A monument at the base of a driveway leading up to the AMC Loews movie theater and T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant marks the location where the Cherry Hill name was born.
Since the late 1990s, an AMC Loews movie theater and T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant have sat on a hillside overlooking Route 38 across from the Cherry Hill Mall. Residents who recently moved to Cherry Hill may not realize the property these two businesses have sat on for nearly two decades is the same place where the Cherry Hill name was born.
Branching off Route 38 is a driveway leading up to the movie theater and restaurant. At the base of this driveway, tucked away underneath some trees, is a small monument detailing how the property was the birthplace of the town’s present name.
The monument gives a short description of where the name, Cherry Hill, came from. According to the monument, the first known use of the words “Cherry Hill” appeared in a Waterford Township deed referring to a tract of the Cherry Hill Farm.
In “Cherry Hill: A Brief History,” co-authors Mike Mathis and Lisa Mangiafico identify Abraham M. Browning as the founding father of the Cherry Hill name. According to “The History of Camden County, New Jersey” by George Reeser Prowell, Browning was born in 1843 to Maurice and Anna Browning. He attended Yale College when the Civil War began. He left school to enter the army, serving as captain of Company H of the 38th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry,
After the war, Browning married Josephine Cooper, daughter of Ralph and Louisa Cooper. In “Cherry Hill: A Brief History,” Mathis and Mangiafico write that Ralph Cooper deeded acreage on the hill to Browning in 1868. By 1877, Browning owned 134.32 acres of land. He built his house at the current movie theater site and developed a farm. According to legend, he named the property Cherry Hill Farm because of the cherry tree orchards on the property. Browning would die just a few years later in 1880 at the farm after contracting laryngitis.
Development of then-named Delaware Township began to increase at a rapid pace following World War II. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, developers looked to develop the old Cherry Hill Farm. According to Mathis’ book, “Cherry Hill: Then and Now,” The Meadowbook Corporation purchased 150 acres, including the farm, and intended to build 1,000 homes on the property. Unable to get approval for the project from Delaware Township officials, Meadowbrook sold the land to Garden State Park Racing Association in September 1951. Eugene Mori, developer of the Garden State Park racetrack, got approval for a 100-room hotel at the property. The hotel, located where the movie theater is currently located, was named Cherry Hill Inn after the farm previously occupying the property.
After the Cherry Hill Inn opened in 1954, other development on the former farmland began to take place. Cherry Hill Apartments, now named Cherry Hill Towers, opened later in the 1950s, as did the Cherry Hill Estates development. Later developments sporting the name Cherry Hill included the opening of Cherry Hill Hospital (now Kennedy Hospital) in 1960 and the Cherry Hill Mall in 1961.
The Cherry Hill section of town was growing and flourishing just as Delaware Township officials were exploring the addition of a new post office. With a Delaware Township already in existence in Hunterdon County, the United States Postal Service requested the town change its name.
“We put an ad in the Delaware Township News, the local weekly, for suggestions,” said former councilman and mayor John Gilmour in “Cherry Hill: Then and Now.” “People suggested ‘Webertown’ and ‘Moriville’ in honor of (former mayor) Weber and Mr. Mori, but the old Cherry Hill Farm seemed to be the thing that attracted people here in the first place.”
After the board of commissioners held a meeting with the township’s civic associations to gauge interest in changing the town’s name, a petition was held to get signatures for a public question to be placed on the ballot of the 1961 election. More than 30 percent of registered voters signed the petition, and a question was placed on the ballot to change the town’s name to Cherry Hill. On Election Day in 1961, voters approved the name, Cherry Hill, by a vote of 5,201 to 3,700.
The township’s monument to the Cherry Hill name was placed near the base of the movie theater driveway in the fall of 1999, where it continues to sit today.