In 1900, G.W. Lewis addressed the West Vineland Farm and Garden Club in a talk that focused on what it was like growing up in Vineland. Specifically, he discussed 1866, the year the town would celebrate its fifth birthday.
The details Lewis provided at that event undoubtedly gave those in attendance a history lesson on the western portion of Charles K. Landis’s settlement. And thanks to a preserved copy of the talk published in 1951 in the Vineland Historical Magazine, those details are shared with future generations.
In 1866, what is now considered West Vineland was actually part of Landis Township. Farms had existed in this area prior to Landis’ involvement but, upon his arrival, Park Avenue was extended beyond Malaga Road (today’s Delsea Drive) and Wheat and Garden roads were created to help facilitate the establishment of additional farms.
Lewis reported that “very little land [in West Vineland] had been brought under cultivation by May 1, 1866. The old farms on the Railroad just north of Park Avenue and on Malaga Road…north of the Blackwater were being farmed by Mr. Landis, but he only raised rye and clover…the other settlers had from a garden patch to a few acres cleared and were planting crops fertilized with marl and muck.”
Muck, according to Lewis, was used for most crops, but it had to be hauled from the swamps in the area. One location was on the northwest corner of Wheat Road and the Boulevard, a bed that “covered several acres from one to two feet deep.”
As Lewis noted, the fertilizer supply was not the only concern for area farmers. “Land had to be cleared and to get it grubbed cost $12 to $20 per acre,” he told his listeners. “Breaking it up cost $7.00. Then if the man wanted to plant Irish potatoes, his seed cost $2.00 per bushel.” The cost of sweet potato sprouts, he added, was 50 cents for a hundred. Expenditures also included building materials and, for anyone wishing to expand into fruit growing, the purchase of fruit trees.
Lewis called 1866 “good times,” and cited wages “from $1.50 to $2.00 per day for common labor.” He then weighed income against everyday prices, noting that tea was $1.50 per pound, milk 10 cents per quart, butter 50 cents, salt pork 20 cents, lard 14 cents, flour $14 to $15 a barrel and sugar $16 to $18 a barrel.
During the summer of 1866, Lewis recounted, “teams were kept busy…hauling wood from down toward the Maurice River out to the [railroad] where it was loaded on the cars. “The coal dealers advised to buy a coal stove as wood would be scarce and dear in a year or two.” The prediction, as time would tell, turned out to be overly exaggerated. “It is not all gone yet,” Lewis humorously announced in 1900.
On August 8, 1866, the town’s fifth birthday, West Vineland landowners convened to address an issue concerning a school lot, Lewis explained. “Mr. Landis set off [a] 1/2 acre on the west side of Malaga Road at the north end of the Neff place, and he reported that a man wanted to buy it but would not with the school lot on it,” he told the Farm and Garden Club. “Mr. Landis offered to give [a] 1/2 acre on the east side…” The landholders approved the new location and agreed to accept an offer of an unoccupied house to use as a school building.
“We were told it could be moved for a few dollars cash, the inhabitants to give what labor necessary,” Lewis said. The building, placed on the lot that winter, also hosted Sunday School, religious meetings, debates and Farm and Garden Club meetings.
Lewis closed his talk with a discussion of the West Jersey Railroad line. “The platform at the depots were as high as the car floors,” he informed his listeners. “Baggage was all put in little box trucks, and they were run on flat-cars…I think there were but two trains a day, except for the months July and August.”
Like the other prices Lewis mentioned, train fare to Philadelphia at the time was a mere $2.60 round trip.