In 1682, when a wagon road from Burlington to Salem was carved out along a ridge, Quakers found their way here. John Rodman purchased 500 acres of land in 1686 and the western half of today’s town became known as Rodmantown. The eastern portion was called Chestertown, although there was no vibrant unifying force to apply much definition to the scattered settlements in the vicinity. One hundred and fifty years later there were still scarcely 50 dwellings in town. It had by that time, however, acquired the name “Moorestown,” named in honor of the village’s first tavern owner. Thomas Moore purchased 33 acres of land in 1732 opposite the Friends Meeting House (established in 1700) and subsequently subdivided his land for private homes and business sites.
From its inception Moorestown was always a town of homes and small shops rather than an industrial community. There were a few mills nearby and a small tanning industry and a thriving nursery and fruit trade but nothing that substantially altered the residential ambience. Early on Moorestown developed a history of attracting the rich and famous. Samuel Leeds Allen, inventor of the Flexible Flyer sled, was one of the first. His house was later bought by Eldridge Johnson, who was manufacturing Victrolas in Camden for his company that would become RCA.
In recent times Moorestown became the hamlet of choice for high-voltage Philadelphia Eagles football stars, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens among them. In 2005 Money magazine announced what residents had known for 150 years: Moorestown was the best place to live in America.
The historic district is stuffed with over 350 qualifying properties but we’ll concentrate our explorations along Main Street, beginning in a building that has first served the town 200 years ago...
40 East Main Street
This whitewashed brick building did duty as the heart of Moorestown civic life for more than 150 years; 162 to be exact. It began life as a humble, one-story structure in 1812. Records indicate that the lot was purchased from Thomas Hooton for $138 and that the entire cost of the original building was approximately $1500. In the 1850s the Moorestown Literary Association bought into the building and in 1859 it was doubled in size. A stage was installed inside and entertainers and lecturers began appearing here. A jail was constructed at the east rear corner in 1876. The building’s current appearance dates to 1888 when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union agreed to spruce up the old town hall in exchange for stock in its ownership. The front was pumped up to 2 1/2 stories and adorned with elaborate Romanesque billet molding formed by alternating projecting and recessed bricks, especially noticeable in the arched window hoods. Entry was achieved through a compound arch. The anti-drinking crusaders stayed about ten years before ownership reverted back to the town. The first silent moving pictures in Moorestown were screened here. Flower shows were staged here. The town’s first police station was located here. The township offices eventually moved to a new municipal center in 1975.
WALK WEST ON MAIN STREET, STAYING ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE ROAD (THE SAME SIDE AS TOWN HALL).
28 East Main Street
Charles French, a direct descendant of Thomas French, who settled in West Moorestown in 1694, was a noted mill owner and road builder in Camden County. He was an extensive dealer in ship stuff and heavy lumber, supplying Philadelphia builders with their keels and largest pieces. He would accumulate over 1,000 acres in Gloucester and Burlington counties and purchased three acres in the center of Moorestown in 1800. He acquired an additional 33 acres in 1818. In 1820, at the age of 67, French built this handsome, well-proportioned Federal-style brick home. But he didn’t come to Moorestown to retire; he partnered with William Roberts in a large woolen mill and remained active in business and community affairs until his death in 1834. The house was subsequently purchased in Edward Harris, Jr. who sold it in 1896 to the Moorestown Friends to become a residence for retired Friends. Green leaf served this purpose for more than 100 years. The small brick buildings to the east, Hathaway Cottage (36 East Main) and Parry House (38 East Main), each in the Federal style, were constructed in the 1830s as tenant houses for the estate.
16 East Main Street
The impetus for the construction of a community center in Moorestown came from the Moorestown Women’s Club. They secured a promise from Eldridge Reeves Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company that was the forerunner of RCA, to fund the building if the townspeople would create a permanent maintenance fund. Within eight months, more than $106,000 was raised in a town-wide fund drive. Donations came from 740 individuals, 500 school children, and dozens of local civic and fraternal organizations. Johnson would contribute $250,000. The site for the new Community House was right in the center of town, on a three- acre property owned by Mary Sumner. The house on the property, originally a summer residence for a Philadelphia businessman and his family, was one of the oldest in Moorestown, dating back to about 1786. The Sumner house was sacrificed in December of 1924 and the brick-and-stone Community House, designed in a combination of English and Colonial styles, officially opened its doors to the public on April 11, 1926. A week-long series of events included Community Players Night with selections by the Moorestown Orchestra, a Teenage Tea for the girls of Moorestown, a concert by the Moorestown Community Chorus, and an exhibition match by the University of Pennsylvania Wrestling Team.
TURN LEFT ON HIGH STREET.
12 High Street
The Smith-Cadbury Mansion, now the headquarters of the Moorestown Historical Society, was built by neither a Smith or a Cadbury. Francis Hogsett built what today constitutes the eastern two-thirds of the central portion of the house between 1730 and 1738. It consisted of a hall-kitchen and parlor, each with a corner fireplace, and perhaps two rooms on the second floor. In 1738, Haines sold the house to Joshua Humphries, a carpenter, who began a centuries-long tradition of alterations and additions. In 1766, Humphries sold the house to Samuel Smith, whose family occupied it until 1798. The Cadburys came along in 1921.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT, NOW MOVING ALONG WEST MAIN STREET.
John C. Hopkins House
10 West Main Street
This 2 1/2 story, five-bay Second Empire style brick house was constructed in 1879 for John C. Hopkins, a prosperous merchant. In a recent restoration the original finishes and chestnut woodwork were retained and repaired. The property is highlighted by an enormous copper beech tree that measures 16 feet in diameter and is as old as the house.
Our Lady Of Good Counsel Church
42 West Main Street
The seeds of the Catholicism in Moorestown began in 1832 when James and Fannie Laverty, recent emigrants from Ireland, settled on a farm in Fellowship (on a parcel of land that is now occupied by Exit 4 of the NJ Turnpike). The Laverty home soon became one of the regular stops for itinerant missionary priests who served the scattered Catholic families of the West Jersey area. In the 1860s a parcel of land on the main street of Moorestown was sought for a new church. Because of strong antipathy toward Catholics, a third party had to be engaged in the person of Peter Verga of Camden to negotiate the transaction. When asked what use he had for the land, Verga responded that he was acting as an agent for one who would open a business of repairing souls. Thinking only in terms of a shoe repair shop, the seller readily signed over the deed. And so in the summer of 1867 a brick church was built in the heart of the village. In the early 1890s a wind storm caused so much damage to the brick structure that it was replaced in 1896 with the current Gothic church built of Stockton gray stone.
CONTINUE TO CHURCH STREET AND CROSS OVER TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE TO TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH.
Trinity Episcopal Church
207 West Main Street
This landmark church was built 1929 in the English Rural Gothic Revival style. The complex consists of the church, rectory, parish hall and chapel. All are constructed of coursed ashlar, trimmed with cast stone, and crowned with multi-color slate shingled roofs. The church has a side entrance into nave and front entrance into a tower that rises to stone spire fenestrated with dormers. Gothic-arched entrances and leaded glass windows, trimmed with stone coping and quoining. A cemetery, surrounded by a stone wall, is in the rear of building complex.
WALK BACK UP MAIN STREET ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE STREET.
First Baptist Church
19 West Main Street
The church was officially organized in 1837 after more than two decades of affiliation with the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. Land was purchased on Main Street and this church was constructed by members of the congregation.
1 West Main Street
This 3-story, 5-bay late Greek Revival/Italianate frame house, built in the mid-1850s, launches the western end of the Moorestown historic district. The central entrance with side lights, transom, and entablatured frontispiece lend an air of Greek Revival to the ground floor while the window treatments, flat roof, brackets with pendants mark the Italianate style that was just beginning to surge in popularity.
Moorestown Trust Company Building
41 East Main Street
The Moorestown Trust Company organized in 1913 and this imposing Neoclassical bank vault was built in 1926 by the architectural firm of Davis, Dunlop, and Barney. The quartet of engaged giant stone Corinthian columns support an entablature with “Moorestown Trust Company” in the frieze.
65 East Main Street
This temple-fronted building of orange pyrite brick was constructed in 1914 for the Masonic fraternal organization. Over the years it has served many purposes, including a stint as the town post office. The central entrance into the first floor shop is beneath a wood porch; the second floor windows with transoms are separated by brick pilasters rising from first floor. A Bull’s eye stares out from the gable beneath a crowning dentiled pediment.
73-75 East Main Street
This telescoping hodgepodge of a building began in the 1840s as a three-story Italianate brick house. It picked up a Colonial Revival porch in the early 1900s and in the 1920s came a one-story brick commercial addition across the front with an Arts and Crafts-style influence and decorative tile work. Quite an eyeful.
Burlington County Trust Company
91 East Main Street
Burlington County Trust Company was chartered as a commercial bank on January 1, 1890 and survived until 1984. This Georgian Revival-style bank was crafted of limestone on a granite foundation to serve as headquarters in 1926. The main banking room is fronted by entablature embellished with dentils, egg-and-dart, and floral detail and resting upon Corinthian pilasters. It operates as bank to this day; out front are two bronze Art Deco lights and the town clock. The Coles Hotel was razed to make room for the bank. Built as a tavern about 1800, it became known in 1846 as the William Penn Hotel, hosting many noted people of the day. C.C. & B.F. Coles purchased it in 1859 changing the name in 1890. It was also the home of the Camden-Moorestown Stagecoach at various times from 1820 to shortly after 1867 when with the coming of the railroad, the stages ceased to run.
101 East Main Street
George F. Doughten came to Moorestown in the early 1830s and set up a mercantile business in an old frame building on this location with John Courtland Haines. After buying out Haines he constructed this brick store around 1849. The Colonial Revival porch with Tuscan columns is an early 20th century addition. It served for many, many years as the town general store.
Robert Annon Building
111 East Main Street
This core of this vernacular frame house on a brick foundation dates to 1786. It now sports three entrances that facilitate its later life as a retail facility.
123 East Main Street
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry is a fraternal organization for American farmers that encouraged farm families to band together for their common economic and political good. Founded in 1867 after the Civil War, it is the oldest surviving agricultural organization in America. This two-story brick building was erected in 1886 when the organization was approaching its zenith with over one million members.
129-131 East Main Street
This Gothic Revival frame house with the signature steep-pitched roof dates to around 1860. The arrival of the 20th century brought a fashionable Colonial Revival porch with Tuscan columns and a one-story commercial addition with shop windows. Cornice brackets tie the whole package together.
139 East Main Street
Joshua Bispham sailed for Philadelphia from England on the ship Mary & Hannah on December 13, 1736 where he settled near his brother. He moved to Moorestown in 1744 buying this lot from Nehemiah Haines and building this stone Colonial house. It came to be known as the Hessian House after British and German officers commandeered it during the Revolutionary War as they retreated from Philadelphia on the night of June 19, 1778.
141 East Main Street
The origins of this stone houses with a gambrel roof go back to 1720. Now stuccoed, it is approaching its fourth century in Moorestown.
255 East Main Street
Samuel Leeds Allen came from a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family. In the 1860s, he established the S. L. Allen Co. to manufacture farm equipment, including some items of his own invention. He was awarded almost 300 patents for farming machinery, including the fertilizer drill, seed drill, potato digger, cultivator, furrower, pulverizer, grass edger and numerous other farm implements. In order to diversify his product line and provide work during the winter months, Allen, himself a “coasting” enthusiast since boyhood, set about inventing a sled. Typical designs of the day employed a pair of fixed wooden runners with a third, pivotable steering runner attached to a handle. In 1889 he came out with a sled that attached the front pair of runner struts to a crossbar which floated on flexible runners that could be steered with ease, accuracy and safety, without shifting body weight. Allen called his new sled the “Flexible Flyer.” But it was not with Flexible Flyer profits that Allen built his Tudor Gothic castle he called Breidenhart (meaning “broad hearth stone” or “hospitality”) five years later. Sales of the new sled for sluggish at best for many years until a new fondness for outdoor winter sports developed in America. By 1915 some 250,000 Flexible Flyers were being sold each year and the sled has remained essentially unchanged in design and construction ever since. It still features wooden seat slats bearing the distinctive red eagle trademark, wooden steering and handle bars, and steel runners and struts painted bright red. In 1918, another iconic American inventor, Eldridge R. Johnson, inventor of the Victrola, purchased the property. Johnson substantially altered the interior of the mansion that had been designed by Philadelphia architect Walter Smidley. He commissioned Herman Kleiner, a locally important sculptor, to execute the new decorations. In 1947, Johnson’s widow sold the house and its 12 landscaped acres to the Lutheran Home of New Jersey.
CROSS THE STREET AND TURN RIGHT, WALKING BACK TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
124 East Main Street
This massive, three-story house, dating to 1756, is a testament to the prominence of its owner, Dr. Samuel Haines.
Friends School and Meeting House
Chester Avenue and Main Street
In 1785, members of the Religious Society of Friends erected a little brick schoolhouse at a point where Kings Highway passes over Route 73, in present day Maple Shade. The same year, they built a one-room stone schoolhouse on land just west of here. These two Quaker schools were opened 25 years before a district school was established in 1810 and 88 years before the opening of the first free Moorestown public school in 1873. Although attendance fluctuated, in 1811, there were 100 pupils at the Friends stone school. The centerpiece of the 48-acre campus is the 1802 Meeting House. Constructed of brick, the date has been worked into the west side gable. It is a large example of a Friends meeting house in what was originally West Jersey, largely settled by Quakers in the 17th century.
86 East Main Street
This substantial brick house was built in 1800 by Joshua Borton as more than a residence. Through the 19th century it served as a general store and post office as well as a residence. The porch is a 20th century addition. The building was purchased by the Friends School in 1929 as a dormitory for teachers.
76-78 East Main Street
This house dates to 1830 and over time morphed into a duplex. In recent years it has served as a funeral home.
Joshua Stokes House
60 East Main Street
This transitional brick house from the mid 1830s spans the late Federal period and the early Greek Revival age of American architecture. The paneled front door features a semicircular fanlight.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.