The Harrison Township Historical Society maintains pride in the past, keeps an eye on the future

Going back to the early 18th century establishment of Mullica Hill, the village continues to evolve and develop present day

The Old Town Hall Museum is home to Harrison Township and the surrounding area’s history. Featuring an old general store, a classroom, art exhibition and agriculture museum space, the site tells stories of the township past and present.

According to the Harrison Township Historical Society, the village of Mullica Hill was never a planned community, but instead was developed organically through commerce, schooling and farmlands. Approximately 25 miles from Philadelphia and an hour from the Shore, the state and nationally registered historic district continues to maintain its pride in the past while the future brings growth and development.

Home to the Mullica family within the first decade of the 18th century, alongside Quakers and landowners from the late 17th century, the area began to evolve as a result of the passageway now known as South Main Street, bringing travelers to Cumberland County, Camden and Bridgeton, driving business into the area. While the north side was home to a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and the town’s first two taverns, the area remained primarily agricultural.

According to historical society board member Jim Turk, present-day Mullica Hill reflects the past similarly, with a concentration of businesses south of Raccoon Creek on South Main Street, with residential communities, former farmhouses-turned townhouses and farmland in the north.

“All of these villages in or near Harrison Township you can figure they formed either because they were on a water course and a mill was built — true for Ewan, Harrisonville and Lincoln — creating commerce, or because it was set on some intersection of a road — see Richwood, Jefferson or Cedar Grove,” Turk said. “They formed because there was a crossroad, a store was started and then there was a little cluster of houses. None of this was ever planned.”

Mullica Hill has served as the seat of government for Harrison Township with the first municipal meetings having been held at a local tavern in the 1800s. In 1871, the Town Hall Association, a private stock company, built the Old Town Hall to conduct township business as well as host events and activities for the local community. Today, the building is home to the historical society and its award-winning museum.

The society, created by a township committee to preserve the history of the surrounding area, is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers and members.

“While we are not a government entity, we were created through the express purpose of not just saving the building, but putting it to a good community use,” Turk said. “I think we’ve done that.”

Within the Old Town Hall Museum, the society hosts public events, education sessions for students and exhibitions each year. Turk and member Karen Heritage are working on publishing an illustrated history book of Old Harrison Township, which included present-day Harrison, South Harrison and the western edge of Elk, to celebrate the history of the neighborhoods.

The society is seeking vintage photographs of the area to include in the publication, the first book to cover Old Harrison’s history from colonial times to the 21st century, according to a release. Specifically, images of Ferrell, Lincoln, Pine Tavern, Wright’s Mill, Cedar Grove, the summer lake community at Jessup’s Mill and Harrisonville communities are requested. All proceeds of the book sales will benefit the historical society and its efforts. To submit photographs, email hthsmhnj@gmail.com, or call (856) 478–4949.

“We have a major collection of photos, more than 1,000 images, but we’re asking for images of areas in which we have less,” Turk said. “Rather than toss it for recycling, bring it to us.”

According to the Harrison Township Historical Society President Robert Schumann, the organization is looking to build an annex onto the Old Town Hall Museum to expand its space and capabilities to present larger historical items significant to the area. An archeological dig was conducted earlier this year, a requirement of the state being in a historical district, and found the absence of earlier structures and activities removes any obstacles for expansion, according to the society’s quarterly newsletter Milestones.

“The Historical Society is a very prominent organization with a lot of support, a depository of information past to present,” Schumann said. “The Old Town Hall Museum is very prominent in the community, and I’d say it’s the basis for the way the town has developed the way it has.”

The society is made of approximately 180 members, paying membership dues, which support the activities and efforts of the organization and the museum. The society meets the second Wednesday of every month, excluding December and July, at 7 p.m. at Old Town Hall, 62 S. Main St., Mullica Hill. Volunteers and interested members are encouraged to attend, or visit their website to learn more at www.harrisonhistorical.com.

“It’s important to have a sense of where you are, a sense that you live in some place not anyplace,” Turk said. “That’s what the whole concept of community is based on, and it’s important to know about the places you live.”