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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Palmer Cox and the Greenies!

Palmer Cox (April 28, 1840 – July 24, 1924) was a Canadian illustrator and author. His cartoon creations, The Brownies, mischievous but kindhearted fairy-like sprites were published in several books and were known throughout the world in the late 19th century/early 20th century. Due to the popularity of the series, one of the first handheld cameras was named after them, the Eastman Kodak Brownie camera. "While largely forgotten today, Cox was a beloved household name for children in the 1880s through the early 1900s. The Brownies were the first cartoon figures to be used in mass merchandising, later influencing Beatrix Potter and Walt Disney, among others."

Do you know Palmer Cox has a special connection to the City of Woodbury? In 1889 Woodbury's own G.G. Green, ever forward-thinking, was not content with merely using the popular Brownies in his advertisements and publications but instead commissioned Cox to create a new brand of pixie for his August Flower Almanac. As a result, the Greenies were born! Having appeared in both the 1890 issue of the almanac and a special Wit and Wisdom issue, the Greenies are a wonderful time piece, once again linking Woodbury, NJ with world-renowned artistic talent. Enjoy some of the more prominent illustrations below and take note of familiar Woodbury locales drawn into some scenes! As always, click for LARGER.

Notice Green's Cooper St. Mansion and Lake


Notice: Green's Green Ave. Lab Building
Notice: Green's Laboratory and existing railroad

Monday, February 10, 2014

Paschal Medara: Woodbury's Victorian Architect

An original envelope showing the inscription of Allen & Medara
Not much is known about Woodbury's own 19th century architect and builder, Mr. Paschal Medara, yet some of his wonderful buildings still inspire us today. He was described in 1910 as "an architect of rare ability" having planned the city's "most prominent buildings." Even to this day anyone who passes through Woodbury has most likely laid eyes on his creations in the form of the Green Opera House block on Broad (recently restored by RPM Development) and the Green Laboratory on Green Avenue (Woodbury Mews). Medara's other buildings that have been lost to the ages continue to live through historic photographs and lithographs and have appeared worldwide in 19th and 20th century issues of Green's August Flower Almanac.

Odd Fellows Hall
In the mid-1840's, Paschal's father, Jacob was involved with Woodbury in part as a building committee and was responsible for the erection of the now demolished Odd Fellows Hall formerly on Cooper Street. Perhaps it was through this involvement that his son became interested in the creation of grand civic buildings roughly 30 years later. Whatever the case, Paschal Medara came to be - one could consider- the personal architect to Woodbury's multimillionaire family, the Greens. Having designed both Lewis and George G. Green's palatial mansions (pictured below) he also designed, among many others, the lab and opera house, as mentioned above and most likely the Merritt's Drugstore corner building commissioned by G.G. How this relationship with the Green family developed is unclear but records show interestingly enough that both Medara and G.G. Green were in Company E, 6th Regiment of the National Guard; Medara a Corporal, G.G. a Captain (later Colonel). According to New Jersey Civil War Gravestones website, Paschal Medara was also a Union Civil War US Navy Seaman who served aboard the USS Catskill.

A feature on Medara in the 1878 issue of the Green's Almanac
Paschal Medara's obituary notice in the Jul 30 1910
issue of the Woodbury Daily Times
Paschal now lies quietly beside his mother and father (Lydia Ann Dilks and Jacob R. Medara) in the Mantua Cemetery, his accomplishments nearly forgotten. Although very few associate his name with the buildings, I like to think that he would be happy to know that his laboratory and his opera house have been restored in recent years, much to the pride of his old hometown.

Paschal Medara's gravestone
Let's take a look at some of his astounding creations:

Medara's Gray Towers mansion for G.G.Green
Learn everything about the mansion HERE
Medara's Gray Towers is featured in the seminal reference book:
A Field Guide to American Houses
Medara's Italianate mansion for Mayor Lewis Morris Green
Medara's Laboratory for the Greens.
It was a state of the art lab/factory with bottling rooms, printing press, offices, etc.
... and don't forget the grand stable house in the rear of the lab
Medara's Opera House block.
He may have designed the church in the rear as well
Medara's Drugstore Corner Block
Medara's architectural creations live on
through the MANY Green Almanacs
and August Flower sales materials
Result of True Merit