and a balance of harmony reigned on our land since its creation. In the earliest
days the land and its animal inhabitants coexisted and offered the rudiments
of life for the first humans. Tranquility survived and reminders of these
early days remain with us if only we stop to see and remember.
The Borough of Laurel Springs is located in Southern New Jersey about 14 miles from the Walt Whitman Bridge that connects Philadelphia to New Jersey. Its main roads were once the only way from Philadelphia to the shore and many people stopped and stayed in Laurel Springs instead of continuing on south. Walt Whitman had a house here and you can read about it in the following biography. Most people pass through our town without even noticing on the way to the Park, Clementon Amusement Park on our southern boarder. There is a lot of history here and plenty of beauty for all to see. In the center of town is Gray Stone Mansion an old castle built by Samuel S. Cord in the mid 1800's and now serves as the police station for the town.
There is a revitalization taking place in this quaint little community with many new business moving into town. Come, visit and see the beautiful Laurel Springs community in South Jersey. Click on the next link to see a list of merchants you will find in Laurel Springs.
To read more about the history of Laurel Springs please read on. We have included some history about our town and are currently working on a better format. As time permits we will add more information about our history and the community.
Quakers set tone for early life
This land first belonged to the Lenni-Lenape Indians who came from west of the Mississippi River. When the early settlers arrived in the 1600s, relations with the Indians here were better than in any other colony. No record of fighting exists. The Dutch and Swedes first settled in southern Jersey with only the Swedes leaving a permanent settlement. The King of England also claimed title to the land due to its discovery in 1497 by John Cabot. The name New Jersey honors the tiny Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. The king gave two Englishmen all land between Manhattan and the Delaware River; they in turn sold the southern part, called West Jersey. to the Quakers. Three Quaker trustees were appointed, including William Penn who had been interested in the Jersey area even before he was granted Pennsylvania. He deserves credit for establishing sound laws with representative government and religious freedom. The early Quakers set a precedent, not only- in their fair dealings with the Indians, but with their honesty, industry and respect for the rights and beliefs of others. The Quaker Proprietors divided West Jersey into ten parts. called "Tenths." The area including Laurel Springs was the Third Tenth. In 1694 the Tenths became counties, and the Third and Fourth Tenths became Old Gloucester County. (Camden County separated from Gloucester County in 1844. and Laurel Springs was a part of Clementon Township until 1913.) The Tomlinson name dominates early history in this area. Joseph Tomlinson came to the Newton Settlement of the Third Tenth in 1686 where he apprenticed in the dyeing trade. In 1690 he married and located on 117 acres on the east side of Gravelly Run on the Blackwood-Clementon Road. In 29 years he increased his holdings, became Sheriff of Gloucester County, then King's Attorney and raised 10 children - a much repeated American story.
William I. Tomlinson's farm located on Glendale Road is the site of the present Echelon Mall. An early map of Camden County shows a large part of the land beyond Hidden Lake to Glendale as owned by the Tomlinson's.
Ephraim Tomlinson's son, another -Ephraim (1695~1780), purchased 619 acres lying on both sides of Timber Creek, part of which lies in the present boundaries of Laurel Springs. And it was still another Ephraim (1806-1893) great-great-grandson of Joseph Tomlinson who built a grist and sawmill in 1834 on the banks of Timber Creek. just west of the present dam site. It was the largest mill in this area south of the White Horse Pike.
Three farms make up town boundaries
In 1844 Ephraim Tomlinson built his home. the Brick Mansion, which is now a YWCA. Around the mill and mansion he began a small community consisting of a slaughter house, about 12 homes for his workers and the Schoolhouse on the Hill south of the creek. Owner of three farms and three stores, his mule teams served the iron and glass factories throughout South Jersey.
Because of the dense growth of laurel all about, he chose the name Laurel Mills. Soon both the beautiful lake that formed behind the mill dam and the general area became known as Laurel Mills. A dirt road that wound down one hill, over the creek, past the dam and climbed the opposite hill became Laurel Mills Road. Ephraim Tomlinson's mill community marks the beginning of Laurel Springs as it is today.
Before 1877 when the railroad was built, three farms and a pasture formed the present boundaries of Laurel Springs two farms of Montgomery Statford totaling 187 acres and separated by Stone Road (then called Clementon Road), one farm of Benjamin A. Tomlinson and a pasture of Richard Kaighn, north of Stone Road on the west side of the railroad.
At this time there were probably only three farm houses and a residence in the area -
1. the Old Earle Homestead where the school now stands
2. the Walt Whitman House. 305 Maple Avenue, one of the Stafford Farms
3. Tomlinson farmhouse across front the present YWCA (now torn down)
4. the Tomlinson residence. west of Lakeview Avenue on Laurel Road
Railroad leads the way
It was the building of the railroad that made it easier to reach this area, made the lake more popular as a summer resort and encouraged real estate development. The Philadelphia & Atlantic City Railroad, chartered March 26, 1876, completed a single narrow gauge track in 1877.Competition between this line and the Camden & Atlantic City Railroad which ran through Kirkwood, practically ruined both. In 1883 the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad purchased the former and rebuilt a standard gauge track. A new station on Atlantic Ave. was built a short time later. In the earliest timetables, the stop was Laurel, a box car station at Laurel Mills Road. Fare to Atlantic City was as low as 50 cents, and the famous Boardwalk Flyer made history by traveling the 55 miles between Camden and Atlantic City in less than 50 minutes. It was the pride of the United States. Soon the Pennsylvania Railroad. which took over the Camden & Atlantic City line, tried to better the record and raced the Reading train on long stretches below Hammonton where each was visible.
In the early 1900's the Campbell Back type replaced the Flyer, and later the 100 series was used. At one time as many as 50 trains a day thundered through town and more on weekends. There was a train as early as 5:45 a.m.. at 7 cents a ride for commuters, and for theater-goers, a train as late as 11:45 PM. As the railroad cut through the Stafford Farm East. the company agreed to build a bridge at Maple Ave. to carry the farm lane over the tracks. A wide, highly arched bridge of huge timbers spanned the tracks enabling the Staffordís to market truck-loads of marl they dug from a large pit at the foot of the greet. Large deposits of marl, a greenish-black earth or clay containing carbonate of lime and used for fertilizer, was then plentiful. By the late 1920's, the prosperity of the railroad began to decrease. and today the line carries only freight. The lake and clear crystal springs attracted many vacationers. A 1902 book published by the Reading Railroad entitled Pleasant Places along the Reading Railroad, describes Laurel Springs this way:
"Laurel Springs, NJ. Fare
10-day excursion 46 cents;
60-trip monthly $5.65.
Twelve trains each way on weekdays;
four trains each way on Sunday."
The chief feature here is the great Crystal Spring, said to be the largest in the United States. It is as clear as crystal and as cold as ice, and its value as a therapeutic agent has been testified to by numerous physicians. It offers superior attractions and advantages for a suburban home or summer residence, combining all the pleasures and amusements of a mountain resort with the advantage of an all-the-year-round place of residence.
Laurel Lake, over a mile long, surrounded by a beautiful natural park of old oaks. with beautiful walks. etc., offers splendid advantages for boating and fishing."
Lake and springs attract summer visitors
Wealthy Philadelphians and Camdenites spent their summers here. As early as 1878, the new Crystal Inn was a paying proposition - until the automobile took business away from the railroad. Later called the Walt Whitman, the inn accommodated 60 boarders at 5$ to 15 per week. Accessible to the train station at 50 yards; the site is at the foot of Lindsay on Lakeview Ave., cleared in 1959 to make way for new homes. On the opposite corner at 704 Lakeview Ave. (now a residence), the Lakeview Inn accommodated 40 guests at similar rates and was operated by Mrs. Annie Hazard. Open fields surrounded both hostelries, providing for softball diamonds and tennis courts.
Early newspapers told of a park, prettier than any part of Fairmount Park on the Wissahickon. A well-kept bridle path allowed horseback riding around the lake shore. Canoeing and rowing were popular pastimes, highlighted by the annual summer regatta from the boathouses at the foot of Tomlinson Ave. to the country club at the foot of Walnut Ave. Each decorated canoe or boat competed for prizes as music and singing drifted across the waters. The clear, crystal lake waters supplied by numerous springs, sported pickerel. bass, catfish, sunfish, perch and large quantities of snappers. The lake often froze in winter, providing many hours of ice skating ... and the water from Crystal Spring sold in Philadelphia for 15 cents a gallon.
Poet inspired by area's natural beauty
Perhaps the most - famous summer visitor was poet Walt Whitman who inspired visitors to come here from all over the U.S. and England ~ Whitman spent a good portion of his time here between 1876 and 1884, converting one of the Stafford Farm buildings to his summer home at 305 Maple Ave. A part of his Leaves of Grass was written here, and in his Specimen Days he wrote of the spring, creek and lake. To him, Laurel Lake was ... "the prettiest lake in: either America or Europe."
He became as minutely acquainted with its (Laurel Lake area's) topography, scenery, plant and animal life as Thoreau had been with Walden Pond," wrote Gay Wilson Allen in his book on Walt Whitman, The Solitary Singer, Laurel Springs knew Whitman only in the later days of his life. He was born at West Hills, Long Island, grew up in Brooklyn, and became a writer and editor, publishing an anti-slavery newspaper, The Freeman. During the Civil War, Whitman was reluctant to bear arms in the bloody struggle, believing that love and comradeship would eventually overcome human hate and fear, and instead, served as a volunteer nurse.
The famed writer had suffered a partial stroke while still in Washington, and was bothered with arthritis. Mud baths he took near the springs, he claimed, were responsible for his return to health. To the local residents who came to the springs for drinking water, he was just "that dirty old man," but to literary circles as far away as Europe, he was the Good Gray Poet"
Realtors stimulate development
With the beautiful countryside and prosing town served by the railroad 1889 marked the advent of real estate developers. The three farms changed title to these developers - B.A. Tomlinson Farm east of Laurel Road, purchased by Laurel Springs Realty Co.; Montgomery Stafford Farm East purchased by West Jersey Title and Guarantee Co., and Stafford Farm West purchased by Laurel Springs Land Co . These realtors published their own newspapers to promote sale of lots, and the town became one of the fastest growing communities in the Philadelphia area.
Tickets for free passage on the railroad encouraged buyers to look at the real estate values. One could buy an 8-room house with a bath, heater, range porches, on a lot 50xl50 feet on easy terms -$300 cash and $20 monthly.
The slogan used by the developers was
Laurel Springs - The Place to Live.
A realty company advertisement read:
Laurel Springs is in the mountains of South Jersey, and is one of the highest points between Trenton and Atlantic City, commanding magnificent views of the surrounding country for miles. The location is magnificent and beautiful beyond description.
Crystal Spring has long been celebrated -for its medicinal qualities and purity, and has been credited with curing numerous cases of Kidney and Liver Diseases of long standing, for which It is acknowledged to be a sure cure as well of other disorders of the stomach and bowels, Dyspepsia, Indigestion, Diabetes, Rheumatism, Cystitis, etc.
Samuel Cord, the most notable of the developers published the Laurel Springs Courier, and his Laurel Springs Land Co. reportedly made $40,000 the first year of operation. While developing West Laurel Springs (portion lying west of railroad) Cord built his own large and beautifully landscaped Gray Stone Mansion In the sector. It was the showplace of the community and later became the borough hall at W .Atlantic and Tomlinson Ave. In 1889 three areas were surveyed and laid out in streets and lots.
It was named Laurel Springs due to the heavy growth of laurel along the lake plus dozens of clear mineral and sweet water springs. On the original town diagram, Glen Ave, was Hilyard, Park Ave. was Hemlock, Lakeview was Central and the western portion of Stone Road was Elm.
Jacob Mick ran the first blacksmith shop (that building is now a small residence in the rear of 20 E. Atlantic Ave.) He not only shod horses, but made the iron rods which pulled the Presbyterian church walls together again when they began to spread. William D. Youker operated the first post office in town. He worked for Ephraim Tomlinson as miller at Laurel Mills and left in 1897 to open a general store on the corner of E. Atlantic and Washington Ave. Later he built a grocery store up the street (now 322-324 Washington Ave,) which housed the first Bell Telephone Exchange in one corner. The first telephones were installed in 1902, and several residents still have their original numbers.
An early leader in town activities and fire chief for 27 years, Philip Davey built his home at 503 Stafford Ave, in 1890, Davey was one of Philadelphia's first photo-engravers and conducted business there for 50 years. Many early pictures of Laurel Springs, often our only records, exist in good condition thanks to the skill and effort of this man.
Jacob Ludy came to Laurel Springs in 1902. building his house on the corner of E. Atlantic and Maple Ave., and organizing the first electric company, Clementon Township United Electric Improvement Co, The power house was located on Grand Ave. across from the present sports complex. Ludy's company was purchased by Electric Company of New Jersey in 1916 and merged with Atlantic City Electric Co in 1927. He was also one of 1 he first so supporters for incorporation of Laurel Springs into a borough.
Other progress as noted in the Laurel Springs Courier of 1906: The coming of the trolleys is booming the town, work is being pushed as rapidly as possible to Laurel Springs by July 1Ö Stone Hood is paved through town at a cost of $8,000Ö commutation fare on trains only 7 cents a ride, And from the South Jersey News, 1911: Youker's store is now brilliantly lighted by gas ... Contractor Joseph Batteii predicted a mild winter (1912) because of the action of worms during the late fall.
Fire companies also serve as meeting places
On Nov. 18. 1893,13 men met in the Philadelphia & Atlantic City R.R. station to organize the first volunteer fire company, Their firehouse was a barn on the Maple Ave. Stafford Farm. between the railroad bridge and Stone Road, and their first fire-fighting equipment, a hand drawn hose cart with 2-inch rubber hose and fire buckets. The alarm sounded from a large 150-pound bell suspended over the firehouse and could be heard two miles around. Eleven years later after the town grew, several members who lived on the west side, broke away and formed Laurel Springs Fire Co. No. 2. Securing a lot on Stone Road, they built a station (now a residence at 1100 Stone Road) and thanked friends in Cape May who gave a hand-drawn hose cart. Later they secured a hand-drawn hook and ladder truck to match Co. No. l's equipment and by 1916 both companies shared a Model "T" Ford chemical truck. The two companies incorporated in 1938, building the present headquarters on Tomlinison Ave.
The first local physician, Dr. Frank B. Cook. arrived in 1907. One of the first in town to buy an automobile, he always responded to fire alarms and pulled the fire engine to the disaster scene. Dr. Cook is still remembered for his untiring efforts to check the severe flu epidemic which raged through most communities during World War I. He saved many but himself succumbed to the disease in 1918.
Besides maintaining a credible record fighting Fires , the fire department always pitched in on town activities. As early as 1894 they took charge of the town Fourth of July celebration And in the early years before the automobile created a mobile society. the tire stations were social centers, scheduling any parties, concerts, minstrel shows, masquerade balls and debates. Their buildings were also meeting places for religious and other organizations. .the Ladies Auxiliary, a sister organization. played an important role in the life of the fire company and town, and today are a well organized active group. Since their earliest days, fire department volunteers have rendered first aid, cleaned up after storms helped persons imperiled and given freely of their timeÖ sometimes risking' their lives in doing so.
Much of the information is from a 1976 Bicentennial publication
produced for the Borough of Laurel Springs.