MOUNT HOLLY TOWNSHIP

 

Mount Holly Historic District
SR 08/07/72 NR 02/20/73

This large district is virtually a textbook of 18th and 19th century American architecture. It includes Mill, Pine, High, Garden, White, Union, Bispham, Madison, Buttonwood, Branch, Church, and Ridgeway Streets, and Park Drive and Commerce Place.

Mount Holly first developed as a small industrial community along the winding course of the north branch of the Rancocas River. A sawmill was established in 1720, a grist mill in 1723, and an iron works and falling mill in 1730. Later industries were a paper mill, plush mill, tapestry mill, dye mill, thread mill, carriage factory, and a turbine foundry. These industries, and Mount Holly's role as a center where agricultural products could be processed and traded for manufactured goods and staples led to its development as a social and commercial center. One result was organization of the Farmers Bank in 1814. It is the second oldest in New Jersey; the bank building remains in its original use.

As a burgeoning local center, Mount Holly attracted religious groups and other organizations. The founding Quakers built the first Friends Meeting House in 1716; the Episcopal Church in town was established in 1742, the Presbyterian in 1762, the Methodist in 1790, the Baptist in 1800, and the Catholic in 1852. The Brittania Fire Company, now the Relief Fire Company, was organized in 17 52, and is the oldest volunteer fire company in the United States. The Bridgetown Library, preserving one of the names by which the town was known in the 18th century, was chartered in 1765. The 1796 choice of Mount Holly as Burlington County's seat recognized the town's importance and relatively central location.

The centerpiece of the district is the 1796 Burlington County Court House. Built of brick, which has for many years been painted, it is a virtual twin of Congress Hall and Old City Hall, the buildings flanking Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In front of the Court House is an attractive green. Flanking it closer to the street, two 1-story brick office buildings, constructed in 1807, complete the complex. Adjacent to the Court House complex is the Burlington County Prison, a National Historic Landmark in its own right.

Many of the earliest buildings in Mount Holly can be found along Mill Street near the river. Among them is the Three Tuns Tavern at Mill and Pine Streets. Built between 1723 and 1737, it has been altered, but still retains its original configuration. The frame house at 211 Mill Street, built in 1733, is where Stephen Girard, the Philadelphia financier, lived during the early years of the Revolutionary War.

A number of buildings survive in Mount Holly from the immediate pre-Revolutionary era. Among them is the 1775 Friends Meeting House at High and Garden Streets. An outstanding example of Federal architecture is the 1815 Farmers Trust Company at 21 Mill Street. Among its notable features are recessed blind arches, within which the windows are set. Several fine Federal and Greek Revival townhouses are located near the Court House. Among them is the James Langstaff House at 307 High Street. Built of brick scored to simulate cut stone, it is crowned by a square cupola.

Later 19th-century architectural styles are also abundantly represented. Across from the Court House on High Street is St. Andrew's Church of 1844, designed by the Philadelphia architect William Johnston. As a version of simplified pattern-book Gothic, it forms an interesting contrast to the more "correct" St. Mary's, Burlington. Because the center of Mount Holly was already developed, many of the town's elaborate later 19th-century houses are on the periphery of the district. Large and imposing, they exhibit such features of the Victorian era as multi-colored slate roofs, elaborately sawn bargeboards outlining steep gables, Gothic-arched windows, and generous porches. `

Mount Holly remains a town remarkable for the variety and quality of its building stock.

Burlington County Prison
128 High Street SR 6/24/86 NHL 6/24/86

The old jail is significant both as an unusual surviving early prison and as the work of an important architect. When the last prisoners left the jail in 1966, it was the oldest prison in continuous use in the United States. Built of stone, oak, and iron, the prison was an early exercise in fireproof construction, and has been little altered. Sturdily constructed and well preserved, the building has continued to function as a museum.

The product of a reform movement in penology, the jail was conceived as an edifice in which prisoners could be confined from society and at the same time be given useful employment. The U-shaped prison served for the incarceration of both criminals and debtors. Those convicted of crimes were housed in individual cells in the wings; debtors, who were no danger to themselves or others, shared common rooms in the center of the building.

The prisons raised basement was occupied by kitchen, dining room, wash house, and workshops for the prisoners, who were trained in such trades as carpentry, basket weaving, and harness making. The warden lived on the ground or first floor; an oak-lined dungeon for dangerous prisoners was on the second floor, directly over the warden's apartment. Iron fixtures still remain that were used to restrict violent inmates in ankle chains. The yard at the rear, enclosed by the prison's wings and a stout wall, was used for exercise, a vegetable garden cultivated by the prisoners, and as a location for the gallows.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders appropriated money for land for the prison in 1807. Construction began in 1809, following a design by a young architect then practicing in Philadelphia, Robert Mills (1781-1855). Mills would later move south, producing some outstanding buildings in Richmond Virginia, including the Monumental Church and the White House of the Confederacy, both designed between 1811 and 1814. Later, when he lived from 1820 to 1830 in South Carolina, he designed that state's insane asylum. He is probably best known for the works he designed in Washington, D.C. in the 1830s, including the Washington Monument, the Treasury, and the old Patent Office, now the National Portrait Gallery.

 
 

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