Life And Events From 1892 In Pennsauken
The world in 1892 was different, but people were much the same. Things new then are old now, but they persist in our lives. It was the year the Nutcracker ballet debuted in Tsarist Russia; the rules of the new game of basketball were published; and the character of Sherlock Holmes first appeared as a collection of stories in book form.
In 1892, the larger township of Stockton, in existence for one-third of a century, gave way to the large, rural township of Pensauken and the tiny, urbanized township of Stockton. Pensauken was predominantly an agricultural community with a scattering of farmhouses, barns, fields and orchards. There were a few, growing settlements of homes and churches, community halls and schools, corner stores and post offices. Prominently, these communities included Pensauken village, nearby Jordantown, Delair, Homesteadville, Pennsville, Fish House, and Bethel.
In that era, local folks found entertainment and sociability in organized card game tournaments like Progressive Euchre and in stereopticon exhibitions of exotic places; in community balls, pageants and recitations; in parades and picnics and contests of athletic prowess. Swimming and fishing in Pensauken and hunting for rabbits were local summer entertainments, while a train trip to Atlantic City was a vacation.
The recent development of Delair was considered fashionable and sociable. In 1892, a sign of its rising prestige came when the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to open a new Delair station for its trains passing through the town. Street improvements and lighting were matters of much discussion in the community; there was even talk of a petition to form an independent borough like Merchantville had done twenty years earlier, to insure local priorities through self-government. Perhaps this movement for autonomy was drained of some impetus when the first mayor or chairman of the Pensauken Township Committee, elected that year, was Delair resident Samuel Moseley.
Henry L. Bonsall was a most prominent citizen, as a newspaper publisher deeply involved in public affairs of the City of Camden and South Jersey. Bonsall Hall, a community resource, served as a site of meetings and frequent social events. Political parties and clubs rented rooms for their headquarters and meeting places at the hall. Mr. Bonsall was highly committed to public improvements and social reforms, as shown by his role in the Brotherhood of the Union, a fraternal organization which aimed to cure social ills by removing their underlying causes through benevolent and charitable work. In 1892, Mr. Bonsall was honored with a dinner and a presentation as a “Past Supreme Washington” of the order, and the new local chapter was named in his honor.
Not far from Delair in 1892, Dr. J. D. Hylton reigned benevolently over his romantic realm on the Pensauken Creek, Mt. Pleasant. Here, the self-styled “poet of Pensauken,” arranged for a tribute of flowers for a poet of somewhat loftier memory when Walt Whitman passed away at his home in Camden in March.
It was reported that Dr. Hylton was involved in extensive improvements to his “baronial mansion on the bluff overlooking the Pensauken” in 1892. During this year, the already extensive Hylton orchards were being expanded with thousands of Kieffer pear trees on land newly purchased from neighboring farms. In the autumn, thousands of baskets of the pears were among other Hylton produce shipping to Philadelphia and other local markets.
Though Dr. Hylton was living a life of his dreams atop his beloved Mt. Pleasant, it was not to last. Death came for the poet of Pensauken but a year later in October, 1893.
The clay pits and quarrying on parts of the Hylton farm are thought by some to have inspired others to capitalize on the rich minerals of the area, including the local Hatch family of both farmers and brick manufacturers using local clays.
The Hatches were among the first significant local employers in manufacturing, at their Fairview Brick Works, located just north of Fish House Cove. The Brick Works, with its extensive kilns and drying sheds, was a very successful enterprise that supplied bricks for houses and buildings and sidewalks in Camden and throughout the area.
The combination of prosperous farms and successful business propelled the Hatch family to local prominence in public affairs as well. In 1892, Hugh Hatch, patriarch of the family, took his wife on a tour of Europe. Of the doings on the Hatch farms during the year, it was reported that a thief was caught in a Hatch barn, stealing a harness. Zadie, the Hatch boy who cornered the thief, is reported to have dispensed justice directly by giving the thief a good beating. Other reports tell of the fine horses being raised on the Hatch farm and of the successful late fall hog slaughter by farmer Hatch.
Another enterprise taking advantage of the local clays was the Terra Cotta manufactory of Augustus Reeve, located on Pea Shore nearer to Camden. There, a tragedy struck in August when John Ross, a resident of Homesteadville working at the plant, was trapped in the clay pit and perished before he could be rescued. Few occupational safety regulations applied in 1892.
The year 1892 was noted as a bountiful harvest of local crops. Dr. Hylton and J. Collins both shipped large and plentiful harvests of pears. Captain Charles Shayne near Merchantville was said to be shipping hundreds of baskets of cantaloupes as far as Pittsburgh during the season.
Other well-known farmers of Delair in 1892 were the Evauls, headed by 70-year-old patriarch Joseph. The Evauls lived in an old stone farmhouse originally built by a family named Evans in the late 1700s near Puchack Creek. It had been sold to them by the Browning family in 1815.
The Browning family farm itself was still occupied and operated beside the Delaware River at a spot near which a new railroad bridge would become the first span across the river south of Trenton in three years’ time.
The latter part of 1892 witnessed a hard fought presidential election between the Republican incumbent, Benjamin Harrison and New Jersey’s native son Grover Cleveland. Nevertheless, it is recorded that Delair Democrats helped the Delair Republican Club in hanging their large, elegant Harrison banner for a November political rally. Oh, for a simpler, more civil era!
Sources for this column include contemporary and historical newspaper accounts from the Camden Courier, the Community News, Palmyra Weekly News, and other local newspapers.