Everything about Vineland was the vision of one man - Charles Kline Landis. Landis was a Philadelphian trained as a lawyer who helped found the town of Hammonton on the Camden and Atlantic Railroad in 1857 when he was only 24 years old. Hammonton flourished rapidly and Landis next set his sights on creating his own town, an ideal utopian of a town. It would be a place of verdant fields of fruits and vegetables, a land of vines.
He searched much of New Jersey and heard about a new rail line connecting Millville to Glassboro. Rail service was a key to his plans both the transport newcomers to this town (there weren’t many roads in South Jersey at the the time) and also to send all that produce out to market. He talked his way into acquiring 16,000 acres of primarily swampland from Richard Wood for no money down and no interest for three years. The cost was $7.00 an acre and Wood would get a cut as the land was sold by Landis.
And land would come from Landis with strings aplenty attached. First, a house had to be constructed within one year. At least 2 1/2 acres of land must be cleared and cultivated each year. Speculators need not apply. Landis plotted out his land around the rail line with farms and orchards around one square mile in the center that would harbor development for factories, shops, homes, schools, churches and halls for recreation. The streets in this core would be laid out in a perfect grid of right angles and wide - the primary roads would be 100 feet wide. The names of Plum and Almond and Peach and Pear that Landis created still survive today
Landis put 20- and 50-acre tracts for sale at from $15 to $30 per acre, payable within four years. To advertise his lots he placed ads in the biggest New York and Boston and Philadelphia newspapers. When he discovered the soil was especially suited for growing grapes he started America’s first Italian-language newspaper to attract grape growers.
Vineland may have been his utopia but that wasn’t enough for the restless Landis. He would move on to develop the town of Sea Isle City at the shore and created Landisville which he saw as the hub of a new state county. That vision never came to pass but we will explore what became of his great experiment of Vineland and we will concentrate on Landis Avenue, which the founder staked out next to the railroad to be an extra-wide, tree-lined avenue along the lines of the Champs-Elysee in Paris...
Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society
108 South Seventh Street
The early settlers of Vineland certainly assumed they were embarking on something important. The founded the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society in 1864, just three years after the establishment of the town, stating, “The object of the society shall be only to collect and preserve historical and current accounts of events, persons, inventions, scientific investigation, photographs, drawings, models and specimens, and all matters of a similar nature connected with the interest of Vineland.” At the time no other town in New Jersey had its own historical society. The society’s home is unusual as well. Whereas most historical societies stake out space in restored old mansions or town landmarks, this Georgian Revival building was constructed specifically for the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society in 1910. The small house on the property is the first one built within the square mile of Vineland in 1862, at the corner of East Boulevard and Landis Avenue, by Chester P. Davis and Lester Richardson.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, TURN LEFT AND WALK ONE BLOCK NORTH TO LANDIS AVENUE. TURN RIGHT.
First United Methodist Church
700 East Landis Avenue
The first American Methodist Bishop was Francis Asbury, ordained in Baltimore in 1784. Circuit riding preachers, many of whom were laymen, carried the Methodist message far and wide. The first distinct “holiness camp meeting” convened at Vineland in 1867 under the leadership of John S. Inskip, John A. Wood, Alfred Cookman, and other Methodist ministers. The gathering attracted as many as 10,000 people. In its early days Vineland was a natural selection for such an event as Charles Landis wanted his town to include many different faiths. He donated land and contributed money to the construction of various churches;his only requirement was that they display stylish architecture. Landis also imposed his personal beliefs on his utopia. An ardent prohibitionist, he permitted no sale of alcohol in Vineland. One early transplant to town cut from similar cloth was Dr. Thomas Welch. One Sunday in 1869, a visiting minister to the Welch home was “led astray” by the communion wine. Welch vowed to develop a nonalcoholic fruit juice that could be used as a communion wine. He began cooking grapes and straining them through cloth bags. He quickly immersed the remaining liquid into boiling water. It worked. Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine would surely end the great contradiction of the ecumenical world. The confluence of a dry town and an abundance of churches seemed to bode well for his new concoction. Proudly Welch began taking his nonalcoholic wine to local pastors. But he found the churchmen demanded only wine. in 1873, after four years of increasing futility, he abandoned plans to sell his grape juice. In his autobiography, Thomas Welch never even mentioned its invention. It would be years before his son abandoned his dental practice to take another crack at marketing that new-fangled juice that would make Welch’s a household name.
First Presbyterian Church
800 East Landis Avenue
On July 7, 1863, with 29 members, the First Presbyterian Church was organized under the Presbytery of Philadelphia. By 1865 a handsome white frame church was ready just to the east of here. The congregation prospered with the infusion of European workers to the area’s glass industry and on the 50th anniversary of the church’s founding the cornerstone was placed for the current gray stone sanctuary. It cost $50,000 and required a dozen years to retire the mortgage.
First Baptist Church
837 East Landis Avenue
This is the oldest church building in Vineland, built of brick in 1868 in a combination of Gothic and Italianate styles. The first Baptist congregation organized with 33 members three years earlier. This church, which cost about $18,000, served until the late 1950s. After that it became a hotel and cocktail lounge, one of the more unusual re-adaptive uses for a church building you will find. Now it is home to the Vineland Judo Club.
830-834 East Landis Avenue
The Art Moderne-style Landis Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William Harold Lee whose resume included work on more than 200 theaters. The streamlined brick exterior featured innovative glass bricks that let light into the interior and lit up the exterior at night. The gala opening for the Landis took place on March 12, 1937 with a packed house of 1,200 enjoying the musical comedy Hats Off starring Mae Clarke and John Payne. The Landis would operate for 50 years before succumbing to the suburban multi-plexes. It fell into serious disrepair and was slated for destruction when a citizen group purchased the theater for a dollar and began volunteer restoration. Necessary funds were slow to accumulate and the City took over with a multi-million dollar plan to develop the entire block with the Landis at its center. On October 22, 2009, a replica of the theatre’s original sign was installed above the marquee and the Landis reopened May 22, 2010.
attached to Landis Theatre at corner of North East and Landis avenues
When Eugene Mori envisioned his Landis Theatre he saw it as part of the Mori Building that would also contain The Mori Brothers automobile dealership where Buicks, Packards, Oldsmobiles and REO trucks were sold and serviced. Eugene Mori was born in Vineland in 1898, the son of poor Italian immigrants. He sold milk door to door in his early years and started selling used cars and Firestone tires with his brother Amadore on the 700 block of Landis street in the 1920s. In 1939 when the State of New Jersey legalized pari-mutuel betting on horse racing developers were slow to deliver proposals to build a new race track so Mori put together investors to obtain a license with a one million dollar bond. The racetrack became Garden State Park, the state’s first, in what would become known as Cherry Hill. Mori would later own tracks in California and Florida and a successful stable of race horses on his farm outside of Vineland. In the recent redevelopment, Mori’s has emerged as a dining establishment.
Sacred Heart Church
922 East Landis Avenue
The Roman Catholic church in Vineland began with an agreement by each member to give one day’s work a week or the equivalent in cash. Job one was gathering stones in the nearby woods to construct a church on Eight and Almond streets donated by Charles Landis in 1873. That simple Gothic church about four blocks away was completed in 1874. The congregation moved into this gray stone church building in 1927.
WALK BACK TO NORTH EAST AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON WOOD STREET.
Trinity Episcopal Church
800 East Wood Street
The Episcopal congregation in Vineland formed early and as holding services in its own chapel by 1864, the first church building in town. A few years later, Vineland founder Charles Landis offered a chime of bells to the first church that would build a tower over seventy feet high. The Episcopalians took up the challenge but in their haste to complete the tower it proved too weak to support the bells. In the summer of 1871 strong winds toppled the tower which crashed down and demolished the entire church. The congregation was then forced to sell the property to pay off its debts. There is probably a moral in there somewhere. It would be another seven years before land could be purchased here and the cornerstone was laid for the current Gothic-style church, constructed of iron-tinted Jersey sandstone. The bell tower would not be completed until 1902. in time for the chimes to ring out on Christmas Eve.
Vineland City Hall
640 East Wood Street
The city office building of concrete and brick was constructed in 1971 at a cost of $4.4 million. It was designed in such a way that the the heat generated by lights in the interior of the building is actually re-used to heat the peripheries. So you may see City Hall lit any time of the night since it is actually creating a net savings.
TURN LEFT ON SIXTH STREET. TURN LEFT ON LANDIS AVENUE.
610-616 East Landis Street
This trio of buildings vibrantly illustrate the two most popular commercial architectural styles of the 1920s and 1930s: Colonial Revival and Art Deco. The deco building at #614 in the center boasts the verticality and decorative symbols that are hallmarks of the style; notice especially the quartet of cat heads on the facade. The Masonic Building at #616, by contrast shows off the casement windows, classical pilasters and decorative swags that were emblematic of that prevalent style.
TURN RIGHT ON SEVENTH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.