50 years of Cherry Hill

The intersection of Route 38 and Haddonfield Road may be hiding a secret under its smooth, black asphalt surface.

Today, the average passerby sees a sprawling metropolis of shopping, entertainment and high-end dining, but that very intersection had quite a different identity not too long ago.

In the 1800s, Cherry Hill Township, which was then known as Delaware Township, looked a bit more agrarian.

And that same intersection that leads you into the region’s shopping destination used to be Abraham Browning’s Cherry Hill Farm.

Delaware Township remained a rural farming community well into the 1900s.

Lisa Mangiafico, member of the Cherry Hill Historical Commission depicts the history of the township in the book she co-authored with Mike Mathis, “Cherry Hill: A Brief History.”

In 1941, the authors write, Vineland businessman Eugene Mori built the Garden State Racetrack at Route 70 and Haddonfield Road, initiating a shift in the township’s commercial culture. During that time, empty fields turned into thousands of homes to accommodate the population boom.

Next up for Mori was turning 155 acres of land at Route 38 and Haddonfield Road into the Cherry Hill Inn, in 1954. This spawned even further development in the region.

During the late ’50s, new challenges arose for Delaware Township, as many flocked from Collingswood, Camden and Philadelphia.

The township, Mangiafico and Mathis wrote, was faced with the need to accommodate the growing population in creative ways.

“As sentiment for a post office grew along with the population, township officials realized that it could not have a post office with Delaware Township in the name because a Delaware Township post office already existed in North Jersey,” Mangiafico and Mathis wrote.

Residents suggested ‘Moriville’ as the new name for the township in honor of Mori, but Abraham Browning’s farm near the Cherry Hill Inn and Cherry Hill Estates had increasing appeal in the neighborhood.

His farm, Mangiafico said, had Cherry trees, which inspired the name of the neighborhood.

On Aug. 3, 1961, the township’s board of commissioners called a meeting to see whether residents wanted to change the name of the township.

It was decided that 30 percent of registered voters, which was 5,000 people at the time, had to sign a petition to put the name change question on the general election ballot.

The question made it on to the November ballot and received a 5,201 to 3,700 vote, solidifying the new name of the township.

On Dec. 7, 1961, the town council voted to change the name from Delaware Township to Cherry Hill Township.

Tonight, the township will be celebrating 50 years of Cherry Hill with a special council meeting featuring the All Cherry Hill Chorus, 2011 time capsule and the “I Remember That” exhibit.

Mayor Bernie Platt said the event marks a milestone in the township’s history.

“Since I moved my family and business to Cherry Hill 45 years ago, I have always been fascinated with our township’s history and the roots of our community,” Platt said. “The renaming of Cherry Hill 50 years ago by referendum of the voters, and then through adoption by the governing body, ushered in a new period of time for our community. I have witnessed the evolution of Cherry Hill over the years and from my perspective, this a place where community, commerce and culture thrive.”

The event will be held at 7 p.m. tonight in the Cherry Hill High School West auditorium, 2101 Chapel Ave.

Looking Back

“One heart, two clubs, three spades!”

Playing bridge is serious business on Tuesdays with the Retired Men’s Club, which meets weekly at the Carman Tillelli Community Center in town.

As I saddle up to a foursome playing cards, Bob Ball puts down his stack and steps away from the game for a moment, eager to share a few stories of his youth.

Ball, 81, spent his childhood moving around Camden County, making stops in Westmont, Oaklyn, Camden, Cherry Hill and Haddon Heights.

He lived in Cherry Hill in the 1940s, moved to Haddonfield and returned to Cherry Hill again in the 80s.

“There was nothing but farm land around then,” Ball said.

Ball described the different neighborhoods in town and how they’ve changed, and also rattled off a dozen or so different farms.

Ball attended the Wesley Stafford School during his middle school years.

The school, which has since closed its doors, was located on Haddonfield-Berlin Road and served students in the Haddontowne and Brookfield neighborhoods.

Ball recalled a school on Evesham Road, just over the township’s border in Voorhees. He never attended the school, but said students there used an outhouse.

“We were living on the high end of the hog,” he joked.

Ball lived in the Ashland section as a kid and said he remembers a firehouse, a ball diamond and not too much else.

“There was a hill above the farm called Clay Hill. In the winter, we’d go sledding down the wide open field,” Ball said. “To me as a young boy, it was like the Wild West.”

Ed Reed didn’t grow up in Cherry Hill, but has been a part of the Retired Men’s Club for 20 years, he said.

He was born in Camden, but has spent most of his adult life in Cinnaminson.

And even though he’s never called Cherry Hill home, he said he witnessed many of the changes Cherry Hill has gone through over the years.

On April 14, 1977, the Garden State Racetrack succumbed to a fire, causing three deaths, 20 injuries and $20 million in damage, the township reports.

Reed, 81, said he saw the fire that day on his way home from work. He said he’d never forget how much traffic there was surrounding the blaze.

The racetrack re-opened in 1985 and held its last race in 2001. Today, Garden State Park boasts a bevy of dining and shopping establishments, as well as apartments and condominiums.

Reed also noted the impact Mori has had on the community, including the Cherry Hill Inn, which served as a weekend getaway for politicians and dignitaries.

Reed also recalled dining at Cinelli’s at Route 38 and Haddonfield Road. He called the restaurant a major landmark in the township at that time.

“It was a first-class establishment; diners dressed up to enjoy a fine meal with tableside service at Cinelli’s Country House,” Mangiafico and Mathis wrote. “It was already a successful business when the nearby Garden State Racetrack opened, and then even more patrons streamed through the doors.”

Even a non-resident like Reed said he can appreciate how Cherry Hill has changed over the years. Ball has lived in Cherry Hill for about 30 years and says he has no plans of leaving. He said he only wished he had spent more time here in the first place.

“In 1942, we moved to Haddon Heights. I liked it,” Ball said. “Except that I missed it here (in Cherry Hill).”