TOWNSHIP OF HAMILTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
TOWNSHIP OF HAMILTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Hamilton Township's origins are directly tied to the Great Egg Harbor River and the tributaries that run through it. George May, after whom the village of May's Landing was named, built a shipyard and trading post near Babcock Creek in 1756. During the Revolutionary War, a local innkeeper and militia privateer, Captain Samuel Snell, is said to have captured 19 British ships off the river’s inlet, selling their cargo and ships at the docks at May's Landing. The early 1800’s saw Mays Landing become a thriving waterfront town with George Wheaton building over 100 sailing vessels with lumber harvested from area pine forests. In the 1850’s Senator William Moore owned a fleet of more that 50 sailing vessels engaging in commerce along the entire eastern seaboard. His villa, the Sugar Hill Inn, sat perched on a high bluff overlooking the Great Egg Harbor River. Prized commodities of sugar, molasses and rum, arrived from the Far East by sailing ships and were stored in the walled foundation of the Inn, awaiting shipment to Philadelphia. This part of town became known as Sugar Hill, a name still used to this day. In nearby Weymouth, cannons and cannonballs for the War of 1812 were produced on the site of Atlantic County Park at Weymouth Furnace, until it was destroyed by fire. By the twentieth century, shipbuilding began to disappear with the decline in suitable resources. Iron was then substituted for ship hull construction.
Hamilton was incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 5, 1813. Portions of Egg Harbor Township and Weymouth Township were acquired while the area was still part of Gloucester County. A Board of Freeholders was then established with representatives from four townships: Galloway, Hamilton, Egg Harbor and Weymouth. May's Landing was designated the county seat, while portions of the township were carved out to form Hammonton and Buena Vista Townships. The Freeholders first met on May 10, 1837 at the home of John Pennington in May's Landing. Among those first members were Pennington's brother-in-law Lewis M. Walker, owner of Walker's Forge and John Briggs, manager of the Weymouth Ironworks. Briggs worked for Samuel Richards, owner of the ironworks and a close friend of Walker's. Both Pennington and Richards offered up land to the county for the new buildings. Soon a courthouse, jail and offices for the sheriff, clerk, and surrogate were constructed on the site that became the center for county business. Samuel Richards also built the American Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Farragut Avenue. The hotel opened for business in 1840 with William Wescoat as its first operator. Wescoat advertised the hotel as being an ideal site, having excellent food and fine accomodations. As the county's seat, today Mays Landing is home to the Atlantic County Justice Facility, the County Court Complex and the main branch of the Atlantic County Library.
In 1854 the first trains came through the area linking Camden with the new resort of Atlantic City. In 1871 a spur of the railroad was completed between Egg Harbor City and Mays Landing. By 1880, the railroad came to Mays Landing through the Newfield branch of the West Jersey and Atlantic Railroad Company. The line eventually merged into the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad and continued to operate until the mid twentieth century. Cotton milling had become the economic mainstay of the town for over eight decades, utilizing freight trains to transport goods and passenger trains to move people to cities up and down the east coast. The Mays Landing Water Power Company grew to become the town's largest employer, with modest company owned housing and a schoolhouse for their children (est 1903)-now home of the Hamilton Historical Society. The building on Mill Street that once housed the company’s general store and coal yard, also still stands as home to the local chapter of Mason’s. Additionally, R.D. Wood & Sons also owned factories in Millville and Florence, NJ. While there were still farmers and shipbuilders scattered about the area in the late 1880s, the plant employed over 200 men, women and children, a figure that rose to approximately 300 throughout the 1890s. By the late 1930s approximately 25 percent of the town's workforce were still employed by the mill, until the end of it's 82 year reign.
In 1907, Father McCormick, who would become the first Pastor of the newly constructed St. Vincent de Paul Church, approached the Leilings Family about opening their lakefront property for church picnics. With the success of having churchs as far out as Philadelphia coming to Mays Landing, the Leilings opened Lake Lenape Park officially in 1910. In 1939 the Leilings commissioned Herman Dehm Sr. to construct a 65 ft wooden lighthouse, referring to it as the 'singing tower', as a landmark for canoeists. In 1960, the Young Family bought the Park and reopened the indoor skating rink in 1973 after it had previously been destroyed by fire. Today Lake Lenape Park is a county property, while the skating rink has remained a family business.
In the summer of 1946, a group of prominent investors pooled $4,000,000 to open the Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing. Among the four were Jack Kelly-Philadelphia businessman and father of Grace Kelly; Fred Scholler; Glendon Robertson and James Fraser. Among the shareholders were: Frank Sinatra; Bob Hope; Harry James; Sammy Kaye and Xavier Cugat, When the doors opened on July 22, 1946, an estimated 25,000 fans came by buses, trains, planes and thousands of automobiles to witness the track’s first races. Casino gambling came to the Atlantic City Boardwalk with the opening of Resorts International on May 26, 1978. Competition from the casino town and 24 hour expanded gaming ultimately lead to the track's closure in 2015.
Another blow to the local economy came in 2014 when five of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos closed as New York and Pennsylvania tourists stayed closer to home. Today Hamilton Township sustains it's place as a bedroom community for Atlantic City, while also being South Jersey's largest retail shopping district. Outside of Atlantic City, Mays Landing is not only rich in history, but continues to offer the most options for movie theaters, dining choices, outdoor recreation and higher education in the Atlantic County region.