The Beginning Of 50 Years Of Historical Work In Pennsauken

BobFisher-HughesBy Robert Fisher-Hughes, AAP Columnist and Amateur Historian

“Where I lie down worn out other men will stand, young and fresh. By the steps that I have cut they will climb; by the stairs that I have built they will mount. They will never know the name of the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh… but they will mount, and on my work; they will climb, and by my stair!”

– Olive Schreiner

This passage from an allegory about the pursuit of truth, written in 1890 by a South African woman, was informally adopted as a credo by the first members of the Pennsauken Historical Society, as an expression of their faith that the generations that succeeded them in the community would continue the work of our local history. It also expressed their belief that their work, imperfect as it would be, would benefit those who came after to carry it on. For them, the most important thing was to get the work begun, and cut new stairs for others to go higher.

If 1964 had been a year when the anniversary of New Jersey led to the conception of local historical societies all across the state, in 1965 those organizations had to find a way to thrive on their own. It was no different for the Pennsauken Historical Society. Fortunately, the Township imagination had been captured by the events of the Tercentenary, and support was forthcoming from individual residents, families, businesses, and the local government. Making that support count by creating a lasting foundation for history in the Township was the task undertaken by the founding members of the Pennsauken Historical Society. They soon proved capable and imaginative in doing that.

From its first membership meeting in the Ivystone Inn, when historical exhibits, an original play, and a historical lecture adorned the more mundane organizational functions, the leadership of the fledgling organization began mixing business with pleasure to entice the public interest.

The founding members of the Pennsauken Historical Society at Burrough-Dover House. The Historical Society is celebrating its 50 anniversary at a special event on June 13 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., held at the historic home at 9201 Burrough-Dover Ln.

The founding members of the Pennsauken Historical Society at Burrough-Dover House. The Historical Society is celebrating its 50 anniversary at a special event on June 13 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., held at the historic home at 9201 Burrough-Dover Ln.

More varied events and programs would have to follow to maintain the momentum from the previous year. Raising funds, public consciousness, and involvement had to be accomplished in order to succeed, but these tasks raised practical problems, one of which was where to hold these events. The Historical Society had no official home as yet, since Burrough-Dover House still belonged to the Township and was hardly ready for regular use anyway. In 1965, there was also no public library capable of hosting meetings, much less public events.

The Historical Society made a virtue of necessity by moving the locations of its events and meetings to several different sites, thereby reaching out to its community at the same time. The initial organizing meeting had been held at the Municipal Building. The first membership meeting had been at the Ivystone Inn. In 1965 and 1966, outdoor events were held on the grounds of the Burrough-Dover House, but events were also held at local churches and schools, the American Legion Hall, and even at the Cherry Hill Mall!

Historical bus tours were also arranged. Among the first, a tour of historic sites in Mt. Holly, began with a stop in Pennsauken at the home of the President of the Historical Society, J. Mortimer Lawrence, who happened to live in another colonial home of the Burrough family, not far from Burrough-Dover House. This was followed up by a bus tour to Society Hill in Philadelphia a year later.

A highlight of the first year was the corn roast held on the grounds of Burrough-Dover House in August 1965. Corn, chicken, potato salad, cucumbers in sour cream, rolls, watermelon, soft drinks and more could be enjoyed for the price of $1.75 per adult and $1.00 for kids. In that day, even at those prices, the event worked as a fundraiser!

The day of the corn roast serves to illustrate the breadth of support for the new Historical Society. Aside from the work of the volunteers who prepared the event, printed tickets were underwritten by Inglesby & Sons Funeral Home; Martins Dairies provided ice and milk and cream; the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant provided free Pepsi and ice; and the Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission provided a supply of running water to the property, which was facilitated by work at cost performed by Wells Brothers Plumbers and the use of a back hoe from Prince Concrete. Girl Scout Troop 182 waited tables. The Pennsauken Police directed parking. Donations to the event also came from Suburban Bakery, Holly Bakery and the Holly House Restaurant, Congressman Charles Wolverton, and many others.

All of these programs and events were directed to raise funds for the work needed to secure title to Burrough-Dover House and to begin its restoration to safe and secure colonial glory. As good stewards of the building, the Historical Society focused on securing the structure and received support from donations by Able Hardware and DiMedio Lumber Company to repair and replace window sashes and frames. Two hundred-year-old hinges and ironwork were donated by local man Albert Eisele. These, coming from former use at the old Pennsylvania Hospital, were now used to secure shutters to the windows of the old house.

However, work on the windows had not yet been completed when the winter of 1965-1966 intervened to remove numbers of shingles from the roof. In spring, the work on the windows was suspended to tend to the roof damage by applying more appropriate cedar shakes in place of the modern, albeit weathered, shingles. At the same time, repairs were made to the chimneys of the old house, using appropriately aged brick removed with permission of the owner from the Parry Mansion on Taylors Lane in Riverside prior to its scheduled demolition.

Meanwhile, work on the grounds surrounding the old house also progressed. State officers from the Soil Conservation Service and the State Department of Conservation visited the house and consulted on both a plan to create a pond and on the use of appropriate plantings of trees for the landscaping. Eventually, volunteers planted 2,000 seedlings, all provided by the state, on the grounds of Burrough-Dover House.

Among the numerous, imaginative events of the first two years of the Historical Society, a few deserve special mention. First, in October 1965, a celebration at the Ivystone Inn marked the anniversary of the preliminary meeting of the organizers of the Society. At this party, a large cake in the form of the Burrough-Dover House and its immediate grounds was cut and devoured. Also, Mayor William F. Garrity formally presented the deed to Burrough-Dover House to the Society, following the consummation of its public sale earlier in the month. Garrity also publicly announced intentions in the near future to transfer ownership of Griffith Morgan House to the Historical Society, although that intention was never carried out.

In the spring of 1966, acting upon a suggestion from Catherine Lawrence of the Pennsauken Historical Society, the Cherry Hill Mall hosted an Easter Parade featuring colonial fashions. The “models” in the parade were all members of Pennsauken Historical Society, Haddonfield Historical Society, and historical groups from Maple Shade, Camden, Elfreth’s Alley, Germantown, and many other localities. The event was organized as a fashion contest, with prizes for participating individuals and organizations, and it generated considerable press coverage. The Pennsauken Historical Society won a $100 prize, and member Mrs. Joseph Piergross won for best female costume. At the gala affair, President J. Mortimer Lawrence impersonated General Washington, Jack Fichter portrayed Thomas Paine, Commander William Shay of the American Legion was Benjamin Franklin, and Mrs. Gordon Bierschenk took the role of Dolly Madison.

In early 1966, the book, “A History of Pennsauken,” by Jack Fichter and Edmund Halber, was ready for publication; but funds still had to be raised to pay for printing. The Township agreed to grant $3,000 toward the expected $7,500 cost. The balance had to be laboriously raised through advance sales and fundraising events for a book that could not be ready for delivery before December. Nevertheless, the expanded first printing sold out within a week and a second printing soon followed.

On December 26, 1966, Miss Charlotte Dover died at the home of her niece in Nichols, New York. A major supporter of the creation of the Pennsauken Historical Society, Charlotte Dover had grown up while living in the Burrough-Dover House. She went on to become a teacher and school principal in the City of Camden and among her pupils, over whom she exercised a firm hand, was the young W. Leslie Rogers, who went on to leave an indelible mark on Pennsauken Township. Miss Dover had received her copy of the newly published history of Pennsauken, featuring the story of her own home, only days prior to her passing.

This has been only a sketch of the work of the Pennsauken Historical Society in its first years. Omitted are the many hours of careful planning and devoted work that truly gave the organization and its historical mission life. The record of the early work of these neighbors of ours is a remarkable one, as is the community support they received in return. The evidence of their effort and devotion is an exhortation to us to climb the stairs they constructed and go higher in our own day.

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