Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

The Proprietorship of West Jersey
The southern half of New Jersey was William Penn's first venture in real estate. It undoubtedly gave him bigger ideas.

Sights to See: The Outer Ring
There are many interesting places to visit in the exurban ring beyond Philadelphia, linked to the city by history rather than commerce.

New Jersey (State of)
The Garden State really has two different states of mind. The motto is Liberty and Prosperity.

Philadelphia Changes the Nature of Money
Banking changed its fundamentals, on Third Street in Philadelphia, three different times.

Rancocas Valley: Mt. Holly, Eayrestown, Medford

{Rancocos River}
Rancocas River

The southern half of New Jersey, once called the Province of West Jersey, is sandy and flat, mostly not more than twenty feet above sea level. So, there is an extensive lacy network of slow-moving branches to the several creeks and rivers draining the area. Some of these rivers drain toward the Atlantic Ocean, some drain the other way to Delaware; it scarcely makes much difference. Almost as soon as the Quaker proprietors settled the area in the Seventeenth century, the broad Rancocas River (draining into Delaware) stood out as a wonderfully protected region to settle. The Rancocas wanders through the woods but is tidal all the way to Mt. Holly, which later even became a shipbuilding center. That's now the centrally located county seat of Burlington County, from which several branches extend in various directions. One southerly branch drains the water coming from Medford Lakes, once a summer cottage community miles deep in the Pines, now a place for fancy houses with lakes in the backyard. The cute little nearby town of Medford has a Braddock Tavern, reminding visitors that General Braddock stopped off here on his way to his own ambush at Fort Duquesne in the French and Indian War. The Medford-Mt. Holly Road follows the southern branch of Rancocas creek, running through somewhat broken ground greatly resembling Northern Virginia. And, that resemblance is enhanced by a number of horse farms with white-board fences, many of them looking quite historical, and very well manicured. Here's a drive worth taking, especially in late April when the trees are just budding out, the grass is green, and the azaleas are blooming. Starting in Mt. Holly, which is recognizably colonial but unfortunately somewhat under-maintained, you can recognize that the road once started at the Three Tun Tavern, of colonial fame. The confluence of creek branches made a natural place for a farmers market in the center of the road. A short distance down one of the branching streets of Mt. Holly is the red-brick home John Woolman built to keep his daughter from moving away with her Philadelphia husband. We talk more about John Woolman in another section of Philadelphia Reflections.

Rancocas Map

One of the interesting features of the "lost" colonial community along the Mt. Holly-Medford Road grows out of the Rancocas curving east toward the ocean and then branching south. That means that if you drive from Haddonfield or Camden to the ocean beaches you go through the pine woods and then come upon this ancient Medford community before you re-enter the pine barrens and go on toward the ocean. That gives the impression the Medford area was somehow a lost frontier, when in fact it was a part of one of the oldest settlements in the state. It's a strip community, running along the banks of the Rancocas from Medford to Mt. Holly; houses along the banks, farmland stretching behind the houses. Most people on the way to the shore just go through the traffic light and keep on going without realizing what they are missing. And, indeed, if all that traffic stopped to browse, it would quickly ruin the place.

Along the Medford-Mt. Holly Road is seen an occasional McMansion, with "Atlantic City" sort of written all over it, but in general, the houses are pretty upscale and restrained. There is a nursery farm which must stretch a full mile, full of flowering shrubs and trees, looking very manicured and attractive. To some extent, a nursery improves a neighborhood, since it supplies lots of flowering shrubbery ideal for the local soil conditions. But in a larger sense, a nursery is almost always bad news for a neighborhood. Every time a plant is dug up and sold, it takes away a bushel of topsoil. No farmer would normally consent to such treatment of his most valuable asset, so the sale of property for nurseries is a sign the farmers are selling out, urban development is looming. Unfortunately, this certainly also means the novel hidden river community in the pines is on the brink of being wiped out. Tourist visits are, well, now or never.


The Pine Barrens: John McPhee: ISBN-13: 978-0374514426 Amazon

Originally published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009; most-recently modified: Monday, June 03, 2019