Seniors at the Mabel Kay center on Jan. 24 were part of the first Memories and Memorabilia program, a presentation on the history of gas stations and auto dealerships in Haddonfield.
The host was borough resident and founder of the newspaper Haddonfield Today David Hunter. The program featured Douglas Rauschenberger, borough co-historian, past president of the Historical Society of Haddonfield and former director of the Haddonfield library, and was inspired by a presentation Rauschenberger gave at the 65 Club, held in June 2022, which coincided with the 65th anniversary of the last gas station in Haddonfield, Carl’s Haddonfield Service.
“The room was packed,” Hunter said. “It was literally standing room only, so it was clear then there were a lot of people interested in it. At the end of his (Rauschenberger’s) presentation, the guys who were there just wanted to keep talking and talking, so much so that they almost missed out on the free ice cream. After that I said to Doug, ‘You know, there’s stuff here. We ought to try and find a way to capture these memories while they’re still around.’
“We realized it had to be more than Doug standing up talking, and that’s why we set it up so that we’d have a weekly session starting next week and everyone will come along and we will record it.”
Rauschenberger’s January presentation touched on when the first automobile was believed to have appeared in Haddonfield, and the transition from having horses to having enough cars in town to support a gas station. At its peak, in 1957, Haddonfield had 15 gas stations and four auto dealerships. Today, Carl’s is the lone station from that time.
“Today there’s only one (gas station) and there’s more cars (than in 1957), and that really speaks to the broader issue that towns change and everything evolves,” Rauschenberger explained. “Haddonfield in 1957 was really a regional business center and (it) could support 15 gas stations because people from all over came here to shop. Haddonfield was a receiving district; they got students from the surrounding communities.
“It really was a hub of business.”
The historian also reflected on how the experience of getting gas has changed.
“I think most of the stations were very small,” Rauschenberger noted. “I think people knew the owners; they probably knew a lot of the people who pumped the gas.”
Cars of the past needed to be serviced more often, and rather than the pump-and-go experience common today, a station trip was a more leisurely experience.
“The hood would go open and (the workers) checked the water levels and the antifreeze and the oil,” Rauschenberger said. “Cars don’t need it (as much); they’re better today. The windshields got washed.”
During the center’s presentations, seniors excitedly shared when they saw a station they recognized and reflected on changes over the years.
“As late as 1962, there were pumps still on the sidewalks,” Rauschenberger pointed out. “Soon, the sidewalk pumps started to give way to places where you could pull your car off of the road. These began to spring up around the 1920s.”
Following the presentation, seniors were invited to share their reflections and potentially be featured in a video for the historical society. The following Tuesday, Hunter and Rauschenberger hosted a second meeting for Memorabilia in Memories, continuing with stories of gas stations in Haddonfield.
Though their topics may expand in the future, the current focus of the presentations will continue until it “runs out of gas.”
Residents are encouraged to share their own memories and memorabilia with pictures or other souvenirs at the senior center every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Residents interested in submitting their memorabilia to the Historical Society of Haddonfield, or with questions on the presentation, can reach out to Douglas Rauschenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.