Monday, October 20, 2014

Truly, the Town's Hall

Ask folks what they feel is lacking in many American "communities" these days and the answer may well be that the very concept of "community" itself is missing. Community can be defined as, "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals." From the birth of our nation up until around the time of World War II, America was rich with community groups and the "third places" in which they could easily meet. "Third places" being defined as "the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace," and included at that time: taverns, inns, public squares, village greens, lodges, meetinghouses, coffee shops, etc. Even during times of civil unrest and troubled economic periods, America never turned its back on community engagement and the idea that the public realm symbolized the common good.

Woodbury's Town Hall in its final day. It was torn down for a gas station.
image: Gloucester County Historical Society
However, early 20th century America saw a gradual shift from the importance it placed on communal, civic engagement (a "we're all in this together" mentality), to an increased interest in isolation and escapism largely brought on by the rise of suburban development and the increasing presence of the automobile. Simply, it became easier to distance oneself from problems than to address them in a civic forum. For example, where in pre-turn of the century America most adults participated in public societies (through the involvement in various lodge groups), and therefore actively engaged in direct civic contributions, by today's comparison there is very little involvement. The belief that it is always someone else's job to fix, is commonly expressed nowadays.

Take the morphing idea of the Town Hall (aka City Hall) as example. The original concept of the American Town Hall is nearly a foreign one by today's standards. Historically the Town Hall was truly an open-access hall or meeting space for the community and usually filled with art, performances, plays, educational lectures, and entertainment. Most towns and cities still retain a Town Hall, but this is in name only. Look inside today's Town Halls and we may find one or two meeting rooms that may or may not be used for community groups, but will predominantly consist of offices for the various bureaucratic functions of a municipality. It is the place you go to pay your tax bill or inquire about a zoning variance or have an ordinance passed. It is certainly not the place you would go to a Halloween ball and dance to a full orchestra band, or enjoy a family evening of roller skating (all things that regularly occurred in Woodbury's former Town Hall).

Research shows that Woodbury's original Town Hall sat on the SE corner of German (now Barber) and Broad Sts and was completed in 1875. It was cherished by the community. The Woodbury Constitution reported the opening as, "The reproach which we, as a community, so long endured, the mortification to which our citizens were for so many years subjected, is now happily a thing of the past. To-day we have an evidence of our city's growth and improvement, and addition to the long list of advantages which our City enjoys, a creditable and satisfactory answer to the imputations that we are standing still. The opening of the City Hall on Thursday evening last was an event which reflected no little  honor on the people of Woodbury, - it is marked a new and better era which is dawning, or has opened, upon this lovely habitation."

Woodbury's Town Hall consisted of a large hall on the second floor affording a comfortable seating capacity of 500, a gallery, and dressing/preparation rooms. It was lit by 37 lamps, heated with two large portable heaters, adorned with cypress and walnut trim, and boasted a 22 foot ornamental ceiling. A dumb-waiter provided convenient access from the basement kitchen. Various local commercial enterprises including a dry goods merchant, restaurant, shoe cobbler, grocery, oyster saloon, J. Elmer Jackson's patent medicine enterprise, barbershop and more thrived on the street level, truly making the building a mixed-use community center. It was also the location of the community library and reading-room, headquarters for the German Singing Society, Salvation Army Headquarters, and housed the town's first gymnasium hosting the Woodbury basketball team's home games. It was also transformed weekly as a skating rink and the town's first (silent) moving picture house in 1907 which featured a live female soloist to sing the illustrated parts. The hall throughout the years hosted many civic lectures and nights of entertainment and amusement for the community. It was the perfect culmination of American ingenuity and expression through culture.

This was Woodbury's Golden Age and with the above in consideration it becomes clear that the more value a community places in the recognition and engagement in Arts and Culture, the greater the health of that community. But as the years progressed and American communities slowly drifted apart to live quite literally among greener pastures, the very concept of community played a decreasing role in American civic life. Woodbury's Town Hall was torn down in 1936 for a gas station, which no doubt paradoxically provided the fuel for many one-time residents to leave Woodbury for good. Nothing replaced the Town Hall as the "civic, social, and athletic" center of Woodbury, and city leaders increasingly focused their energy on converting a residential-based city of proud locals to a drive-through business district and in doing so, forgot about Woodbury's remaining residents and their quality of life. A side effect of this quest to maximize short-term profit is that city leaders essentially forewent the trouble to worry about the town's aesthetic appeal. The story is no different across the nation during this time, when a quick transformation occurred and America's cities and towns went from proud human habitats, to current-day dilapidated, plastic strip malls clusters where consumers go in one end and out the other.

Despite America's decline in participation in civil activities over the past decade, the concept of Creative Placemaking through the arts is gaining steadfastly. Creative Placemaking "is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community's interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place." Traditional towns seemingly left for dead have been revitalized through Arts and Culture and have simultaneously increased an awareness of their own local History and importance. Quite simply, the arts stimulate local economies. The NJ Arts Council reports that, state arts funding employs an estimated 17,000 workers, supports 37,000 cultural events, and attracts 5 million visitors who spend $125 million. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the arts have been shown time and again to have the power to bridge divides and bring a renewed sense of pride to residents.

APA's latest national poll surveyed Millennials and Baby Boomers on community preferences and dispels popular assumptions on how to improve local economies and attract new residents. The wide-ranging national survey finds that Millennials and Baby Boomers want cities to focus less on recruiting new companies and more on investing in new transportation options, walkable communities, and making the area as attractive as possible. With the apparently failing model of 'business recruiting as economic development,' city leaders will be forced to look at alternatives. Creative Placemaking organizations such as the recently established FAF Coalition may hold the secret to the future success of the City of Woodbury.

Today the former site of Woodbury's Town Hall sits as an empty corner pocket-park along Broad Street in the heart of our once-bustling downtown. Not the best location for such a space and what some in the urban planning field might refer to as a "nature band-aid," but an open, green space nonetheless. With such a space there at least exists the potential for something to flourish. Perhaps "community" through Arts and Culture will once again sprout in the heart of our classic American downtown, and perhaps in towns across the entire nation, as a result of effective Creative Placemaking. Only then will we have the chance to come together, connect, and grow as a community. This is the formula for real progress, not only in 1875, but for today as well.

From the 1877 G.G. Green Daily Advertiser

Citations to follow...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Deptford Institute Free Library

"Deptford Institute Free Library is the outgrowth of a Friends' school. Before the Revolutionary war, a number of Friends of Deptford township, realizing the importance of education and the poor opportunities then existing for obtaining it, formed the Deptford Free School Society to carry out their plans for the establishment of a school. In 1773 one- fourth of an acre of land was bought, on which the present building, known as the Deptford Institute, now stands. In time more land was added and the property was held in trust for the maintenance of the school. Although the trustees were to be Friends, the pupils were not limited to any religious sect.

This institution was kept up until a satisfactory school of the kind originally intended was no longer possible, owing to the excellent public schools which had been opened. Feeling that the property should still be used for educational purposes, the Society decided upon a free library and reading-room. In 1892 the city of Woodbury was made trustee of the building and $5,000 realized from the sale of the land which was to be invested for the use of the library. The articles' of trust provided that a free library, reading-room and museum be opened on the first floor of the building. A course of free lectures were also to be given each year. The city was to provide a librarian and keep the building comfortable and in repair.

In November, 1894, the library was opened, a large proportion of the books having been given by the Woodbury Library Company. Since that time the library has been steadily growing, and a new reading and reference-room has been opened. An effort is being made to serve the interests of the people by placing before them the best literature and leading the children to an appreciation of the standard writers." 
(Public Library Commission of New Jersey)

The Institute's first Librarian was Mary L. Whitall (of Revolutionary family fame). She served as librarian from 1894 to 1897. She left to become Cataloguer for the Free Library of Philadelphia.

To read more about the building's original purpose, the Friends' Schoolhouse, its first headmaster/teacher, and his prominent Colonial-era artist son visit:


Public Library Commission of New Jersey, Hand-book of the Public Library Commission of New Jersey: Libraries and Library Laws of the State (p. 90). (1901). Trenton: MacCrellish & Quigley.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Classic Kunstler

"In James Howard Kunstler's view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Green Hotel STILL Threatened!


Holy Angels Parish overseen by the Diocese of Camden will yet again attempt to apply for demolition for the historic Green Castle Hotel located at 85 Cooper Street in Woodbury, NJ. Your help is needed! The last thing Woodbury needs is more surface parking!

You will have an opportunity to speak out against this intended action in person at the following times:

Holy Angels Parish will appear before the City of Woodbury's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on 8/13/2014 at 7pm.

HPC's decision is then turned over to the joint Planning/Zoning Board which will meet on: 8/20/2014 at 7pm.

Please also consider sending polite but firm emails to the City of Woodbury Mayor and Council stating that you are against demolition:

Mayor: Bill Volk
(856) 845-1300 ext. 137

In addition please contact the Parish and Diocese and tell them you are against demolition:

Holy Angels Parish
64 Cooper Street
Woodbury, NJ
Phone: 856-845-0123 
Fax: 856-845-7409



Diocese of Camden 
631 Market Street
Camden, NJ 
Phone: 856-756-7900 
Fax: 856-963-2655

and of course

Bishop Dennis Sullivan
510 Cooper Street
Woodbury, NJ

Tell the Catholic church that they should be more concerned with building communities and not in tearing them down! "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." - Proverbs 22:28

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy 216th Anniversary, Woodbury Methodism!

Ok, so 216 isn't a typical anniversary year you normally celebrate but we just had to share the following Woodbury Daily Times two-page spread from 1922 regarding everyone's favorite downtown, Hazlehurst and Huckel-designed, gargoyle-adorned church. Way back in May, 1922 the Kemble Methodist Episcopal church celebrated 125 years of Methodism in Woodbury. That would make this May in 2014, Methodism's 216th year in Woodbury... if we did our math right! Enjoy the embedded articles below which feature some excellent images (newspaper quality at least) complete with plentiful historical information. Feel free to download or utilize the full-screen option with the toolbar below each article for optimal viewing.

The article unfortunately does not mention the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church which had its beginnings in Woodbury in 1817. It would be remiss not to mention the contributions to Woodbury's religious scene by the Reverends Richard Allen and W.P. Quinn. Richard Allen founded the first A.M.E. in Philadelphia back in 1794! William Dickerson, a prominent Woodbury citizen, became the church's 13th Bishop. Henry Dickerson, William's father, owned a large farm along Broad bounded by Carpenter which stretched back to the railroad. In 1862, he leased some of the land to the Union Army for Camp Stockton, a Civil War training camp for the 12 Regiment NJ Infantry Volunteers.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Control Car Culture for Better Living

"We have more to gain [by consulting] our planners than our psychiatrists. We can achieve more to improve our relationships with others by participating in community planning, rather than group therapy encounters. What ails us—most of us, anyway—is not that we are incapable of living a satisfactory and creative life in harmony with ourselves, but that our habitat does not offer sufficient opportunities. It hems us in. It isolates us. It irritates and disrupts." – Wolf Von Eckardt

My good friend's mother was killed in an automobile accident last weekend right here in Gloucester County, NJ. A drunk driver took her life. By now, we have all heard the story and the easiest way to deal with it is to shame the irresponsible driver.... but it really goes beyond that. Ray Oldenburg, author of the Great Good Place writes, "Why should a nation of drinkers arrange their municipalities such that drinking and driving are frequently and almost necessarily combined? “Gasoline and alcohol don’t mix,” says the American slogan. Of course they do. Our urban planners mix them all the time and in great doses. See the zoning codes for confirmation." It's time America holds their town and city planners responsible for what they have built and demand change.

Is this the America we all envision?
I grew up with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street so forgive my leanings towards a properly functioning urban neighborhood rich with community and mass transit. But unfortunately my real life upbringing was quite different. My parents moved us from Philadelphia to the New Jersey "suburbs" because by then car culture was in full swing and had most Americans under a sort of spell. I suppose my parents ultimately felt it would be safer to raise children in a less urbanized environment, not an uncommon thought in those days. However, recent studies show in actuality the opposite to be true. “A 2013 University of Pennsylvania/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study challenges the entire notion that suburbs are safer. The study examines, for the first time comprehensively, all kinds of accidental and violent deaths in America. Contrary to conventional wisdom, urban streets are significantly safer than leafy suburbs and rural areas. While counterintuitive at first glance, the finding is not hard to fathom if you think about it. The number one US cause of death from ages 5 to 34 is automobile crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deadly automobile crashes are far less likely on lower-speed urban streets.” (Top 10 Reasons for a New American Dream)

Sesame Street set... nice mixed use, walkable neighborhood.
Social mobility is higher in compact urban places, Arizona State University researchers found. The more walkable the census block — as measured by Walk Score — the more likely someone from the bottom fifth of income will reach the top fifth in their lives.” (Top 10 Reasons for a New American Dream)  I spent the later years of my childhood inherently feeling that something was not quite right about my car-centric hometown. Of course once I reached adolescence I felt downright trapped and ineffectual. When I was told that I NEEDED to drive and own a car to survive in today's world, even then, I felt the perversity of it all. It felt as if my parents told me I needed an artificial appendage grafted on to me to become really human. All the while, I found my visits to Philadelphia with my friends (via Patco Speedline) to be rich with friendly and rewarding human experience and acceptance, compared to my (dangerous) walks around my small-minded town or local mall which were replete with deriding insults and bullying. My favorite was getting stuff thrown at me from cowardly anonymous drivers.

But how does the presence of the automobile really effect community? Cars, as essential as they have become to survive in America have a serious unintended side-effect. They ruin our living environments. We need only to look at Ye Olde Broad Street here in Woodbury to see it. Pre-auto dominant Broad Street was once lined with mansions. Now you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that would want to live there amongst the roar and rush of the auto. Fortunately, with the recent road diet, we have taken a step in the right direction in returning our downtown to a place for people and not merely a state highway through-road. But with most things, it could be better.

The safest roads in America are ones that are not made for easy speeding. The more "obstacles" such as trolley tracks, twists and turns, or even a nice tree-lined median significantly tame the car and signify to the driver that they have entered the domain of humans. The Charter for the Congress of New Urbanism states, "road engineers [once] put the safety of motorists first by designing road and intersections for speeds beyond the posted limit. The idea was to protect those motorists who drive carelessly or too fast. But when the road is designed for speeding, more drivers take advantage of that invitation, and more mayhem results. Proper traffic engineering today reverses that approach by providing physical cues--including street trees, narrower lanes, and intersections designed for pedestrians--that urge motorists to slow down rather than speed up."

Typical Woodbury, NJ Broad Street residence is now the former Bottom Dollar PARKING lot.
Once a grand residence for people has been relegated as a domain for the automobile.
image courtesy Gloucester County Historical Society
“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places," says Fred Kent. If you go with the former you get what James Howard Kunstler describes as the "National Automobile Slum," an unsightly, unfriendly, and unwelcoming place devoid of real community. Millions of American's flock every year to the most successful Main Street in America to experience what a downtown could look like devoid of the damaging effects of the automobile. Unfortunately it's all a mirage and goes by the name Disney World, but it was once a reality all across small town America and still exists in other countries. One of the reasons Disney theme parks do not do well outside of America is that in most other countries there exists public realms that are far superior to the artificial ones presented by the Disney corporation. They don't need the fakery, they have the real thing. They don't need to lose themselves in the fantasy realm because their everyday urban life experience is rewarding enough.

People have the upper hand in this typical European street scene
Thankfully even in "the most car-mad country" of America, driving statistics have been steadily falling since 2004. Combine this with studies that show 3 out of every 4 US Millennials expressing they would like to live in a place where they do not need a car to get around, and throw in of course rising gas costs, rising car costs, car maintenance costs, carbon emission damage to the planet and war for oil… the alternative for smart growth to build better, aesthetically-pleasing, human-scaled neighborhoods is a no-brainer. Only 10% of Millennials and Active Boomers want to live in a suburb where most trips are made by car.

Manhattan neighborhood event
image credit: PPS
We can choose to demolish every last vestige of humanity from our towns in favor of more freeways and faster byways or we can choose to relocalize our communities and reduce the necessary miles needed to drive on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. I've blogged before about the self-sufficiency of 18th, 19th and early 20th century Woodbury, and the story is no different from any town in the United States at that time. Everything needed to survive and live happily could be found within a 5 minute walk from one's home. Why are we now forced to get in a car for virtually everything? It is seriously frustrating, wasteful, polluting, and severely imprisoning especially for Americans who claim to value their so-called freedom. I can't help but view the car as some sort of gas-powered wheelchair. We have voluntarily disabled ourselves through planning and zoning. 

Top is what happens when the car is allowed to dominate (looks scarily like most of our rt.45 sprawl)
Bottom is what happens when you bring people into the equation
1.61 people die on average EVERY DAY in New Jersey alone from automobiles. Here we are in America talking about gun control, when really we need auto control. Death by firearms in NJ is actually lower than death by automobile, but Americans in general evince a sickening complacency when it comes to cars and the violence they can inflict. "Between 2003 and 2012, 47,025 pedestrians were killed by drivers in the United States. To put that in perspective, that’s 16 times the number of fatalities caused in the same period by the natural disasters – floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like – that get so much more attention. An additional 676,000 were injured, the equivalent of one person every eight minutes." Of course banishing the auto is just not going to happen in our car-crazy-country (not until the last drop of affordable oil is squeezed from the Earth) but we have the means to tame the automobile where they enter our immediate living areas, our downtowns and our streets and avenues. And of course ultimately we need better mass transit options... trains, trolleys, etc. 

In the latest poll from the American Planning Association, two thirds of all respondents and 74% of Millennials believe investing in schools, transportation choices, and walkable areas is a better way to grow the economy than recruiting companies. It's time to really get serious about transportation reform especially with bankruptcy looming for the nation's transportation trust fund. We can't keep throwing good money after bad trying to prop up the unsustainable network of automobile-based infrastructure. NEVER put all your eggs in one basket. We need more options. Had the drunk driver had the ability to walk or take effective public transit home from a neighborhood pub, perhaps my friend’s mother would still be here today.

For many of us, we drive because we are forced to, not because we want to and our sense of community suffers all the more for it... not to mention our safety. The automobile must be tamed. We should never let a machine dominate our lives... or give it the opportunity to take it from us so freely.

This post dedicated to the memory of Katherine C. Steponick and for all who have been taken from this Earth by a machine.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Green's Almanac Precursor, Daily Advertiser 1877 FOUND!

A recent donation from a Green-relation estate clean-out has revealed a heretofore unknown precursor to the popular August Flower almanac. Before Woodbury's multimillionaire, G.G. Green, introduced the world to his patent medicine remedies by way of his colorful August Flower almanacs, shown above, it is now known that he first experimented with a newspaper format. The first of his almanacs appeared under the title Green's Pictorial Almanac and began publication on September 1878. The newly discovered Daily Advertiser Vol.1, No.1 predates Green's almanac format by nearly a year, with a publishing date of February 22nd, 1877.

U.S. Patent Image
This is the only known issue and the fact that it resembles a common daily newspaper of the time probably had more to do with a clever advertising technique than any desire on the part of the firm to continue regular publication. In any case, the newspaper format was switched over to the colorful almanac, which by 1878 was beginning to grow in popularity and usage for other patent medicine firms. Green's almanac was printed in-house at his Green Avenue, Woodbury, NJ laboratory utilizing his nine printing press fleet (see image below). It proved so popular for him that he took out a patent for the publication in 1882. In 1883 alone, five million copies of his almanacs printed in English, German, French, and Spanish were distributed worldwide. As a result, Woodbury's Post Office ranked seventh in the state for postal revenue. Not bad for a small (but growing) rural community at the time.

Green's Laboratory Printing Room
Editions of the August Flower almanac are routinely found worldwide in academic library and museum collections pertaining to early American ephemera and advertising and this recent discovery is an important part of the U. S. patent medicine advertising timeline. Given its current deteriorating condition and being the only issue in possible existence, it is important that this undergoes professional conservation treatment. As always, if you'd like to donate towards the conservation, collection, and digital preservation of any historic item pertaining to Woodbury this can be done easily via our PayPal donation link to the left. For now, the pre-treated Daily Advertiser has been digitally scanned and we here at the VGPS proudly present this exciting publication for your enjoyment below.* Not to be missed is the Woodbury is Looking Up article found on page three. This virtual tour of 1877 Woodbury clearly describes the notable buildings and surroundings up and down Broad, Delaware, Cooper, Euclid and Evergreen and features the old Colonial-style Gloucester County Court House, Woodbury Town Hall and more. Download and view the following images on your computer for easier reading.

For a more comprehensive chronology for the Green's August Flower Almanac visit: 
An Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine and Health Reform 

August 1878 announcement of new almanac publication

* These images are property of the Village Green Preservation Society and may only be used for educational purposes or personal use. A credit statement and link attributing the Village Green Preservation Society, Woodbury, NJ must appear alongside any reproduction.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Progress or Regress?

The subtitle of this post could very well be: How to Start Your City's Downward Spiral with One Fell Swoop. I have blogged about the loss of the Lewis M. Green mansion before but some recent historic artifacts were turned over to me that once again sparked my dismay over the whole matter. The outcome of the senseless demolition still affects us today and we should really take note.

 In 1869, Lewis M. Green, a five-term Mayor of Woodbury, NJ, had built for the pride of the city a magnificent four story residence of handmade pressed brick, featuring 10 bedrooms, walnut floors, French glass windows, gas lit crystal chandeliers, white marble steps, wrought iron trim, and formal gardens across from the Town Hall at the corner of German (now Barber) and Broad, the most public street in town. After many happy years in the community, the mansion was sold to Gulf Oil Corporation in 1944 and promptly torn down for a gas station. Don't believe me? Let's have Gulf Oil tell the story for you. Here is the postcard they sent out to Woodbury residents (this particular one to G.G. Green, Jr.) announcing the "great" news!

In case you don't believe your eyes, let me transcribe what the back of that postcard actually says. For added effect, try reading the following in your best 1940's narrator-voice... you know, the same voice that told you to "Duck and Cover" in case of a nuclear bomb blast in your area.

"Do you recognize this picture? 

Yes, it's the corner of Broad Street and Barber Avenue as it looked not so long ago. Now this familiar landmark has given way to the construction of a modern "One Stop" Service Station and Merchandising Center. When completed, we know you'll be proud of this modern addition to Broad Street. Watch for the opening date announcement. 

Gulf Oil Corporation"

There's a word for this sort of candy-coated corporate public relations nonsense... it's called "bullshit."

The lesson? Let's take away that not all "progress" is very progressive when you consider the future health of your community, especially when it calls for eliminating proud historic structures from the urban fabric, negatively impacting the quality of life for everyone. I would LOVE to sit down today with the very folks at Gulf Oil, city leaders and citizens in 1944 who sat back and let the Green Mansion "give way" for "modernity." Mostly I would want to know how that worked out for them. Did they make that killer profit!? I have said that an ounce of forethought is worth a pound of future investment, and apparently no one in 1944 had even close to an ounce.

I heard a great story recently of an 85 year old lifelong Woodbury resident standing up to City Council in the late 1970s when they proposed to return the brick sidewalk and decorative streetlamps along Broad Street. His statement was simple, "You might call this progress, but we had all of this and more when I was a kid. Why did the city rip it all out in the first place?" I think it's wonderful to recognize that certain actions were bad in the long run, such as originally removing the brick pavement and decorative streetlamps the first time around, but by then the damage is done and I'm certain that what has replaced the originals is a second rate knockoff, an insincere fake.

So the next time you hear someone argue the senseless destruction of quality urban fabric in the name of "progress," question that it will not ultimately be in the name of regress. I've said it before, the art of a good preservationist is concerned more so with the future and for the quality of life for residents in the "here and now" and for generations to come. It should alarm every one of us that America is starting to look like a substandard, plastic-wrapped, third-world country. This affects us all, whether you want to see the bigger picture or not.

Top: circa 1900 Mayor Lewis M. Green's mansion on Broad, a place worth caring about
Bottom: Same location now, the curb cut between the Bottom Dollar and the Rite Aid
(both currently vacant buildings, humorously enough)

Do we really wonder why we can't attract new residents, customers, and businesses to the area when these are our aesthetics... fake windows, unwelcoming storefronts, and MORE setback parking lots? The bottom photo does nothing to inspire the soul.

Many folks are quick to blame the current climate of politics, etc. for the ills of the world today, but the truth is that things were set in motion after WWII in America that has lead us to today. Since roughly the 1940's, all across America, seemingly nothing better has replaced what was torn down for "progress." The Lewis M. Green mansion stood for 75 years, the cheap plastic gas station that replaced it only lasted about 30 and then a vacant lot stood there for nearly the same amount of time. The Rite Aid business that eventually replaced the gas station lasted about 20 years... are we getting the picture, yet!? We are constructing increasingly worthless buildings, housing increasingly worthless enterprises.

Today, many studies show that the auto-centric "modernizing" of America through horizontal development (sprawl) has had devastating effects to our once proud towns and cities. The effects reveal themselves through crime, anti-socialism, depression, segregation, isolation, and more. "Anybody who travels back and forth across the Atlantic has to be impressed with the differences between European cities and ours, which makes it appear as if World War Two actually took place in Detroit and Washington rather than Berlin and Rotterdam." - JHK. Do not Americans deserve better?

Progress should be measured over time, and the demolition of the Lewis M. Green mansion certainly did not progress the city, but rather I would argue the opposite holds. By tearing down that mansion and other proud buildings during the same time period, Woodbury entered an age of blight. Holes or "missing teeth" from senseless demolition and an over-catering to the automobile were beginning to form downtown which eroded its walkable functionality and aesthetic appeal. Coupled with the growing trend of suburban flight, it was a one-two-punch that has left Woodbury reeling.

Lewis Morris Green Mansion in a wintry photo from 1898
Moving forward we must realize that our actions today WILL affect future generations. It's not all about the immediate rewards... how about some forward-thinking? A single action in the past, by a single-minded person (or corporation) can deprive all future generations from enjoying a better quality of life and experiencing our American Heritage in the form of our proud local landmarks.

"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." - Proverbs 22:28

The dreaded For Sale ad!

Thanks for nothing, GULF Oil!
Below: some rare photos of the mantels that once adorned and warmed the interior of the Lewis M. Green mansion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Woodbury and the Iran-Contra Affair

What does this 1880 Woodbury, New Jersey landmark:

and the Iran-Contra affair have in common?

... well, it appears that long after G.G. Green went the way of the wind, and with him the remnants of his one-time multi-million dollar producing patent medicine company, August Flower's third and final factory located on Green Avenue hosted some nefarious business enterprise. Forway Industries purchased the old Victorian factory in 1968 and proceeded to produce some very interesting items, which they sold to very interesting customers! I'll let this archived Philadelphia Inquirer article tell the story. Special thanks to Woodbury's own historic preservationist woodworker extraordinaire and custom mandolin builder, Nevin Fahs for tipping me off to this great story.

Factory Is Closed, But Ties To A Scandal Remain The Former Woodbury Business Was Linked To The Iran-contra Affair. Some Remnants Have Been Found.


Posted: August 16, 1997

WOODBURY — When the city foreclosed on the old Forway Industries building in December, local officials figured the deal only brought them a crumbling structure filled with holes in the ceiling, smashed-out windows and roosting pigeons.

But when environmental investigators were called in this spring, they found more than rubble.
Scattered throughout the factory were blueprints and metal molds that were used to make materials that tied the company to the arms-for-hostages Iran-contra scandal.

The environmental consultants called in an investigator from the Department of Defense who recommended that the city contact local military bases to dispose of the material properly. Steps are being taken to start that process. In the meantime, the blueprints and molds remain in the boarded-up factory.

City clerk and administrator Thomas Bowe summed up the foreclosure and cleanup of the Forway plant this way:
``It was a mess legally. It was a mess practically. It remains so.''

* Forway Industries bought the property at 122 Green Ave. near East Barber Avenue in 1968, according to Gloucester County records. The four-story building was by then somewhat of a city landmark - built in 1879 by George G. Green, Woodbury's first millionaire and a Civil War veteran who made his fortune in patent medicines.

The factory sits along the railroad tracks next to St. Patrick's School. Today, the windows on the red-brick building are boarded shut. Waist-high weeds grow in the driveway, and ivy partially covers the black letters bearing the Forway name.

In 1988, Jacobo Farber, the former president of Forway Industries, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $25,000 for sending weapons, including blast deflectors for NikeHercules missiles, to Japan and England without the required U.S. State Department permits.
That same year, Forway and several of its top executives were indicted in San Diego on charges of conspiring to illegally export arms, including Doppler Velocity Sensors for military helicopters, to Iran. A plea bargain brought $50,000 fines and probation periods of six months.

Bowe said the company's principal shareholder during the scandal, Willard I. Zucker, attempted to hold onto the property before the city foreclosed on it. Zucker, a lawyer and accountant who was a prominent figure in Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's federal trial, lives in Switzerland.

Zucker's Woodbury-based attorney, Russell E. Paul, said earlier this week that he had no comment on Zucker's interest in the building, citing attorney-client privilege.

Forway Industries filed for bankruptcy in 1994. The building was vacated in 1992, city officials said.
Because the company owed the city more than $600,000 in unpaid property taxes, the city foreclosed on the property last December, Bowe said. The city plans to sell the four-story building and the 4.39 acres it sits on. The site is valued at $1.34 million.

The city contracted with Stuart Environmental Associates in Medford earlier this year to do a state-mandated environmental assessment of the building.

That's when the investigators found the documents and materials.

Doug Stuart of Stuart Environmental said he informed Woodbury officials and called the Pentagon because he did not know whether the material was sensitive.

``You really don't know how unique or classified a document is until you have the Department of Defense come in,'' he said.

Larry Molnar, a Department of Defense investigator, inspected the site last month and told city officials to dispose of the blueprints and molds for weapons at a nearby military base. There, the materials could be distributed to other federal agencies or turned in to scrap.

The city, which has increased security around the plant, plans to do just that. Stuart said he has drafted letters to Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force base, asking if he can drop the materials off there.
Sharon Gavin, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department's Defense Logistics Agency, said the Forway inspection was something new for the agency, and for Molnar.

``It was the first time he'd ever run into a situation like this.''

The factory as is appeared under Forway Industries stewardship.
Note the Forway name over the doorway. Photo: Dave Homer Collection.
Thankfully this particular chapter in the building's history is now past. G.G. Green's former million-dollar-producing factory, despite its shady past, was lovingly restored in 2001 by International Senior Development LLC, and is now home to the Woodbury Mews Senior Living center, yet another successful case for adaptive reuse in the City of Woodbury.

Read more about the involvement of Forway Industries and the Iran Contra Affair in the full text transcription in the Report of the congressional committees investigating the Iran- Contra Affair : with supplemental, minority, and additional views.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Woodbury's Historic Designations & Groups Explained

I felt it was a good idea to create an entry here explaining the role of the different historic organizations and various historic designations within the City of Woodbury. I have noticed that they are oftentimes misunderstood in their roles and functions (and even name) and thought a nice overview and point of reference would help to clear things up. It is also hoped that by illustrating our many historic sites and organizations that this may serve to boost pride in the unique position we hold. Even if some of these distinctions only afford us "bragging rights," it is my opinion that we have too long foregone bragging about our role in the historic growth of America. Let's not forget that Woodbury was founded in 1683, less than a year after Philadelphia itself! Our historic residents and the buildings they have left behind have been here and have even influenced the very birth of America; some even date from beforehand! Our many inclusions on the National and State Register of Historic Places are extremely notable, but go largely unnoticed by even our very own citizens. If only we worked to better publicize our inclusion on these Registers and bring more Heritage Tourism to our city, the effects on our economic status and ultimately our pride of place would be undoubtedly rewarded. Be proud of your history!

woodbury nj compilation
image credit:

Let's clear things up. Here is a breakdown of the various historic designations and groups that exist within Woodbury, N.J, followed below by a more lengthy explanation:


We have in Woodbury:

1. The municipally designated Woodbury Historic District.

2. Five Historic Districts listed on the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places (different than the municipal historic district). Seven individual properties are also included on the State Register.

3. Five of the individual properties on the State Register are also currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, one of them burnt to the ground a couple years back.


4. Woodbury Historic Preservation Commission, comprised of volunteers of varying experience appointed by the City of Woodbury's municipal government to oversee any proposed changes within the municipally identified Woodbury Historic District. More on them below.

5. Gloucester County Historical Society, a privately held nonprofit group dating back to 1903. Initially responsible for saving and preserving the Red Bank Battlefield and adjacent Ann Whitall House, the Society in recent years is dedicated to collecting and preserving material pertaining to the South Jersey area. Their amazing museum is located in the historic Hunter Lawrence Jessup house on Broad Street and is open to the public for tours; the sole source of Heritage Tourism in Woodbury - despite our plentiful historic structures and sites. Their wonderful library is located behind the house on Hunter Street.

6. Woodbury Olde-City Restoration Committee (WORC), a nonprofit formed in 1977 whose mission is to protect existing historical structures within the City of Woodbury by actively restoring endangered landmarks and structures, to inspire community pride in Woodbury by acknowledging homes and businesses that show excellence in restoration and beautification, and to support programs that address Woodbury’s challenges. Among other projects WORC is responsible for restoring the Eastern Stick style, Victorian-era, Woodbury Train Station built in 1883. They also offer an attractive grant program "It Pays to be Single" to aid homeowners who wish to restore apartment-converted buildings back into single-family residences.

7. Village Green Preservation Society (that's us)... a group of young preservationist-minded Woodburyians living and restoring historic homes within the city. Our mission is to raise awareness (through modern channels) of the extraordinary history and bright New Urbanist-style future to be found in this conveniently located city, 9 miles from Philadelphia. We have been instrumental in creating the new Historic Walking Tour guide. We were also successful in nominating the 1881 Victorian-era Hotel on Preservation NJ's Top Ten Endangered List for 2013 in an attempt to bring potential aid and awareness to the issues that threaten this building (erected many years before even our grand County Court House.) We look forward in working with all groups located in the city and with city government to actively promote better urbanism by embracing what makes us historically charming. Fix the aesthetics around town and the rest will follow, is our motto.

*BTW, fixing aesthetics does not mean tearing down buildings for parking lots. Providing surface parking to increase business is a mythical fallacy. If you have a charming attractive shopping district, people will regularly walk blocks or even miles to reach their destination. The more "missing teeth" or blank spots in downtown for parking, the less desirable it is to walk, the less people will want to visit. What you wind up with is plenty of parking, but nothing to park for... and Woodbury already has too much parking in my opinion... You can't make a city into a suburb without seriously damaging its infrastructure. The future of Woodbury lies in restoring its urbanism.

image credit:

A little more on the various historic districts, what they mean for you, and how they work:

1. The municipality of the City of Woodbury created the Woodbury Historic District in 1977 (although I believe it wasn't officially recognized until 1983) to preserve our rich cultural and architectural heritage for future generations. It has been proven that the maintenance and rehabilitation of buildings in historic districts have positive effects on the community including the stabilization of neighborhoods, retention of or increased property values, and the creation of civic pride. The municipally-appointed Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) oversees any proposed changes to the exterior of any and all properties located with the boundaries of the Woodbury Historic District (see map below). The HPC is comprised of nine volunteer citizens with varying degrees of knowledge pertaining to architecture and history who serve for either two or four year terms. The HPC is an advisory board only. Their recommendations go to Woodbury's Planning/Zoning board for official approval. Also, bear in mind that any changes proposed in a designated "area in need of redevelopment" or in any area outlined in the current redevelopment plan overrides any involvement with the HPC. Although certain protection is still offered under districts and properties listed on the National and State Register (more on that below). Depending on the political climate of the city during any given time, the HPC is given more or less importance. But it should be remembered that investors and restorers of old buildings (the people Woodbury wants to attract) are folks that do indeed wish and hope that the municipality takes their HPC seriously.

Woodbury Historic District Map in red.
For illustrative purposes only, check with City Hall for exact info.

A properly functioning HPC supported by their appointing municipality will prevent things like the images below happening to our unique historic properties. Keep in mind these images are from the Old House Journal and not from Woodbury, but seeing them has given me a great idea to feature a few of our own "remuddled" properties in a sort of veritable "Hall of Shame."

before: top, after: bottom, if you couldn't tell!

2. In addition to the municipally organized Woodbury Historic District, the City of Woodbury also boasts (but not as much as it should!) FIVE historic districts on the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places!! We have the Broad Street Historic District, Newton Historic DistrictGlover Historic District, Delaware Street Historic District, and the Green Era Historic District. These districts were successfully nominated back in 1988. It can be confusing as these designations do not necessarily overlap or correspond with the Woodbury Historic District. For example the entire street of Holroyd Place is not included within the municipally-organized Woodbury Historic District but is included within the State of New Jersey recognized Newton Historic District on the State Register. To learn more about Woodbury's State Register Historic Districts and to see if your house is included, check the documents available HERE and HERE.

The bragging rights that come with such a distinction are great, however the protection afforded under these state recognized districts is little. The only real protection comes in the form of a process called Section 106 review of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This means anyone can request a review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) which investigates the impact any proposed changes to any listed property within the historic district would have on the nature of the overall character of that district. However, the New Jersey Register law requires review of any state, county or municipal undertaking involving properties listed on the New Jersey Register only. It does not prevent a misguided neighbor from removing his historic wooden clapboard siding in favor of vinyl should he so wish (unless that property was also located in the municipal Woodbury Historic District in which case he would need to go before the HPC!) This is how the State Register districts differ from the municipally-organized district. For more on Section 106 review, visit: HERE.

In addition, inclusion in one of these State Register districts provides the eligibility to apply for matching grants and low-interest loans offered by the New Jersey Historic Trust for rehabilitation and restoration to state, county and municipal owning agencies and nonprofit organizations. Currently bills in the Assembly and Senate are making the rounds that would enable private owners of State Register listed properties to be eligible for a tax credit to help with restoration efforts! New Jersey is among the few states that does not currently offer this program. For more information on how you can support the Historic Property Reinvestment Act, please visit:

We here in Woodbury have seen the power of the Federal Historic Tax Credit in which RPM Development were able make use of to aid in the restoration of the Green Block Opera House. RPM were able to successfully apply for the credit as the building had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places which I will discuss next.

3. One need only look today at the Green Opera House Block to see firsthand the dramatic and powerful effect proper restoration can have on a building and its surroundings. RPM Development was able to procure this credit as the Green Block was previously listed (in 2001) on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information on the National Park Services Historic Tax Credit program, visit: For more benefits of being listed on both Registers, visit: Woodbury currently boasts five individual properties on the NATIONAL Register of Historic Places.

National Register Green Block Opera House woodbury new jersey

Here is a complete breakdown of properties and districts within the City of Woodbury currently on the State and/or National Registers (NR = National Register, SR = State Register). Listings marked with SHPO Opinion are recommendations from the NJ Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for possible future inclusion on the registers:

Broad Street Historic District (ID#1429)
Broad Street (between Woodbury Creek and Courtland Street) and
Delaware Street (between Broad and Wood streets)
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Carpenter Street School and Bethel AME Church Site (ID#3176)
53-55 Carpenter Street
COE: 1/11/1996
SR: 7/7/1997
NR: 8/21/1997 (NR Reference #: 97000934)
(Previously listed as "Bethel AME Church and School" as part
of the Woodbury Multiple Resource Area SR 2/19/88 former
NRIS# 88000999; Church destroyed by fire, remains
demolished, ca.1992)
Chew House (ID#1430)
436 East Barber Avenue
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Delaware Street Historic District (ID#1431)
Delaware Street, between North American and Wood streets
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Glover Historic District (ID#1432)
Portions of Glover, High, Lincoln, Morris, Penn, and West streets
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Green Era Historic District (ID#1433)
Portions of Bayard, North Evergreen, North and South Woodland
avenues; Cooper, Green and Spruce streets; Rugby Place
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
G.G. Green's Block (ID#3793)
108 South Broad Street
SR: 6/11/2001
NR: 7/25/2001 (NR Reference #: 01000769)
Hunter-Lawrence-Jessup House (ID#1434)
58 North Broad Street
SR: 5/29/1992
NR: 7/22/1992 (NR Reference #: 72000798)
(Amended the Hunter-Lawrence House nomination, which was
listed SR 3/15/72 and NR 10/18/72)
Newton Historic District (ID#1435)
Portions of Newton Avenue; Aberdeen and Holroyd Places; Centre,
Curtis, Euclid, Hunter, Laurel, and Maple streets
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Thompson House (ID#1436)
103 Penn Street
SR: 2/19/1988
NR: 7/13/1988 (NR Reference #: 88000996)
(Woodbury MRA)
West End School (ID#1437)
Logan Street
SR: 2/19/1988
(Woodbury MRA)
Woodbury Armory (ID#4342)
North Evergreen Avenue & Red Bank Avenue
SHPO Opinion: 9/10/2004

Woodbury MRA (ID#5085)
(See individual listings in Gloucester County, Woodbury City)
Woodbury City Hall (ID#1438)
33 Delaware Avenue
SHPO Opinion: 9/29/1977
Woodbury Friends' Meetinghouse (ID#1439)
120 North Broad Street
SR: 5/1/1972
NR: 2/6/1973 (NR Reference #: 73001100)
Woodbury Historic District (ID#1440)
Includes portions of East Centre and Aberdeen streets
SHPO Opinion: 7/13/1983
(Local Certified District: 07/13/83)
Woodbury Post Office (ID#1441)
35 North Broad Street
SHPO Opinion: 2/20/1980

Graeme Shankland once wrote, "A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent; and a city without old buildings is like a man without a memory." Forces are in motion that continually threaten the life of our historic buildings. Just within the past three years we have lost SIX historic properties (Thompson House, Delaware Ave Toll House, a house on Aberdeen place, a house on E. Barber, the Jacob Glover House and a neighboring Second Empire Victorian house on High St both demolished by the Bottom Dollar Corporation). The groups and historic designations discussed in this post help protect our history to a degree but they can only do so much without the support and aid from the people who live in and around the City of Woodbury.

To sum things up, let's be proud of our historic designations and view them as unique distinctions that we can publicize and use to our advantage to build something really special in this city. A lot of countless work has been done by individuals to put Woodbury on these registers and subsequently on the map of America's proud historic heritage. Let us not shy away from these bragging rights!

hunter street newton historic district woodbury new jersey
"Rice Row" in the Newton Historic District on the NJ Register