As the soil in the southern part of Medford was barren for producing food crops, lumbering was the first major industry of Medford. Attracted by abundant water power, woodcutters arrived in force in the 18th century. By 1800, there were 7 mills sawing all the wood needed locally and shipping our excess on timber rafts floated to Lumberton, and loaded on barges for Philadelphia. Soon, though, the devastated forest caused alarm even in those days.
10 or 12 cranberry courses existed in Medford in colonial times. Berries were sorted, packed and stored. Only 3 remain. Cranberry Hall, the township's former courthouse, is a converted sorting house owned by the Jennings family. The railroad was responsible for the development of Medford as a cranberry center. Medford cranberries were shipped all over the country and to Canada. They were carried on ships as a preventive against scurvy. When the railroad made it possible to ship the berries, everyone in town began to buy land for bogs, local druggist, the innkeeper, and many others whose lack of experience led them to lost a lot of money.
Sandtown and Chairville areas
Many generations of the Prickett family lived in this area and called it Prickettown. Several houses in this area date to the 18th century. To our left is the Peacock Cemetery. Adonijah Peacock, who died at his farm one day manufacturing gunpowder for Washington's army, lies here among several generations of his descendants. One of them is David Peacock. Charles Newbold invented, in l797, the iron, or moldboard, plow. David Peacock was granted a patent on April 1, l807 for an iron plow.
He was sued by Newbold for patent infringement who was awarded $1500 in damages. Newbold's plow was one pice and made of cast iron. Peacock's was three pieces, so if the point broke by striking a root, the entire plow had to be discarded. With Peacock's plow, the point could be replaced. It was followed by improved models and was a major breakthrough in modern agriculture.
Near this area of Route 70 was a small village called Chairville in the 19th century. Chair parts, such as spindles, rungs and legs of chairs were made here. The village started with the building of a turning mill built by John Prickett prior to l844. The parts were carted to a Philadelphia warehouse for distribution to chair factories. Older Medford residents recall the wagon loads passing through town.
Also down Rt. 70 to the east is the knitwear mill which moved here from Brooklyn in l936 after PSE&G advised three Lavinsky brothers that unemployment here was very high during the depression. The Lavinskys specialzed in the manufacture of sweaters for women and children. In l929, they pioneered the develpment of polo shirts and the use of cotton and synthetics, and increased these operations after moving to Medford.
The Pine Barrens
The Pine Barrens, although markedly changed in many places by building and the destruction of the original vegetation, occupy roughly a fourth of the State of New Jersey (1,164,000 acres). They extend virtually unbroken from just west of Asbury Park to the upper part of the Cape May peninsula and, except for tenuous coastal strip, from the sea for westward into Burlington and even Camden and Gloucester counties. More than half of Medford Township –all of the southern part and all of Medford Lakes–lies within the borders of the Barrens.
The sandy mantle of the Pine Barrens, hundreds of feet thick in some places, was long considered to be a useless waste except for glass making and road building. It is worthless for farming as the sand and gravel act a gigantic filter causing the soil nutrients to quickly leach downward from the abundant rains of the region. Only two crops are commercially exploitable–cranberries and blueberries. Nowadays, however, the sand and gravel capping the Pine Barrens is receiving attention as a major aquifer as it contains the largest untapped source of pure water remaining in the Northeast.
Christopher's Mill and Hoot Owl Farm
Also in this area is a mill now known as Christopher's Mill, originally built as a sawmill in l74l by Joseph Hewlings, whose family was among the first Burlington County settlers. In l678 William Hewlings bought a small share of the West Jersey province from William Kent of London. After his first home was burned, a new one was built in l743, which still stands. Samuel Hewlings, his son, operated the sawmill until l791 when he sold his interest to his brother John. John Hewling's daughter married John Merriman Christopher in l821, hence the name of the mill. The property remained in the Christopher family until recently. By l930, the sawmill was nothing by rotted timbers. Reportedly, the mill went out of operation in l870. Cranberries became the major crop of the farm at the mill because of the abundance of water. For many years, the mill was a stagecoach stop between Camden and the NJ shore.
Down the road is a farm home typical of the colonial period. Made from glazed brick, it was built in 1772 and faithfully restored in recent years. As repeated planting soon exhausted the soil of area farms, and artificial fertilizers were not yet available, something has to be done to build up the soil. The rich marl deposits discovered in the area saved the farming industry. Marl contains the potassium, phosphorous and calcium needed for farming. The village of Marlton was started after this discovery.
Main Street Area Homes
Before 1800, there were few homes in Medford village. Main Street was only a narrow road connecting Fostertown Road by Kirby's Mill with Landing Bridge(across Haines Creek). After crossing this bridge, you would come to a fork, the right fork leading to Oliphant's Mill, the left to the Cross Keys Tavern. In l775, the road to Landing Bridge was not any wider than it had been when the Indians traveled it on their way to the shore. My March, 1820, Medford had its own post office, and Shinn Oliphant was the first postmaster. The post office was in his parlor.
By 1850, the village grew into a town of several streets. Cherry and Cedar Streets were cut in l846. By l850, all of the homes on Filbert Street, north of Bank Street, were built. Most of the homes on Bank Street were also built by l850. The brick homes on these streets were built quite a bit earlier than the frame houses. In fact, very few brick homes were constructed after l840. Union Street pushed as far as the home on the corner of Union and Allen Avenues.
The earliest houses were built in the colonial or Dutch colonial style. You entered at a stoop (porches were added later) into a center hall. On either side were two or more rooms. On one side was a kitchen (dining rooms came later), and on the other, the parlor and sometimes a downstairs bedroom. All were probably open in summer, but closed in winter to save heat. The kitchen would serve as the family room in winter and was known as the keeping room for eating, reading and the Saturday night bath. The bedrooms were upstairs.
Much of the early architecture of these houses has been altered by subtracting parts, adding rooms or porches or changing windows or doorways. This was the result of growing families. The earliest house had cellar walls of rough fieldstone sometimes mortared. Beams were made with axes and still show chip marks. Beams were put in place with hardwood pegs made by hand. Windows were small and made of many panes of glass. The glass was wavy, full of bubbles and often purple, green or brown. Roofs were made of cedar shingles, which lasted long but tended to curl in dry weather. The houses were heated by a huge fireplaces, but on windy days, sparks were drawn upward often setting fire to the roofs.