Home Moorestown News Recalling the west end

Recalling the west end

Township native wants to inspire others with story of historic center there

Moorestown Mayor Nicole Gillespie recently shared with The Sun changes residents can expect for 2024, including revitalization at Yancy Adams Park.

Moorestown native Richard Gray sees that revitalization as two-fold.

“I’ve got a connection to Moorestown historically, but I don’t live in Moorestown now, so there’s this interesting conversation publicly about, ‘How do you honor history, but at the same time know that there’s change?’” he said.

“ … It becomes an opportunity for us to have some intergenerational conversations that we haven’t had.”

Yancy Adams Park – located on the former site of the West End Community Center (WECC) – was dedicated on June 18, 1977, in memory of community organizers Roxanna Yancy and James Adams, according to the township website. They were instrumental in the establishment and operation of the center from 1944 to 1968.

Yancy was responsible for the establishment of the first kindergarten for Black children in the township. She was active in the International League for Peace and Freedom and through her efforts, a branch of the YWCA was established in the west end of Moorestown.

Adams was director of the WECC for nearly 25 years, an influential mentor and role model for youth who spent time there. Adams was also America’s first Black Eagle Scout.

In 1977, an endowment of more than $10,000 was presented to the township by the WECC board for the purpose of constructing a pocket park on the site of the former center. It was proposed that the park should be landscaped with a walkway connecting the ballfield at the rear to North Church Street.

Improvement projects at the park over the years included repair of the brick wall and pavers in front of it and removal of an old bench. The path running through the park was replaced with new asphalt and a bench renovated by a Boy Scout was installed there, among others changes.

“The fascinating thing is, there is a difference between the park and the center,” Gray explained. “There’s a conversation around the role of parks … But there’s also something about the center as a space, as a building, and when we lost that building, we lost a lot of things that were institutional – gathering places for community … spaces for public events.

“There was a daycare center that was set up there for working mothers,” he added. “There were all of these different things that were connected to that, that once you lost the building, they were no longer part of the community.”

The WECC was started and managed by Black women and men in the West End neighborhood as a space where residents could congregate, celebrate and create programs to build strong community relationships in the face of a discriminatory policy that prohibited African American Moorestown residents from using the community house on Main Street, according to the library’s website.

The WECC was a place of belonging where social ties were deepened through purposeful interaction, but the building was destroyed after the community house was eventually integrated in the 1960s.

Gray reviewed the history of the WECC at the township library earlier this month and shared his plan to protect the legacy of the center. His talk was part of The Historical Society of Moorestown’s “New Jersey History Speaks” lecture series.

“Our hope is that the story that I’m telling … it’s just one story of the west end (center), and our goal is to have the stories come out and get documented and to become a part of a community story about what existed there and why,” he pointed out.

“ … Our goal is that it hopefully gets people to go to their attics and go to their basements and document their stories, so that the stories become a fabric of the narrative that we tell about Moorestown.”

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