Monday, April 30, 2012

Frank H. Stewart & Woodbury's Lake System

a section of Hunter St. Lake historically known as Hester's Branch
Having done some research for a recent request from a Gloucester County Times columnist regarding some background for Woodbury's lovely Stewart Lake and who it was named after, I thought I'd also post here what I've learned. The man-made system of lakes lying east of the city, known as Stewart Memorial Lake and Park, and the Hunter Street Lake and Sanctuary, exist today thanks to Frank H. Stewart, a former Woodbury resident, Philadelphia-based electrician, historian, and avid fisherman. After his death in 1948, his will provided for a trust fund for the preservation of land adjacent to water for public parks and wildlife preservation areas. This trust fund has been used to purchase much of the open space in Gloucester County, as well as land in Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem and Cape May Counties.

Ye Olde Mint with Frank H.
Stewart Electric Co. on right
Frank H. Stewart, born in 1873, spent a greater part of his life on the forefront of historic preservation. However this particular interest of his had a rocky start. At some point in the early 20th century Stewart acquired the lands which housed the first US mint located at 7th and Filbert, Philadelphia; the first Federal building erected by the U.S. Government under the Constitution in 1792. The Frank H. Stewart Electric Co. was operated out of a building adjacent to the old mint. Stewart pleaded with the government to have the mint restored or relocated, but this never happened and Stewart finally demolished the structures himself. Whole books alone have been written on why he did this. One can speculate the action, perhaps, to illustrate the importance of setting up historic preservation programs or to serve as a wake-up-call of sorts. He did however save many artifacts and had many works of art commissioned to commemorate "Ye Olde Mint" before and after its demolition.

He went on to amend his early action by such acts as becoming the president of the Gloucester County Historical Society, the establishment of a room and vault for county historic records known as Room 202 in the Gloucester County Courthouse, and the purchase of the Hunter-Lawrence-Jessup house to serve as the Gloucester County Historical Society's museum. He also published many historic books on Woodbury and the surrounding area, such as "A brief account of Woodbury Creek Dam" in 1919. He had his home, the beautiful Georgian Revival at 510 Cooper St., Woodbury, built in 1914. It was designed by local architect Charles R. Peddle who was also responsible for 275 Cooper (Judge Starr home), the harmonious west wing addition to the City Hall building, the Gloucester County Building (across from Friendship Firehouse), the high school and many other early 20th century structures around town. It was originally named "Rugby Pines" but is now commonly referred to as the "Rowan House" as it was purchased by Rowan University in 2000 for the their president to live in. UPDATE: This house is currently for sale for $699,000. UPDATE January 2014: The house has been purchased by the Diocese of Camden for the new Bishop's residence. Frank Stewart willed most of his private collection to the university when he died, where their library retains a special collections room in his name to this day.

"Rugby Pines" 510 Cooper Street
a section of old Hester's Branch
Hunter Street Lake and Bird Sanctuary

Before the establishment of the lake system, Woodbury's waterways were defined by the natural formation of the various runoffs from the main Woodbury Creek tributary of the Delware River, such as Hester's Branch (see Hopkins, 1877 map below.) In 1959 Trustees of the estate of the late Frank Stewart donated approximately 20 acres of undeveloped land along E. Red Bank Ave to the City. They also donated north from Hunter St. to the railroad bridge, a section of Hester's Branch, for a game refuge and bird sanctuary in 1962. This area beside natural growth was landscaped previously by a Conservancy group with white and red dogwoods, willows, oaks, maples, birches, hawthorns, hemlocks, Douglas fir, cedars, cypress, Franklina, white pine, Austrian pine, hollys, and other varieties of trees and shrubs. The Frank H. Stewart Memorial Lake and Park project was finished in 1964. Stewart was also responsible for the later care and replanting of the infamous Lover's Lane, near "Rugby Pines." This particular lane was popular with the local couples as it provided a romantic and shady place to step out. The image (see below) was reproduced often on postcards of the day.

a section of an 1877 map of Woodbury
showing natural creek formation
before lake system development (Hopkins, 1877)

trying to make sense of it all... (Woodbury, 2012)
the small lake below the Cooper Street marker was historically
known as Green's Lake.

Frank H. Stewart room . (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hopkins, G. M. (1877). City of Woodbury: Gloucester county [map]. In G. M. Hopkins, Atlas of Philadelpia and environs. Philadelphia: F. Bourquin steam lithographic press. (pgs. 48-49).

Woodbury, NJ. (1963). Woodbury, New Jersey annual report: Lakes, parks and recreation. Woodbury, NJ.

Woodbury, NJ. (29 Apr. 2012). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved from,+nj&hl=en&ll=39.841166,-75.141764&spn=0.033479,0.079823&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=35.357014,81.738281&t=h&hnear=Stewart+Lake&z=14


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this article! Are you writing for th times? you shou;d be!

David said...

Thanks for this post. My home looks out on the lake (your first pix) from Holroyd Pl. I was really pleased to read this info - the lake system is one of the reasons we bought our home.