In 1776 a foursome of enterprising Quakers from Burlington calling themselves the Union Estates Company picked up 24,000 acres of prime wilderness here with plans to build some lumber mills. To that end they constructed a dam to create Union Mill Pond and began cutting timber. Not much happened in the way of development until 1795 when Joseph Buck, a veteran of the Revolutionary War under George Washington saw the potential for a town at the headwaters of the Maurice River.
Buck laid out a plan for about 20 blocks of a new town on the east bank of the Maurice River and commenced to selling lots. Business was not brisk, even though the town was certified as Millville - for those lumber mills - in 1801. By the time he died in 1803 there were still fewer than 20 houses built in Joseph Buck’s dream town.
Much of New Jersey in underlain by fine-grained silica that is some of the world’s best material for making glass and around Millville much of that sand is near the surface. In 1806 James Lee, an Irish immigrant became the first to take advantage of that geographic oddity when he built the town’s first glass factory on the Maurice River. Lee was less of a pioneer, however, than a promoter. He had been making glass in Port Elizabeth since 1799 and he didn’t stay in Millville long either. By 1814 he had sold the glassworks and was off to a sawmill in Bridgeton and shortly thereafter out to the new lands opening in Ohio.
The legacy of glassmaking he started in Milltown endured, however and the town became the center of commercial glassmaking in the United States. By the 1880s the town’s population was pushing 8,000 and in 1883 Theodore C. Wheaton settled in town and began making pharmaceutical glassware. His family would eventually control 41 factories producing glassware and ceramics. It would be glass that would make Joseph Buck’s dream of a thriving town on the banks of the Maurice River come to pass.
And that is where our walking tour will begin, in a park dedicated to the town’s founder. The glass factories are mostly gone now but Millville is summoning the magic wrought by heat and sand to revitalize its streetscape once again as the Glasstown Arts District...
Buck Street at Main Street
This small park along the languid Maurice River features a riverwalk and pedestrian bridge. At the foot of Sassafras Street in the park is a statue of town founder Captain Joseph Buck in full military regalia. Buck fought at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778 and participated in the siege at Yorktown in 1781 that brought the fighting part of the American Revolution to a conclusion. Buck is oriented not facing the town he carefully plotted but the Maurice River that he considered the key to its development.
WALK THROUGH THE PARK ALONG THE RIVERWALK. EXIT THE PARK ON THE BRICKWALK PAST THE STATUE OF JOSPEH BUCK OUT TO BUCK STREET. CROSS OVER ONTO SASSAFRAS STREET AND FOLLOW ONE BLOCK TO HIGH STREET. TURN LEFT.
The Levoy Theatre
126-130 North High Street
The pride of Millville in the 1800s was the Wilson Opera House at the corner of Sassafras and High streets that would be destroyed by a fire in 1898. In 1908 William “Pop” Somers, a showman from Atlantic City and his namesake Somers Point, stepped into the entertainment void with a two-story structure that showed one-reel movies on the first floor and hosted dances upstairs. The Levoy was a success and soon doubled in size. In the 1920s, under the ownership of impresarios Morris Handle and AJ Rovner the Levoy blossomed into the premier showcase of South Jersey, a theater that could stand beside any big city stage. The interior was bathed in marble and chandeliers and patrons could enjoy a 300-seat balcony with room for another 1,100 on the lower level. The orchestra pit fronted one of the largest stages on the East Coast for vaudeville and the new “talkies.” Those movies would soon elbow out vaudeville acts altogether and the Levoy was converted into a movie palace in 1939. Unfortunately the rise of television would send downtown movie palaces the way of vaudeville in due time and the Levoy sputtered until its final show in December of 1974. The projection room was closed but the building was not demolished and it is now making its way back for a second hundred years of entertainment in Millville.
TURN RIGHT ON MULBERRY STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SECOND STREET.
223 North Second Street
A succession of notable Millville residents called this mansard-roofed three-story frame house home since its construction in the mid-1800s. Robert Pearsell Smith, a prominent Quaker and leader of the Holiness movement in the United States, lived here while he managed the Whitall Tatum Co., his father-in-law’s glass company. His son Logan Pearsall Smith, a well-known essayist and critic, was born here and would tell the tale of his formative Millville years in the 1939 autobiography, “Unforgotten Years.” When the Reverend S. olin-Garrison owned the house he used the building to train feeble-minded children, an exercise that would evolve into the Vineland Training School in 1888. Later, Dr. Vernon Ware used his house here as an office for patients.
First United Methodist Church
201 North Second Street
This congregation can trace its roots back more than 200 years to house meetings in 1809. As attendance increased they found it necessary to convene in the town schoolhouse until 1824 when they got their first church building. It was a stone structure originally intended as a tavern but the builder went bust and it was sold at auction. In 1845 it was disassembled and the stones used for the foundation of a new two-story frame building. The current brick church arrived in 1868; it features Romanesque detailing up to a more conservative frame clock tower.
First Presbyterian Church
119 North Second Street
New Jersey-born Isaac Pursell received his architectural training in Philadelphia andfor over 30 years he was established there, his principal work being the designing and construction of churches. This commission came in 1891 and he fashioned a wonderfully eclectic sanctuary of stone that borrowed from the Gothic - see the arches, small buttresses and gargoyles in the tower - and more current Victorian styles - see the rounded tower arches and timbering and patterned roof shingles. The Presbyterians held their first services in Millville, no doubt in much humbler circumstances, in 1837.
Joseph Buck Grave Marker
Northeast corner of Second and Sassafras streets
Town founder Joseph Buck donated this entire block between Sassafras and Pine streets for use at the town burial ground. He himself was interred here after his death on May 15, 1803 at the age of 50. By that time Buck had suffered financial reversals and his grave was not even marked with a tombstone. When the bodies in the cemetery were later reinterred in Mount Pleasant Cemetery no one knows if Joseph Buck went with them. He may be around here or he may not. But to honor his memory a tombstone was at long last placed here in 2000.
Central Baptist Church
9 North Second Street
This is the fourth sanctuary for the congregation that formed in 1842. Now over a century old, the church was constructed in 1897 with a square corner tower centered between matching gables. The Romanesque-influenced windows and entranceway contrast with the classical inspiration of the quoined window surrounds and the tower.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
Millville Bank/Millville Historical Society
200 East Main Street
The town received its first bank by an act of the New Jersey legislature on March 19, 1857 and the first deposits were taken here on October 14 of that year. The Italianate-style bank building was modeled on one existing in Burlington at the time. It was known as the Millville Bank until 1865 when it received a federal charter to operate as the Millville National Bank. After the bank departed for more spacious digs a block away the building served as the public library for 55 years and has been the home of the Millville Historical Society since 1977.
Dunn Stratton House
206 East Main Street
With a toe in the 18th century, this is the oldest building in downtown Millville. It was built as a one-story home by Baracha Dunn in 1798 using lumber obtained from Joel Stratton in Port Elizabeth. Dunn, who had served under town founder Joseph Buck in the Cumberland County Militia, did not enjoy his new abode long. He was sued by Stratton for $260 late in 1798 and the new house was sold at a Sheriff’s sale for $220 in 1800. The building picked up a second story in 1806 and a lean-to came along before too long. At various times it was a store and a seafood restaurant and a barbershop and since 1991 the property of the Millville Historical Society.
Lewis Mulford House
223 East Main Street
Lewis Mulford was one of the community stalwarts who started the Millville Bank. He was the first cashier and would become its second President, serving for 18 years. Mulford constructed this hybrid Greek Revival/Italianate home in 1856. It is noteworthy for its twinned roof brackets at the eaves and the fluted Ionic porch columns.
TURN RIGHT ON THIRD STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SMITH STREET.
Trinity United Methodist Church
100 South 2nd Street at Smith Street
This red brick building was constructed in 1881 and stands as the oldest surviving church in Millville. It is believed to have been adapted from a church architecture pattern book with designs by Benjamin D. Price. The wooden tracery in the windows and the stone caps on the brick buttresses add a bit of flair to the Methodist sanctuary.
12 South High Street at Smith Street
In 1882, when R. Pearsoll Smith was at the head of Whitall Tatum & Co., he donated $5,000 and loaned another $12,000 to create the Working Men’s Institute, a club where factory workers, it was hoped, would spend their off hours rather than in the temptations of saloons. The red brick building with a central clock tower could handle 300 people in its club room and offered a reading room, gymnasium and classrooms. The auditorium could seat 500 for lectures and stage plays. In 1926 the building became Millville’s City Hall and performed that duty until 1970 when the government moved into its new digs on the site and the police department set up in the old Institute. The three-story mural on the north wall facing Main Street is a remembrance Of the Millville Army Air Field, “America’s First Defense Airport.” It opened in January 1943 as a gunnery school for fighter pilots and operated for three years.
FOLLOW THE ROAD AROUND AS IT BENDS TO THE RIGHT. AT MAIN STREET, TURN RIGHT.
127 East Main Street
There are only two houses in downtown Millville older than this one. The property was purchased by Conrad Fight in 1803 for $700 in gold and silver and the frame house was constructed shortly thereafter. In its more than 200 years it has spent long stretches as the Grey and Blue inn and a popular bakery.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MAIN STREET, HEADING WEST TOWARDS THE MAURICE RIVER.
Millville National Bank
2 North High Street
The Millville National Bank moved into this Neoclassical vault in 1908. It is highlighted by two engaged Ionic columns flanking the entrance. The bank has been renovated as the headquarters for the Cumberland County Improvement Authority and inside is a re-creation of the facades of the Weatherby Hotel and Kreamer’s Pharmacy, which were located across the street from the bank when it opened.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK ON MAIN STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.