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Bustling Bridgeton

The city, circa 1850, had three leading industries; transport was by horse and carriage.

by Vince Farinaccio

William C. Mulford’s account of Bridgeton in 1850, which was published in a 1937 booklet and later excerpted in South Jersey Magazine, transports the modern-day reader to a time when the Cumberland Iron and Nail Works, the Cohansey Glass Works and the East Lake Woolen Mills were the city’s three leading industries and transportation was limited to horses and sailing vessels.

According to the South Jersey Magazine article “Bridgeton’s Historic City Park,” plans for what became the Cumberland Iron and Nail Works began in 1814 when Port Elizabeth resident James Lee and Bridgeton-based Ebenezer Seeley and Smith Bowen purchased undeveloped land on the Cohansey River north of Commerce Street, constructed a dam that created Sunset Lake and gave the company the water-power rights to the area.

“The lake was at the northern end of the tract,” the article explains, “and the nail factory was built at the southern end.” The business would grow from a single mill to a small complex of dozens of buildings along the Cohansey River and manufacture nails and pipes used locally and nationally.

According to Mulford, “the Glass Works were located at the South end of Pearl Street” in a building that would later be utilized by the Ritter Company. The company manufactured window glass as well as bottles. Mulford doesn’t provide the exact location for the East Lake Woolen Mills, but such enterprises had existed on East Commerce Street since the first woolen mill was built in the 1680s. Online sources indicate that the East Lake business was founded in 1811.

Across from East Lake Woolen Mills, according to Mulford, stood one of several custom grist mills for flour. Such operations provided services by “taking your grain and returning to you an appropriate amount of the finished product, meal or flour.”

Sailing vessels were the standard mode of transportation for products manufactured by businesses in 1850 Bridgeton. Because the railroad would not extend to Bridgeton for another decade, the easiest way for travelers interested in visiting Philadelphia was by steamboat. Mulford reports that a steam line existed between Bridgeton and the City of Brotherly Love.

Stagecoach lines carried newspapers and mail from Philadelphia to Bridgeton and “horse-drawn stages ran between local towns,” according to Mulford. In addition, “many persons in the town kept their own driving horses. Much pride was taken in the horse and the carriage or the sleigh in Winter time, for snow was not scraped from the highways and often would lay for long periods.” For residents not wishing to own a horse, they “could hire one from the several livery stables.”

Such transportation guaranteed the necessity for certain businesses. As Mulford explains, “scattered about the town were the essential blacksmith and the wheelwright shops. Horses must be frequently shod; wagons and carriages must be made or repaired.”

For anyone requiring overnight accommodations in Bridgeton, “the principal hotel…was the Davis House, located then at the N.W. corner of Commerce and Laurel Streets. It was the recognized center of the town, where legal notices were posted and where public sales took place.” According to Mulford, hotels in this era needed to be equipped with “large barns and carriage sheds” behind the hotel for the horses and coaches.

In 1850, Bridgeton had only one bank, the Cumberland. Mulford identifies James B. Potter as its president and William G. Nixon as its sole cashier.

While private schools had existed in Bridgeton since 1773, there was only one public school in 1850, located “on Bank Street at the East end of Washington Street.” The Academy, situated “at the S.W. corner of Giles and Academy Streets,” would open two years later. Classes, according to Mulford, were “limited to what we now call the lower grades.”

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