When Tabernacle in the Wilderness, a tiny church located on what is now the township cemetery, was built in the 1770s, so was the community of Tabernacle.
In its early days, Tabernacle was in Shamong Township, but in the early 20th century, Tabernacle residents grew tired of Indian Mills’ overwhelming representation in local government. More than a century ago, Tabernacle applied to become its own township, spurring a culture of community pride that extends to the present day.
In March, Tabernacle celebrated its 120th anniversary to little fanfare. In future years, Councilwoman Nancy McGinnis wants all residents to remember March 22 as Tabernacle Day.
“I think it’d be great to get the council together and have a Tabernacle Day,” McGinnis noted. “We’re a sleepy town, and it would be nice to have an event to get together.”
Historically, Tabernacle has always been a sleepy town, according to a history written by high schooler Viola Cutts in 1939.
“There is hardly anything that could be called a recreation center in Tabernacle,” she wrote. “Mount Holly is only 12 miles away, and as most of the people have cars, it is an easy matter to seek recreation there, either in the theater or merely walking the street and meeting acquaintances or window shopping.”
Cutts’ history notes that most Tabernacle residents at the time came together at church, Parent Teacher Association Meetings, men’s lodges and a profitable bar called Pete’s Saloon.
Despite being relatively remote, the town’s Pinelands location was a source of pride for many residents. Today, many people settle in the town to raise their families, but work elsewhere, according to Tabernacle Historical Society President Richard Franzen .
“Previous stereotypes of Pineys perpetuated by the news media of bygone eras caused most people to look down on them,” wrote an unknown historian in the 1980s. “They were pictured as reclusive, illiterate, immoral and possibly feebleminded from family inbreeding by many who had never been to the Pinelands nor encountered a Piney.
“Nowadays, most people are proud to trace their ancestry back to those hardy, industrious settlers who were hard-working farmers, merchants, blacksmiths and sawyers,” the historian continued.
In its early days, Tabernacle had several township get-togethers, including an annual Harvest Home Picnic fundraiser that drew large crowds and a Memorial Day event that continues today. At present, Tabernacle’s community events are limited to the Memorial Day parade, Christmas tree lighting and celebrations at Seneca High School.
Franzen, who has lived in the township since 1970, said attempts at creating a Tabernacle Day haven’t been successful in the past.
“I’m not opposed to what Nancy is saying, but I think it really hasn’t worked,” Franzen explained, adding that the historical society would help if the event got off the ground.
McGinnis, former owner of the historic Nixon’s General Store, said she will work hard to keep making Tabernacle better.
“I love Tabernacle,” she said. “What makes us so great is that hometown feel. Pretty much everybody knows everybody.”
For more information on Tabernacle’s colorful history, as well as a tour of historic sites, visit tabernaclehistoricalsociety.org.