It is now once again a flourishing business.


Historians date the beginning of America’s second industrial revolution at about the time the Civil War was ending or half dozen years thereafter. The cause of Salem counties Industrial Revolution was the realization by small circles of men of vision and resources that the silica rich sand that Wester father and son had turned to glass eighty years earlier remained underfoot and ready still to be thrust into the furnace.

Casper Wistar, a brass button maker from Philadelphia established a glass factory in Alloway in 1739. This birth place of the now famous Wistarburg glass consisted of two furnaces, two flattening ovens, a pot hose, a cutting house, a stamping mill, and a rolling mill for the preparation of clay. This was the first successful commercial glass works in the American colonies.

The important prerequisites for the making of glass were a superior quality of sand, ample wood for the furnaces, and nearness to a waterway. Alloway had all three. At that time Alloway Creek, which was two miles away, was navigable for small scallops. Also the colonists were in dire need of window panes and drinking glasses. For these reasons, Mr. Wister was lured from Philadelphia to start on his new venture. Wistar brought glass makers from Europe who knew how to make glass.

After the death of Caspar Wistar in 1752, his son Richard took over the business, but the Revolutionary War marked its downfall. It had been in operation for forty years.

The realization of new possibilities commenced in 1862 when Henry Hall, Joseph Pancoast and John Craven formed a partnership and built a single furnace on Third Street in Salem City. It turned out bottles for mineral water and beer. Business grew and a second furnace was built on Fourth Street. By the end of the Civil War, the partners were turning out fruit jars for half a dozen companies and hundreds of bottles of various shapes and sizes that eventually would be filled with Pat Woods Bitters, Carter’s Ink, Paine’s Celery Compound or Lidia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. While some of the bottles were of standard sizes and shapes and bore the name of the glassworks, other bottles were molded to customers’ specifications and were emblazoned with the customers’ and product names.

The year after the partners fired their first furnace, two other glassworks were started in Salem County: one later for the name of the Englishman John Gaynor and also was located in Salem city, the second call the Quinton Glassworks. Gaynor who had started a glass factory in Waterford, New Jersey, after immigrating, leased a defunct glassworks and changed its name to his, and a team of four men each put up $8,000 to establish the Quinton glassworks.

Because of what was happening in Salem and surrounding counties, southern New Jersey became known in some circles as the Cradle of American Glass. In the southwest corner of the cradle, by 1876 sales had so increased the glassworks founded by Hall, Pancoast and Craven and a third furnace had to be built, this one on Griffith Street. Two years later, the partnership underwent a change in the company was called Craven Brothers Glass Company under the partnership of Craven and his brother Thomas. They also built the fourth furnace and increased employment to 350 workers. Meanwhile, Gaynor’s one furnace factory at Broadway and Front Street began producing a variety of bottles and jars, bearing the owners name: the Gaynor Mason Jar and the Gaynor Glass Top. Unlike the other two factories, which specialized in manufacture of glass bottles and jars, the Quinton glassworks produced mainly window, coach and picture glass. Near the end of the century in 1895, Craven brothers partnership was dissolved to replace by a stock company but the Craven and Pancoast families were still at the helm.   Also in that year, the company changed its name to Salem Glass Works and its products also included the Mason jar and a Poland Springs water bottle.

The latter quarter the 19th century, the Quinton Glassworks ranked high among the 26 glass plants then in New Jersey and was well and favorably known nationally for its standards of quality and outstanding service. In 1876 Atlas reported that the Glassworks, which included housing for employees, covered nearly seven acres bordering Alloway Creek and the main road to Salem city. The Works had an annual capacity for 3 million feet of glass. “

Another glassworks was founded in the County in 1883 called Elmer Glass Manufacturing Company. By 1889, the glassworks employed 75 men and was producing first-class window glass. In addition to window glass they manufactured bottles, insulators, battery jars and doorknobs.

The Gaynor glass company was primarily noted for making extra-large containers often used by the chemical industry but they ventured unexpectedly, not very wisely and rather briefly into the manufacture of glass coffins. The inventor Dr. Becker of Texas, had tried in all parts of the country to have them made and every instance without success. The coffins were, of course, transparent and were made in one piece with an opening at one end.

Salem County still has at least three operating glass companies, including Anchor Glass Container in Salem city.

The farming industry in Salem County was also responsible for the creation of another industry. It is an old Salem County legend of Robert Gibbon Johnson in 1828 ate a tomato on the steps of the courthouse to prove it wasn’t poisonous. In reality the Spanish explorer Cortez found the tomato in South America in 1521 and Italians were eating them as early as 1544. By 1752, English cooks were putting them in soup. Regardless, it has been said that no vegetable has been more important to New Jersey than the tomato.

By the time of the American Civil War, the tomato was harvested in Salem County and the state for the primary purpose of putting it into a bottle or a can. It is believed that the first cannery in Salem County commenced operation in either 1862 or 1864. It has been written that later in the 19th century when wagons and carriages of every description fill the roads on their ways to the cannery the roads were literally painted red with squished tomatoes that fell from the wagons. By 1890 small factories pack 200,000 cans of tomatoes; larger ones, one million. One canning establishment in Salem manufactured almost two million cans, generating $150,000 in income, a large amount in that time. Several large canneries in Salem packed five million cans annually.

One day in 1896, Henry J. Heinz conceived 57 varieties of products for his company 10 years later; he built a plant on Griffith Street in Salem city to produce ketchup. By the turn-of-the-century when Campbell Soup discovered the way to produce condensed soups Salem County became their biggest supplier of tomatoes for their most popular soup. At one point Campbell was selling over one million cans a day produced at its factory in Camden with tomatoes supplied by local farms.

End of the century brought a hope for even better times. A deed dated July 19, 1891, transferred 198.85 acres of the old Thomas Carney farm fronted on the Delaware River below Helms Cove in Upper Penns Neck Township (now Penns Grove) to five brothers trading as E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Company of Delaware. Here they built a small plant and laboratory.

Established in 1802 on the banks of Delaware’s Brandywine River, the company had been engaged primarily in the manufacture of explosives. In 1880, the company built a dynamite plant in Repauno, NJ on the waterfront opposite Chester, PA.

Du Pont was to become a major employer in Salem County throughout the 20th century. At its peak of activity in 1917 approximately 25,000 people were employed at the Carney’s Point Works. They later bought property at Deepwater Point and built the Chambers Works Plant with manufacturing operations for a number of products and a large research facility where research conducted by Charles Peterson gave Salem County a resident Noble Prize Winner. A plaque on his former home on Market Street in Salem marks the achievement.