Dividing Creek is one of many tiny towns that dot the forested landscape in South Jersey. But don’t be fooled by its size. Its roots run deep and many of the family names still found there trace their roots back 200 years or more.
Located in Downe Township, which was formally established in 1772, Dividing Creek was originally christened “Half Way.” Sawmills that employed many of the local men thrived along its banks of creeks, while others worked in shipbuilding or the oyster trade.
Dividing Creek was also once known for farming and the M.J. Dilks basket factory. In 1898, the Millville Daily included a regular column about the town, including the fact that Dr. George Butcher “had purchased a fine new roadster.” The Bridgeton-Millville Traction Company maintained a sub-station on Main Street when the trolleys ran from Bridgeton to Bivalve between 1902 and 1922.
Of course, life had never been completely tranquil in the rural community. On March 17, 1855, the West-Jersey Pioneer reported that John Lore, Sr., had been ambushed and robbed by a group of men after he had returned home from a profitable business trip to “the city.” Lore, who was reportedly worth more than $100,000 (more than $3.5 million today) “was perhaps the most extensive land holder that ever resided in the Township.”
Dividing Creek never grew very large but what it lacked in population, it made up for in community spirit. The center of activity for most people in the early days was Union Hall, situated on Route 553 across from the Dividing Creek elementary school. The Dividing Creek Historical Society is hoping to re-establish that role for the building, which is listed on the Cumberland County Register of Historic Structures and Sites. The hall was built in 1896 by the Good Intent Beneficial Society, with help from the Odd Fellows and the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. In addition to club meetings held at the hall, the building was used for public programs by groups like the Epworth League, which planned a social there on February 26, 1898.
The white clapboard-sided two-story structure might very well be the oldest public structure of its type within the region. Measuring 48 feet long and 30 feet wide, Cumberland County Historian Del Brandt noted in 1973: “The hall was built with cedar siding” and “In the entrance hall is a space known as a ticket office.” A stage was built at the opposite end of the hall. The bell tower above the front entrance still houses the original bell, which measures 24 inches in diameter and weighs 300 pounds. It was made in 1901 by the McCheny Bell Foundry of Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1964, the Union Hall was sold to the Dividing Creek Civic Club, later rechristened the Dividing Creek Historical Society. It’s been owned by Downe Township since 2019. Some local residents like Cindy Sanza and Sandra Veltman who are members of the society, would like to see more people get involved in saving the community’s history—starting with the Union Hall. While the building is once again being used to host public programs, it needs to be maintained for future generations.
“We would like people to come out and join us,” Sanza said. “We want their input on the town’s history, which will help us better understand what needs to be preserved.”
Feel free to attend a meeting or apply for membership in the Dividing Creek Historical Society. The fee is $5 for an individual and $10 for a family. For further information, e-mail the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.