On the Road to Quirky

by Doug Otto | Jan 4, 2009
On the Road to Quirky …From the pages of South Jersey Magazine…

South Jersey town names that are strange…but true

And the answer is: Ong’s Hat. Timbuktoo. Skin Hill.

If you guessed, What are some weird South Jersey town names?, you’d be right.

Our region certainly has plenty of towns with odd names, and most have a rather interesting naming history—whether it be grounded in fact or legend. So read on, and if you get lost, turn left at Mizpah. If you hit Long-A-Coming, you’ve gone too far.

The Inn Side Story
Long before paved roadways were established across New Jersey, there were stagecoaches and the inns that serviced their weary passengers. These hostelries often generated entire settlements, and their names became the town name, too. Towns such as Blue Anchor, Barnsboro, Centerton and Long-A-Coming chose their names from the local hotel or tavern. Occasionally an interesting tale preceded the identity of the inn, and carried over to the neighborhood. Take Red Lion for example.

The three-story Red Lion Hotel, built in 1710, is located at the intersection of Routes 70, 72 and 206, the crossroads of Tabernacle, Vincentown and Medford. It was a gathering place for hunters who took vengeance upon animals who were feeding on their cattle. They sought prey in the Bear Swamp about half a mile away. Today, the 827 acres is known as the Red Lion Preserve, and is managed by New Jersey Natural Lands Trust. One day, the hotel’s owner, Old Man Parks, met a mountain lion in the cedar swamp. He shot and wounded it, then his gun failed, so he wrestled the lion hand-to-hand, clubbing it about the head, until blood flowed freely. The yellow animal seemed to turn red. Parks brought his kill to town and thereafter the inn and the town were forever known as Red Lion.

The Salem County town of Seven Stars is named after the inn built in 1762, and adorned with star-shaped monograms and a date woven into the brickwork on its south gable. Tradition tells that the ghost of pre-Revolutionary Bluebeard the Pirate haunts the premises and that travelers on horseback availed themselves of an early example of curbside service at the tavern. The same county’s Pole Tavern is said to have taken its name from the first liberty pole erected in New Jersey. The pole stood in the center of the village, in front of the tavern, a scene of much activity during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Once, in 1762, a traveler from Cape May stopped at the Folsom Borough’s Penny Pot Tavern, located on the old stage route that stretched between Camden and Absecon. When he settled his account, the innkeeper needed change. His wife said, “There was not a penny in the pot," and the name stuck. Today, the Pinecrest Motel on the Black Horse Pike sits on the knoll overlooking a lake once occupied by the Penny Pot Tavern.

All In The Family
Scores of towns are named using the family names of their founders. Some pay tribute to the originators’ wives and daughters. Both Haddonfield and its founder, Elizabeth Estaugh Haddon, are celebrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn. The town was the meeting place in 1777 of the New Jersey legislature, driven out of Trenton by the Hessians during the Revolutionary War. Hammonton, named for John Hammond Coffin, is still predominately a farming area that was awarded first prize for general exhibition and individual wines at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Celebration.

Port Elizabeth was established on the banks of the Maurice River as a commercial center and a port of delivery for goods from the West Indies by Elizabeth Bodly, who, coincidentally, was inspired by Elizabeth Haddon. The legend is that the two Elizabeths were great friends, journeying to each other’s town in alternate years even though they were 43 years apart in age.

Hezekiah B. Smith was an industrialist and eccentric genius who established the company town of Smithville outside Mount Holly. His Star Bicycle plant and his bicycle railroad were world famous.

Cape May—both the town and the county—owe their names to Dutch sea captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, who found that the climate so resembled his native Holland, that he named the land after himself. He maneuvered his ship, Glad Tidings, around the cape and up the Delaware River in 1620. The town of Cape May became the most famous seaside resort in the nation in the 1850s.

Somers Point is named after Richard Somers, but it was his great grandson, also named Richard, who was more famous as the American Naval hero of the 1804 Tripoli War. Six U.S. Navy ships have borne the name Somers ever since. Another military man, Civil War General William J. Sewell, gave his name to a fast-growing area of Washington Township.

History Has It
At Hancock’s Bridge, the murderous hatred between Loyalists and South Jersey’s Patriots during the American Revolution peaked with a massacre when General George Washington sent General “Mad Anthony” Wayne from Valley Forge to forage for food in Salem County. Wayne rounded up 300 head of cattle and was credited with the Army’s survival at Valley Forge. The British, however, sent 300 troops to Salem, ambushed and killed 30 colonial guards while they slept in Judge Hancock’s home. The judge made the mistake of arriving home that night, and was dispatched as well.

In 1758, the first Indian reservation in America, Brotherton, was established in what has become known as Indian Mills, in Shamong Township. James Still, the "Black Doctor of the Pines," was born there in 1812. Dr. Still, a Harvard Graduate and self-taught healer, traveled the Pine Barrens during the mid-to-late-1800s treating the sick with remedies largely developed using the medicinal properties of native South Jersey plants.

In 1918, during World War I, two Atlantic County towns sprung-up virtually overnight, and disappeared almost as quickly. Belcoville, standing for the Bethlehem Loading Company, and Amatol, named for the highly explosive mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate, were two communities specializing in munitions for the war effort.

Timbuctoo, in Westampton Township, along Rt. 626 and Rancocas Road, was originally a self-sustaining community of free blacks, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Named after Timbuktu, Africa, the settlement attracted a sizable post-Civil War population, but has no marker indicating its historical significance. Another town name derived from a cultural event is Westmont. Originally known as Westmount, it commemorated the name of a racehorse that delivered big financial returns for its backers.

The pinelands town of Chatsworth began as the Chatsworth Country Club, appearing in the July 1901 issue of Town and Country Magazine. The elite of New York and Philadelphia knew about Chatsworth and its heralded bottled “health water.” The original estate at Chatsworth was owned by an ancestor of the Marquis de Tallyrand-Perigord, and was a faithful reproduction of the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire in England, also called Chatsworth. The country club listed seven hundred members, including such names as Astor, Depew, Drexel, Morgan, Gould, and Vanderbuilt.

Whenever internationally known opera singer/actress and manager of the Walnut Street Theatre, Charlotte “Lottie” Cushman, sought peace and quiet, she returned to her family’s 22-room mansion in Retreat, near Vincentown. The village surrounding the house grew to include the first cotton mill in the Pinelands, a saw mill and a blacksmith shop.

Surf and Turf Towns
New Jersey’s nickname, the Garden State, applies more to South Jersey, with its sandy soil farms producing crops as varied as fruits, vegetables and lumber. Even the prevalence of Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean seafood has influenced the naming of towns.

Shell Pile and Bivalve were major players during the state’s prospering oyster industry along the Maurice River and Delaware Bay. A late 1950s blight wiped-out the shellfish business, but walking the byways of these two towns today, visitors still hear the crunching oyster shells under foot. The pioneer settlement of Lumberton drew its name in 1683 from its abundant pine trees cut and carried by boats and rafts from the Rancocas Creek to Philadelphia. The marl pits of Marlton became famous for the slimy, green clay used as a fertilizer and water softener.

It was not the world-famous shopping mall or the five-star inn that gave Cherry Hill its name, but rather the old Browning family farm, noted for its pink-blossomed trees. Elk Township’s Pickletown was known for its crunchy gherkins, while Egg Harbor City was a variation on the Dutch “Eyren Haven” which meant harbor of eggs, since so many birds had deposited them there in 1614.

Mount Misery was once called Misericorde by Frenchmen imported to grow grapes in the Lebanon Forest. Developer Charles Landis founded Vineland in 1861 as a planned agricultural town where residents were required to grow vegetables and vineyards.

The Company Line
Over the years, many company towns sprung up throughout South Jersey in order to house workforces close to the heart of businesses. The more famous include Seabrook, the family-owned agri-giant that grew from 57 acres to 19,000 and employed 5,000 workers from 25 countries, speaking 30 different languages. During WWII, Japanese Americans who were released from U.S. internment camps began working at C.F. Seabrook’s, noted for its innovative use of overhead irrigation, frozen foods and mechanized farming.

Near Florence, John Roebling created a namesake company town for workers in his wire rope plant. The town of Atco is actually an acronym for the Atlantic Transportation Company, operator of the railroad running between Camden and Atlantic City. Glassboro earned its identity in 1779 when seven brothers opened the Stanger & Company glassworks. A whiskey bottle made in Glassboro for William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign was commissioned by Philadelphia distiller E.C. Booz. Soon these bottles became known as “booze” bottles.

The Delran Land Company shortened its name to Delanco and is the site of a Babe Ruth homerun during a 1921 barnstorming baseball game. Tansboro, named for its animal tan yards, once contained three sections: Hogshutem, Skin Hill and Tansboro proper.

The community of Merchantville, founded in 1874, was named for the many wealthy Philadelphia merchants who established residences there. Named after the famous glass-producing town in Ireland, Waterford Works contained three glass factories producing window glass and hollowware.

In the Name of God
Early religious influences are evident in town names throughout New Jersey, such as Bethlehem, Tabernacle, Jericho, Zion and Zarepath. Located just off Route 40, west of Mays Landing, is the town of Mizpah—its name derived from the Bible, meaning "God watch between us." This religious enclave was begun in 1891 by Judah Eisenstein, a writer and scholar with Russian/Polish roots, as an agri-industrial settlement in Atlantic County.

National Park should not be confused with a United States national park. The area was commercially developed starting in 1895 as National Park on the Delaware, a religious resort and retreat community for members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Quirky and The Off-Beat
Though considered a Pine Barrens ghost town, signposts on Route 70 and 72 still point toward Ong’s Hat, at the westernmost fringes of Lebanon State Forest. Several legends are attributed to the development of this town’s name in the early 1700s. One says that Jacob Ong painted a top hat on the sign of his 18th-century tavern. Another says that a slighted lover tossed his top hat into a nearby tree, where it stayed for years.

An urban legend begun in the 1990s states that a facility manned by renegade Princeton University professors exists in Ong’s Hat, and experiments in quantum physics resulted in new theories for dimensional time travel. In More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, author Henry Charlton Beck writes, “When the first houses in town were being built, a large buck deer ran across the road. ‘There goes a buck!’ someone cried. ‘Shoot him!’ And so the town became Buckshutem!”

The village name of Comical Corners developed around the convergence of a county road, a township road and a railroad crossing between Mt. Holly and Browns Mills, just outside Fort Dix.

So remember. If you stop for directions, and someone tells you to “go straight till you reach Timbuktoo,” they mean it.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 5 Issue 7 (October, 2008).
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Author: Doug Otto



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