A Glance at Moorestown's History

As one walks along Main Street from the Friends School past the old Town Hall, it is hard to believe that once it was wigwams of the Lenni Lenape Indians that occupied this area. They had undoubtedly settled in this particular place because of two fine springs, one on West Main Street between Locust and Union Streets and the other on East Main Street near Stanwick Road.

It is not certain when the first white settlers came here, but it was in 1682 that the road from Burlington to Salem, passing through what is now Moorestown, was laid out. This road was called King's Highway and of course is still a most familiar name to residents of the community.

In May of 1686, when Philadelphia was about 3 years old, Dr. John Rodman bought 500 acres in what is now the western part of Moorestown. This area was known as Rodmantown and the growing area around the spring near Stanwick Road was known as Chestertown. The name Moorestown did not come into use until the middle part of the 18th century. It was named in honor of Thomas Moore who was its first tavern keeper as well as its first realtor. His historic inn stood on King's Highway near the northwest corner of Main and Union Streets.

In 1700 the first Friend's Meeting, made of logs, was erected at the northwest corner of Main Street and Chester Avenue. The village at that time probably consisted of a few farm houses along the highway from Stanwick Road to Locust Street. Chester Avenue was not laid out until 1720 and at that time was called Meeting House Lane.

The first Meeting House burned in 1720 and was replaced with a large stone building. The Meeting House now standing on the eastern end of that property was erected in 1802 and the old stone building torn down. After its removal the lot on which this building stood was used exclusively as a burial ground.

Coles Hotel, on the corner of Main and Chester, was the scene of great activity prior to the building of the railroad in 1867. Before this time, stagecoach was the only public conveyance between Moorestown and Philadelphia, and the hotel was a stopping place.

Another landmark is on the other side of Chester Avenue, the present home of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company. In 1745 John Cox erected a tavern that was to become famous in the early history of Moorestown. Town Meetings were held in the tavern prior to the erection of the old Town Hall in 1812.

The home now standing on the northwest corner of Main and Schooley Streets, then the home of Joshua Bispham, was commandeered by Hessian officers as they retreated from Philadelphia in 1778.

The old homestead on the northwest corner of King's Highway and Lenola Road was constructed in 1742 by John Cowperthwaite. Because of its excellent example of an 18th century home, record of its construction was made in 1937 by the U.S. Department of Interior and is now recorded in the Library of Congress.

Moorestown has been from the beginning a town of homes rather than industry. In the early days the tanning industry was an important one. This was probably because of the abundance of oak and hemlock bark that could be obtained from neighboring forests. The oldest tannery was located between Main and Second Streets west of Union.

The nursery and fruit business was also established at an early date. John Perkins conducted a nursery specializing in ornamental trees on the triangle bounded by King's Highway, Camden Pike and Pleasant Valley Avenue. The house is now a community center for the arts and is open to residents for classes and exhibitions. Many of the beautiful trees came from the original Perkins Nursery.

With this historical background, a small part of which is given here, it was only natural that interested citizens wanted to preserve some of the relics that are in the Township. It was with this thought in mind that the Historical Society of Moorestown was formed in 1969. The Headquarters of the Society is in the Smith-Cadbury Mansion located at 12 High Street and is one of the oldest homes in Moorestown, the center part of the building having been built about 1738 while the front and rear portions were added slightly later. This home too, was occupied by German officers on the historic day in June 1778. The house is listed in the National Historic Register of Historic Places.

The foregoing sketch of Moorestown tells of its past. Its future depends on its citizens to preserve the fine town we now have with its old homes, tree lined streets, outstanding schools, progressive government, and above all its deep interest in the religious atmosphere of the town. We hope it will always be a great town in which to live and of which we will continue to take pride.

This has been prepared by the Historical Society of Moorestown as a community service to present residents and more particularly to prospective homeowners considering Moorestown as a desirable location in which to settle and rear their families.




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