For my final main blog post of this year, I wanted to go back to the style of posts I began this project with. Similar to my Trenton and Cape May posts, today I will be spotlighting the city of Burlington. I explored the town last week, sightseeing some of its historical offerings, and meeting a couple of its residents.
Following the text portion of this piece is a video that visualizes the city of Burlington. It is a short tour of some of the city’s notable landmarks and areas, alongside an interview of Jeffrey Macechak, the Education Director at the Burlington County Historical Society.
Burlington is one of the oldest cities in New Jersey. Originally inhabited by Dutch colonists starting in the 1620s, the area was then settled by the Quakers around the 1670s. Eventually, it was purchased from a Native Lenape tribe by the area known as West Jersey and was incorporated as its capital, Bridlington. The city would be reincorporated numerous times in colonial New Jersey, and when New Jersey became a state of the United States.
The city used to be an important hub for commerce and government in the early days of the region. Situated on the Delaware River, it is close to both Trenton, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA making it another key trading point along the waterway. The city focused on the production of goods including clothing, medicine, and transportation technology such as James H. Birch’s rickshaws. The area also gained renown for its significance as a cultural hotspot. Many old churches and places of worship were built early on in the city, becoming prominent in the area.
When I arrived I decided to explore High Street, which serves as the city’s downtown section, the main area for business and social hangouts. The center of town always served as a cultural area where many gathered for public forums, concerts, and political announcements.
High Street is adorned with numerous structures dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. As with the rest of the town, many buildings throughout the city are even still standing from the colonial era. Additionally, many of the original neighborhoods are still present. A couple examples of these neighborhoods are Yorkshire and London.
One of the most famous residents of Burlington was the War of 1812 veteran, Captain James Lawrence. He was best known for his famous last words “Don’t Give up the Ship!” which has turned into a popular navy battle cry. His house now serves as an office building and an art gallery.
During my walk, I met April Spotts, a resident of Burlington City. Living in the town her entire life, she said that “the town’s history is important to residents.” She continued, “I love the feel of Downtown Burlington because to me it feels like one of those places that still holds on to the old historical tradition the town lived through for so many years.”
London neighborhood is a section of the town close to the Delaware river. The neighborhood contains a number of interesting structures. One such is the first library constructed in Burlington, which was built in 1757. The Burlington Free Library, or also known as the Burlington Library Company, still serves its original mission of providing reading materials to the citizens of Burlington. The plaque adorned on its front lawn explains that it was “chartered by King George II in 1757.”
Another location in London neighborhood sits across the street from the library. The structure is known as the “Grant House,” or the “Blue Anchor Inn.” It is named the Grant House because it served as a headquarters for Union Civil War General, and later President, Ulysses S. Grant. He used it during the final days of the American Civil War. The structure also served as headquarters for Abraham Lincoln during his Presidential Campaign. Unfortunately for Lincoln, New Jersey was the only slave-free state that did not vote for him in his re-election campaign of 1864.
Arguably, one of the most famous structures in Burlington is the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The original structure was constructed in 1703. Eventually, high attendance called for a larger structure. This prompted the construction of the New St. Mary’s Episcopal Chuch in 1854. Since then, both buildings have stood next to each other, adjacent to a sprawling graveyard full of those buried since the 18th century.
However, one of the more notorious areas in Burlington is Burlington Island. The large island is closed off and is off limits to the public. However, numerous structures have been built on the island throughout history. It was initially settled by colonists from the Netherlands in 1624. The first ever recorded murder took place on the island when natives murdered two Dutch colonists. The island later had an amusement park. Much of the island remains shrouded in history, and many have attempted to trespass the island throughout the years since its closure.
Numerous other points of interest are tucked all throughout the town. According to their tourism site, there is a total of 44 unique visitable historical sites within the city. Knowing that I could not reach all the sites in one day, and with rain imminent, I decided to go to the Burlington County Historical Society to learn more information about the history that took place in the area.
It was here that I met Director of Education at the society, Mr. Jeffrey Macechak. While the building is currently undergoing renovations, and they were quite busy at the time I visited, Mr. Macechak was more than kind enough to give me an interview. He explained to me the importance of Burlington to New Jersey’s history and the unique role it played as an early settlement during the colonial era.
“Burlington City is kind of the Plymouth for Quakers in this country, to a large extent,” said Mr. Macechek. “We [Burlington] as a town are even older than Philadelphia.”
My trip to Burlington was quite interesting, and I hope to return one day soon to visit some of the museums and see some of the sights I was unable to visit this first time around. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate a little more next time! If you live near the area or are heading down I295, give Burlington a visit! Dropping by the city will surely yield you a great experience of viewing living history in the plentiful architecture and traditions remaining throughout the streets.
Until next time, see you later!