The distinctive bump of Mount Holly in an otherwise flat landscape soars 183 feet in altitude above the Rancocas Creek that flows to the east. Quakers began settling around the hill, indeed covered by holly trees, in the late 1870s. For the next 50 years there were land swaps and jockeying for farmland around the twisting, slow-moving waters of the Rancocas. That all changed in 1723 when Edward Gaskill and his sons hand dug a mill race connecting two loops of the meandering creek to power a grist mill. An ironworks followed and more industry and the foundation for a town became well established. There were enough bridges spanning the Rancocas - more bridges than houses one wag suggested - that the settlement was named Bridgetown (it would not become known as Mount Holly until 1931).
By the American Revolution there were over 200 houses in town and it was important enough for George Washington to use as a decoy in luring Hessian troops from Bordentown on December 23, 1776 to help make his surprise attack on Trenton three days later a success. Hessian commanders and 2,000 troops tangled for three fruitless days in an artillery duel with 600 Colonials, mostly untrained men and boys, on Iron Works Hill. A few years later the town was pressed into duty as the capital of New Jersey when the state legislature was forced to meet here for two months in 1779.
In 1796, when the original county seat at Burlington grew tired and poorly situated for the growth of the region, bustling Mount Holly was a natural choice for the new county capital. A half century later when the Burlington and Mount Holly Railroad rolled into town there were five mills, a woolen factory, nine stores, a bank, two newspapers and a boarding school for a population approaching 4,000.
Mount Holly has been diligent about preserving its history - even the original firehouse, little more than a shack, of America’s oldest continuously operated volunteer fire company is on display on the town streets. Our walking tour will begin in the municipal parking lot where there are plenty of namesake holly trees and a 300-year old log cabin that was found in a rather surprising place...
Shinn-Curtis Log House
southeast corner of Park Drive and Commerce Drive
This early settler’s log house of hand-hewn logs dates to 1712; it was in the possession of the Curtis family for 147 years, beginning in 1802. It was discovered by accident in 1967, entirely entombed in a house that was being demolished on Water Street (now Rancocas Rood). It is now owned by the Mount Holly Historical Society.
WALK SOUTH ON PARK DRIVE TO WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Mount Holly Township Municipal Building
23 Washington Street
The Neo-Georgian township building was a Depression-era project completed in 1932. It is distinguished by decorative brickwork to create corner quoins and window-topping lintels.
28 Washington Street
Another Depression-era project, this one dating to 1935, the single story Neoclassical post office represents the government’s effort to bring significant pieces of architecture to small towns. The window treatments mirror the earlier Municipal Building across the street and a highly decorative roof.
Union Hose Company #2
120 Washington Street
The Union Hose Company organized in 1805 and operated from a small building at the corner of High and Garden streets. This building, constructed of brick but now carrying a stone facing, became the company’s new home in 1898. It featured a prominent hose-drying tower; the single-story addition is of more recent vintage.
TURN RIGHT ON WHITE STREET.
Old City Hall and Jail
8 White Street
These homes along White Street have been transformed into quaint shops and cafes known as Mill Race Village. The area has became known as a hotbed of paranormal activity - a phenomenon not hurt by the fact that this modest building once served as the town jail.
Michael Earnest House
14 White Street
Michael Earnest was a husbandman and that they was a slaughterhouse near the Mill Race. His house has been altered very little since its construction in 1775. Only the porch has been added to the original structure.
Thomas Budd House
20 White Street
The Budd House, with a pedigree dating back to 1744, is the earliest known residence on its original site in Mount Holly. Thomas Budd was an early mover and shaker in town, a major landowner who was one of the main proponents of changing the town name from Bridgetown to Mount Holly (one of his projects was the maintenance of the namesake ironworks bridge). He was also a founding father of Saint Andrew’s Church, one of the incorporators of the original Bridgetown Library and as instrumental in digging the millrace that helped launch the town. The brick 2 1/2-story house laid in Flemish bond (alternating headers and stretchers) remains virtually unchanged; a third story added by his grandson, Dr. Stacey Budd, was removed in 1927.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
Joshua Humphries House
5 Church St
Joshua Humphries patterned his house after an English cottage when he constructed it in 1747. This house is better known for its most famous early owner, High Sheriff Joseph Mullen, who acquired the property in 1765.
Relief Fire Engine Co. No. 1 of Mount Holly
17 Pine Street at the head of Church Street
This is the oldest continuously used active volunteer fire company in the United States. It was organized in 1752 as Britannia Fire Company. The original firehouse sits next to the present firehouse building which dates back to 1892. The original fire house has been restored and serves as a museum containing an original steamer engine, leather buckets, lanterns and other memorabilia.
TURN LEFT ON PINE STREET AND CROSS THE STREAM TO THE INTERSECTION WITH MILL STREET.
Mill Street Hotel
67 Mill Street
Samuel Briant constructed his Three-Tun Tavern as a combination brewhouse and inn perhaps as early as 1723. A “tun” was a hogshead or measure for liquor and a tavern was known as a one-tun, two-tun or three-tun inn depending on its size so Briant had a substantial establishment. Although altered, the building continues to operate as it once did nearly three centuries ago.
TURN LEFT ON MILL STREET.
Farmers Bank of New Jersey
21 Mill Street
Organized on July 9, 1814, as the Farmers Bank of New Jersey, this was the first bank in Mount Holly and one of the first in southern New Jersey. The Federal style building was erected in 1815 with two later additions. Among its notable features are recessed blind arches, within which the windows are set.
northeast corner of Mill Street and High Street
A fountain graced by the Greek goddess of Youth-Hebe, cupbearer to the gods, first appeared on this square in 1878 after possibly doing duty on the grounds of the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia. It was a welcome addition to the Mount Holly streetscape and a favorite stopping point for horses on a hot day. The original was replaced in 1920 after horse traffic had disappeared from the town but a replica was replaced on its original site on October 15, 1988.
TURN RIGHT ON HIGH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON BRAINERD STREET.
First United Methodist Church
25 Brainerd Street
Methodism was introduced to Mount Holly around 1770 with meetings held over the town market when the West Jersey circuit-riding pastor came to town. This rough-stone church dates to 1883.
Historic Old Schoolhouse
35 Brainerd Street
Father John Brainerd was a pioneering Indian missionary in West Jersey, spreading the word of Calvinism south of the Raritan River. In 1759 he established a base here, including a one-story church. The church and Brainerd’s house were burned by the British but the small schoolhouse, laid in Flemish bond brickwork, still stands, the oldest school in New Jersey standing on its original site. It was used as a school until 1848. In 1951 the Colonial Dames restored and furnished this building; some of its furnishings include a schoolmaster’s desk, student desks, slates and a 1752 Bible. Several pre-Revolutionary buildings stand along the south side of Brainerd Street.
RETURN TO BRAINERD STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON HIGH STREET.
Friends Meeting House
81 High Street
Mt. Holly Friends history stretches back to 1682, to being one of the founding congregations of the Yearly Meeting of Friends of the Delaware, later Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The first Quaker building was constructed in 1716; this roomy meetinghouse dates to 1775. The present building was used by the British as a commissary in 1778, and was the setting for 1779 meetings of the State Legislature.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
121 High Street
St. Andrew’s Church was founded as a mission church of St. Mary’s, Burlington by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1742. The first building was located in the graveyard on Pine Street. The site is marked by the stone of Alexander Shiras who requested to be buried on that spot. The second church of St. Andrew’s was erected on Church Street. It was begun in 1786 , but not completed until 1813. The present church on High Street was built in 1844, designed by the Philadelphia architect William Johnston. In 1850 a frame building was built in the rear of the High Street church to be used as a Sunday School. This was enlarged in 1886 to include a combination gymnasium and audience room, with a large kitchen. The frame structure was replaced by the present parish hall in 1953.
Mount Holly Library & Lyceum
307 High Street
This elegant Georgian mansion was constructed in 1829-30 by James Langstaff, a wealthy farmer. The mansion was built of brick scored to simulate cut stone; it is crowned by a square cupola. Inside, random-width North Carolina yellow pine floor boards were used, put together with handmade nails. He called his estate “Langleland,” a Welsh term meaning “a foot of high ground.” The property was purchased by the Mount Holly Library in 1957, the last of many moves across town. The Mount Holly Library, originally known as The Bridgetown Library, was chartered on June 11, 1765 by His Majesty George III of England, through William Franklin (son of Ben), then Governor-General of New Jersey. The library is the fifth oldest in the state. The original collection, of about 100 books of scholarly and moral instruction, is part of the present Lyceum Collection, along with the actual charter document. Books were purchased by members of the library association and were circulated only among the members. Fiction books were deemed improper and were not allowed. The Library was located in the Town Hall until 1798 when the building was torn down.
CROSS THE STREET AND TURN LEFT, HEADING BACK TOWARDS THE TOWN CENTER.
Sacred Heart Rectory
260 High Street
Disowned by the Quaker Meeting and burdened by a substantial debt amassed after several failed business ventures, Nathan Dunn sailed to Canton, China in 1818 with stories of huge fortunes acquired in a short time dancing in his head. Despite the vagaries of the China trade - persistent typhoons, attacks by Chinese pirates and sudden, unpredictable market fluctuations among them - Dunn indeed went on to make his fortune. In 1831 he returned to Mount Holly determined to share his transcendent experience in the mysterious China with America. While in Canton, he diverted a portion of his newly acquired wealth to the formation of the world’s largest Chinese collection and installed it in a museum in Philadelphia. On his 23-acre estate he commissioned an architect to design for him a mansion in the Chinese style. Today Nathan Dunn’s “Chinese Cottage” is used as a rectory for Sacred Heart Church.
240-244 High Street
This trio of striking townhouseswere built by a group of brothers and sisters on land willed to them by their mother in 1830. They reflect the transitional period of American architecture between the late Federal and Greek Revival styles. Originally all three buildings were just two rooms deep and four stories high. Number 242 was once used as a college preparatory school for ladies; Number 244 was the home of Samuel Rush, an active builder around town.
Joseph Read House and Office
200-204 High Street
Joseph Read was a judge and member of the Provincial Congress who had these buildings constructed in the early 1770s for his home and his office a few steps away. The Gothic roofline and third floors came along a hundred years later.
Burlington County Prison
128 High Street
This formidable prison building was completed in 1811 at the cost of $24,201.13 and was at one time the oldest prison in continuous use in the United States. The designer was Robert Mills, a Charleston, South Carolina native celebrated as the first professional American-born architect. Mills would later create the Washington Monument, the U.S. Treasury Building and other iconic works but this was one of his first independent commissions for the 30-year old designer. With vaulted ceilings of poured concrete and brick and stone construction, the prison was one of America’s first virtually fireproof buildings. It was essentially maintenance-free and served its role until 1965. The outside of the building has changed very little - the massive front door, the large hinges and the lock are all original. Mills designed the prison with regard for the spirit of incarceration of the times that held that each “guest” of the county could be rehabilitated. Each of the 40 inmates was housed in his own cell with a slit window above eye level. Individual cells had a fireplace and included a prayer book to “improve the soul.” Not all made the conversion. Numerous public hangings were conducted in the prison yard - the last being a double hanging of Rufus Johnson and George Small on March 24, 1906. The Burlington County Prison, a National Historic Landmark, is open today as a museum.
Burlington County Courthouse
120 High Street
With over 200 years of continuous use, this is one of only a handful of courthouses in America that can trace its roots back into the 1700s. Burlington City was the capital of the Province of West Jersey and the county seat until 1796 when the site of the County Court House moved to Mount Holly. Samuel Lewis of Philadelphia was selected to design the new building and he delivered a near replica of his Congress Hall and Old City Hall, the buildings flanking Independence Hall in Philadelphia. This splendid example of Colonial architecture is beautifully preserved with painted brick. Flanking the court house are a pair of single-story office buildings that were constructed in 1807. The courthouse bell, cast in England in 1755, was removed and installed from an earlier courthouse. It is said to have rung to signal the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Elks Lodge No 848
116 High Street
This was once the home of John R. Slack, lawyer and prominent Democrat who was the oldest member of the Burlington County bar when he passed away in 1877. The brick house, with the cornice of the entrance porch mirroring the roofline, was constructed in 1856.
TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCE STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.