South Jersey Jewish Settlements, 1905


Here is a 1905 account of the Jewish settlements in Southern New Jersey:

Extracted from: The Russian Jew in the United States : Studies of Social Conditions in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, with a Description of Rural Settlements. Planned and edited by Charles S. Bernheimer, Ph.D., 1905, pages 376-388.


By Jacob G. Lipman, Ph.D., Soil Chemist and Bacteriologist, New Jersey State Experiment Station

The southern part of New Jersey contains vast stretches of stunted pine and scrub oak. Traveling from Camden over the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad one soon comes into the heart of this region, the home of the garter snake and the hare. The silence of the tangled plain is unbroken save for the woodman’s axe and the noise of the passing trains. Occasionally isolated farms and small villages come into view, and as they are passed the struggling vegetation again stands out against the arching sky. The train rushes on to the coast, but before the song of the ocean is heard many a mile of bushland must be passed. In the winter and in the early spring the piercing northern winds find little to stay their course; they wail and bluster among the helpless pines; they sing their sombre song down the chimney until one feels chilly and sad. In the late spring and summer the skies are sunny and mild; there is the briny flavor of the ocean in the air, the breeze laden with memories of the sea is tender and caressing. But for the inexorable mosquito one could wish for no kinder starry nights, with their fragrance, their indefinite noises, and their passing music. Then come those incomparable autumn evenings whose coolness does not chill one, but the warm, moist breath of the sea fills the heart with dreams and contentment. The same moon that smiles on the ocean and plays with its waves raises misty shapes over the sandy plain, listens to the song of the whip-poor-will, and to the striduous unceasing music of the cricket hosts. Such is the region where Russian Jews have sought to gain a livelihood from a not over-rich soil.

The first attempts at colonization in South Jersey date back to the early eighties of the nineteenth century. With an enthusiasm that often amounted to a creed, men from different walks of life worked side by side, dreaming of the regeneration of a race too long excluded from the field and the forest. Alliance, Carmel, Rosenhayn, and finally Woodbine grew up and led an existence unique in the history of the race. Had the land been more responsive there would have been fewer neglected acres; as it is the many nourishing farms conquered from the wilderness by Jewish hands bear witness that from among the exiles from Russia there were men of earnest and steadfast purpose who shrunk from no hardship. Many years of self-denial and of unceasing toil have borne their fruit, and while one rejoices with those who succeeded, one cannot help thinking regretfully of those who found themselves compelled to give up the unequal struggle, and returned to the city and the tenement house.

The spring of 1882 marked the arrival of the first Jewish settlers in South Jersey. In the place now called Alliance twenty-five families undertook to do the pioneer work of the settlement. The tract of land, comprising eleven hundred acres, was purchased for the purpose by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. It was for the most part a wilderness of bushland, and the few small areas that showed signs of a once attempted cultivation had again returned to their primitive state. Alliance is located in Pittsgrove township, county of Salem. It is thirty-three miles from Philadelphia, as the crow flies, rather less than five miles from Vineland, about nine miles from Millville, and almost ten miles from Bridgeton. Carmel and Rosenhayn, situated within a few miles of Alliance, were founded in 1883; the former by Michael Heilprin, the latter by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. Carmel and Rosenhayn are both situated in Cumberland county, the one between Millville and Bridgeton, the other between Bridgeton and Alliance. Finally in 1891, the Woodbine colony was founded by the Baron de Hirsch Fund. Woodbine is in Cape May county, fifty-six miles from Camden and twenty-five miles from Cape May City. Within nine miles of Woodbine is Sea Isle City, and Ocean City is sixteen miles distant. The early days of Alliance, Carmel, Rosenhayn, and even Woodbine had many features in common. They needed all the enthusiasm and determination of the would-be farmers, for it soon became evident that there were almost innumerable difficulties before them. The land had to be cleared and made fit to receive the seed, and months were to pass before any returns could be expected. Meanwhile they were obliged to live in barns or in over-crowded houses. Provisions were scarce, the roads were poor. In Alliance the colonists lived during the first year on $8 to $12 a month given to them by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. In Carmel and Rosenhayn they found what work they could with the neighboring farmers or secured tailoring work from the city. In Woodbine they were more fortunate in that there was enough to do for everybody in clearing a part of the fifty-three hundred acre tract of land, digging cellars, cutting out streets, building roads, and the like. It was hard work, especially for those not used to outdoor life. Yet with all the privations of overcrowded quarters, unsatisfactory food, and lack of warm clothing in the winter months, few complaints were heard. The work on the wind-swept plain was hard, but the management paid living wages and the colonists bore their hardships cheerfully. However, there came a time in the life of Woodbine— as it did with Carmel, Alliance, and Rosenhayn,—when the future seemed full of gloom. When the poor, wild soil did not yield what it could not yield, when willing hands failed to find work that would help fill the bread basket, and when the aid of charity had to be invoked; then there was but little sunshine to cheer the dismal gloom. And the colonists had reason to feel discouraged. Theirs was a thin, shifting soil, which ages ago had been sorted and resorted by the waves, and the ocean was chary about leaving it little besides the rounded grains of quartz which compose 98 per cent. of the soil. Long years of hopeless toil, theirs and their children’s, were before them, and after all that work honestly and conscientiously performed what would they have? Unlike the fertile plains of the northwest, or the Tchernosyem of southern Russia, these South Jersey soils call for the application of manures or of commercial fertilizers, and without them they yield scarcely anything. But even with these in their possession the colonists were at a disadvantage. The use of artificial manures requires considerably more knowledge of the soil and of soil conditions than where none are used. The colonists had not that knowledge, nor the knowledge of market conditions in the large cities, or even adequate local markets. Yet if the South Jersey colonies are to attain prosperity as agricultural colonies, or if they are to retain that measure of prosperity which they have already achieved, they must have local markets. It will be shown below that such markets can be had. As to the New York and Philadelphia markets, the colonists found that their produce had to compete with the harvests of the alluvial soils of the east and the south, and the owners of these soils had the experience, the means, and the favorable railroad rates that the South Jersey settlers did not possess. The survival of the four colonies is due to the establishment of factories. In Alliance a cigar factory and later a shirt factory were in operation during the early years. In Carmel and Rosenhayn, the shirt, wrapper, and clothing factories which were in operation at one time or another made possible the agricultural development that has taken place. In Woodbine the establishment of a village and factories was provided for by the founders. Men with large families could send some of their members to the factory while the others worked on the farm; men of small families could sell their produce to those who had none.

The men who came to live in the South Jersey colonies hailed from many parts of European Russia. Poland and Great Russia were well represented, but the greatest number came from South Russia — such as Bessarabia, Podolia, Volhynia, Kiev. Their antecedents were as different as their birth-places. There were among them men who had farmed to some extent in Russia. There were those who had lived in villages and traded there and had become familiar with farming life. There were skilled laborers and small shop-keepers. Among the younger men there were also a few who had enjoyed some educational advantages and were carried to the settlements by their enthusiasm, the desire to help the return of the Jew to agricultural life. This heterogeneous mass, coming as it did from many places, and from different stations in life, was made homogeneous by a common purpose. The early days of the colonies, with their communal life, were marked with a feeling of solidarity. Even the most ignorant settler was not a stranger to the sentiment of a common purpose. In every colony early provision was made for public buildings, and the synagogue and the public school rose side by side. Notwithstanding the similar conditions of settlement, the three older colonies soon came to have very distinctive peculiarities. Alliance from the first devoted more time to agriculture; the appearance of its people, their mode of living, showed the farmer; while in Carmel and Rosenhayn the greater predominance of the tailoring trades showed itself in the physique and to some extent in the radical views that one finds among the factory employees in the East Side of New York.

The life in the South Jersey colonies has produced a visible effect on their inhabitants. It has influenced the thought and action of the older people, it has molded the character and the ways of the young. It offers to both advantages which would not be at their disposal in a large city. Of the settlers in Woodbine seventy-five per cent. own their homes, as do one-half of those in Rosenhayn. The factory life for those who are obliged to work in the factory is not as injurious to health as in the large cities, for the ventilation is better, the space allotted to each is greater, the light and sunshine have more easy access. The relations between employer and employee are more personal, the individual is a more important part of the population and his direct participation in communal affairs reacts favorably on him. If there are no rich men in the colonies, there are also no poor—poor as measured by the standards of the New York Ghetto. The neighbors know one another and are always willing to help those who are less fortunate than themselves. But above all there are the great advantages to the young. The young lungs expand freely in the bracing air; the young eyes roam freely over the wide expanse of field and forest; the young legs run as they will. With the free skies above them, with a healthy home atmosphere surrounding them, with the duties of citizenship instilled into them, and the love for their country growing with them as they grow, they are laying the foundations for normal and useful membership in society. Should the time come when they shall long for a wider sphere of activity than their native village affords, they can go forth equipped in strength and vitality.

With all these advantages there are conditions which place the colonists at a great disadvantage. Those of their number who work in the factory have a very limited field of employment. When the house becomes too small for the farmer he must get along as best he can; when the factory in which his children are employed is idle he is often obliged to run into debt. When his children grow up and find no congenial occupation in the small village they leave him to go to the city to live among strangers and to be exposed to its many temptations. When the crops fail he often finds himself obliged to sell his horse or his cow, and must at times walk miles in order to reach the nearest store or the post-office. He has not as many creature comforts as his city cousin, nor has he his discomforts.

Local differences occur in the soils of Alliance, Carmel, Rosenhayn, and Woodbine, but on the whole, they belong to the same type of soils with a common geological history. The prevailing type is a sandy soil to sandy loam with a clayey to gravelly sub-soil. The underdrainage is excellent and the upper soil, being light and porous, is seldom in danger of becoming waterlogged. Thanks to the splendid underdrainage and openness, the soil is- mellow and warm and admirably adapted for the raising of early truck and berries. On the other hand, it is more liable to suffer and actually does suffer in dry seasons for lack of moisture, because of its slight waterholding power. Such is not the case with the heavier soils of North Jersey. Owing to its lightness and shifting character, the surface soil is apt to be blown away by the strong winds in winter and spring. For this reason it is best not to plow the land in the fall and to keep it covered with some crop during the winter.

The crops raised in the colonies for the local and more distant markets are berries and grapes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and fruit. These are the more important crops, and many other crops are raised to a slighter extent. The South Jersey peaches are famed for their delicious flavor; Vineland peaches always find ready buyers, and the Woodbine peaches are fully as good. Then there are sweet potatoes, which have not their equal outside of New Jersey, and they command a correspondingly higher price in the market. The farmers in the colonies raise large quantities of berries, notably strawberries. Part of these are made into wine and have a limited but appreciative circle of patrons. Grape wine is produced in large quantity, particularly in Alliance. Many gallons are sold in New York and Philadelphia, the greater part to supply the Passover trade. It is claimed by competent judges that some of the port wine from the South Jersey colonies is superior to that from California.

In the spring of 1900 a canning factory was established in Alliance. Its short career has already demonstrated its great usefulness and the results that may be expected. There have been canned strawberries, blackberries, cherries, pears, apples, peaches, plums, beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and in smaller quantity, grapes, corn, citrons, huckleberries, cranberries, and gooseberries. The Allivine Company, which owns the canning factory, is also trying to give object lessons on its own farm, and has established lecture courses on agricultural topics. The Jewish farmers thus find a local market for their produce, are rendered independent of the commission merchant in the city, who is at times unscrupulous, and are, moreover, instructed in the proper methods of farming.

Dairying has been receiving considerable attention. The milk produced is sold in the local markets at satisfactory prices. Bridgeton, Vineland, and Millville are convenient markets for the three older colonies, while the milk produced in Woodbine is sold in the village of Woodbine itself, and to a slight extent at the seashore resorts. The dairy of the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School, conducted according to the most modern methods, and producing milk of the finest quality, tried to run a milk wagon to Ocean City. The milk was in large demand, but the distance was too great and injurious to the horses, and it was therefore decided to dispose of the milk in Woodbine itself. There is no doubt, however, that the several dairymen in Woodbine could combine to establish a milk depot in Ocean City, shipping their milk by rail.

There are, probably, about 4,000 acres under cultivation in the colonies. In the three older settlements there are about 1,100 acres under field crops, 600 acres under truck, 550 acres under berries, and 250 acres under grapes. Of the three, Alliance is by far the most prosperous, and agriculturally the most important. Thus, the value of the Rosenhayn farms, with a total acreage of 1,800, is only about $60,000, whereas that of the Alliance farms, with a total acreage of some 1,700, is about $135,000; and the value of the products sold from the Alliance farms was greater than that of the others put together.

The colonies have not had a continuous growth. Periods of comparative prosperity alternated with periods of depression, depending largely upon the condition of the factories. Woodbine, like the rest, had its periods of depression; nevertheless, its growth has been more steady, and to-day it has a population of about 2,500 persons, while Alliance, Carmel, and Rosenhayn (including Carton Road), taken together, have a population of somewhat about 1,000, and this, notwithstanding that they were founded nine years before Woodbine.

The original 25 families that came to Alliance in 1882 were joined by others until there were in all 67 families in the place. As the hardships increased, many became discouraged and by 1884 only 50 families remained. At this critical time aid was extended to the colonists, and the condition of the colony improved perceptibly. The crop returns gave additional encouragement leading to the increase of the cultivated area. In 1889 the total population was 529, and it has remained about the same. In 1889 the farmers owned 1,400 acres of land, of which 889 were under cultivation; in 1901 they owned 1,702 acres, of which 1,379 were under cultivation. These few figures indicate clearly enough that those of the Alliance settlers who remained on their farms gradually added to their holdings, and have extended their agricultural holdings.

In Carmel there were 16 families that came out in 1882; seven of these left in discouragement; others came to take their places, and the population changed from time to time until in 1889 there were 286 persons in the place. To the original tract of 848 acres 1,500 were added in 1889, and 36 new houses were erected. There are now about 600 persons. In 1889 there were 124 acres cleared; now more than 700.

In Rosenhayn there were 6 families in 1883. In 1889 there were 67 families, containing 294 persons. They owned 1,912 acres, of which 261 were under cultivation. The number of persons has not increased much. In 1901 they owned 1,862 acres, of which 662 were cleared.

In the late summer of 1891 a few men stepped from the train on the old wooden platform of the Woodbine station, located on the West Jersey Railroad. These were the vanguard of the settlers. There was not much to greet them. Three old dwellings stood along the Dennisville road, quite near the station; beyond and around them were the darkening woods. Save for the broad avenue along which their train was even then speeding towards the end of the Cape there was scarcely a dozen square rods free from the untamed oak and pine. As one looks from the new station platform over the hundreds of cottages, at the row of busy factories, and the straight streets with their poplars and maples, he would not recognize the wilderness of thirteen years ago. This is the industrial Woodbine, forming the nucleus around which are clustered about 50 farms. The growth of the village has depended entirely on the growth of its industries, and the activity of the farmers has been regulated by the local market. Of the public buildings in Woodbine there are the Woodbine Central School building, which is used for municipal, educational and social purposes, and the synagogue. Near by is the Talmud Torah (Hebrew school). A Baptist church has been converted into a synagogue. Woodbine has the distinction of having established the first kindergarten in the county. Of the 250 houses in the village, nearly all are owned by the inhabitants. Twenty miles of streets have been laid out and partly graded; 12 miles of farm roads have been built, an electric light plant and pumping station have been established, a volunteer fire brigade has been organized. There are a large hotel in the village, three public schools besides the central school, a public bath house, a meeting hall, and two parks reserved from the forest area. The 50 families that came in 1891 increased in number by the influx of new arrivals until now there are about 2,500. Five building and loan associations have invested thousands of dollars in Woodbine real estate, thus proving their confidence in its stability and prosperity.

Throughout the colonies the mercantile pursuits that have arisen are rather insignificant. Grocery stores and meat markets have been started. Shoe stores, clothing stores, bakeries, and the like have been established to supply local needs. As a possible exception it may be admitted that some stores in Woodbine sometimes serve to supply the needs of neighboring villages. Moreover, the brick yard in Woodbine sells bricks outside of the village, and considerable quantities of cord wood are sold from Woodbine to the Millville, Vineland and other glass factories.

Recent statistics show that there are a considerable number of factories in the colonies. Alliance has a cloak factory and a canning factory; Rosenhayn has a clothing factory and a brick yard, and manufactures to some extent tinware and hoisery. Carmel has a clothing factory, and two others where ladies’ waists and wrappers are manufactured. Woodbine has a clothing factory, a machine and tool plant, a hat factory, a shirt factory, a small cigar factory, a knitgoods factory, an establishment for making driven well points, and a brick yard.

As compared to the dormant existence of the small villages in South Jersey, the Jewish colonies are wide awake and progressive. There is a greater range of social questions discussed there. There is the consciousness of common aims. Political clubs, social clubs, literary societies, military organizations, benevolent organizations have been established, and many are contributing to a better and broader life. Though most of the voters have been naturalized in recent years they display an intelligent interest in national as well as in local politics. It may sound strange, yet it is true, that, unlike their neighbors, they consider national and international affairs above the local affairs. This seems to be characteristic of the Jew. He watches with deep concern the happenings in various countries, as if he felt himself a citizen of the whole world. World politics, the events which concern all men, are to him of paramount interest. It may be that his long wanderings have taught him to assume this mental attitude. It may be that this habit of thought is inherent in him, yet the visitor to Woodbine, for instance, can convince himself of the truth of the above observation. On a Saturday afternoon he will find the older people of the village gathered in the post-office or in the railroad station warmly discussing the happenings in Germany, France, or Russia. The sewing machine, the plow, or the lathe are forgotten for the moment. Dressed in his Sabbath clothes and wrapped in the Sabbath mood, he looks into the outside world and judges it according to his light. The Jewish newspaper informs him in Yiddish of the doings outside his own narrow sphere of activity and with this information as a basis he indulges in endless discussion.

It is otherwise with his children. Growing up as they do under freer skies, they imbibe something of the new spirit. The old traditions are not as infallible to them as to their fathers and their thoughts wander in other directions. For them the English newspaper replaces the Yiddish, the school history is a greater authority than oral tradition. And yet they are not altogether unmindful of this tradition. They stand between the old and the new. They are in a transition stage, and they partake of what their fathers are, and also of what their own children will be. They are Americans, with a touch of the foreign spirit still clinging to them, but somehow they do not seem to be the worse for it. Their home life is healthy, there is no viciousness, and little disobedience to established authority. They are fond of dancing, of private theatricals, and of social gatherings in general. The factory atmosphere is often reflected in their mode of thought. It is no rare occurrence to see boys of fifteen or sixteen discussing in all seriousness some question in sociology, or political economy, of which they know little or nothing.

Most of the factories are closed on Saturday. The elders solemnly repair to the synagogue and as solemnly return when the services are over. The village is in a Sabbath spirit, peaceful yet joyous. When evening comes there is usually some entertainment.

Theft and drunkenness are practically unknown in the colonies, although wine and beer are consumed in considerable quantities. But there are features which are less fortunate and not at all commendable. One comes across ignorance and narrowness, stubbornness of spirit and uncleanliness of person. Yet even these are not as frequent as they used to be. But there is one feature that deserves mention — this is the neighborly spirit, and the true charity that the colonists display. Quietly, unostentatiously, they help one another, often sharing the last crust of bread. When the severe winter days come, men often walk a long distance to cut some fire wood for a sick neighbor; women frequently walk for miles through the snow in order to bring food or money to a needy individual. The women in Woodbine have organized a Woman’s Aid Society and the good work it is doing deserves commendation. Those who are inclined to accuse the Russian Jew of unwillingness to work, and of dependence upon charity, will find upon visiting the South Jersey colonies, only peaceful and industrious people always ready to work. There are no loafers, no tramps, no gamblers.

The colonists spend a considerable portion of their income on public buildings. They have their lodges, circulating libraries, evening schools, lecture courses and the like, and this healthy social and home life speaks well for the individuals and the community.

The many vicissitudes through which the colonists have passed have left their mark. Some of the earlier settlers have returned to the city population, and in their leisure moments recount perhaps the hardships which confronted them. It is for them to decide whether they acted wisely. But those who stayed have continued to do their work. They have not attained great wealth, nor great fame, but they have lived and honestly earned their bread.

Let those who have so generously worked to found the colonies remember that the mere withdrawing of people from the tenement districts in the great cities and their settling in the country is in itself a worthy work, and if there should be ten per cent., or even one per cent. of these settlers who entirely depend on farming, the work remains worthy. Let the colonies have more factories. The farmers will take care of themselves, and the greater the local demand for their produce, the greater will be the area under cultivation. If the liberal policy of inducing reliable manufacturers to establish themselves in Woodbine is continued by the Trustees of the Baron de Hirsch Fund there is little doubt that the next ten years will see considerable growth.

The experience of years brought out quite clearly the fact that it is practically impossible in many instances to convert a small trader into a farmer. The ancestral conditions and the habits of a lifetime cannot be changed at a moment’s notice. Earnest as is the purpose of the would-be farmer, and great as is his determination, he very often finds himself obliged to admit that the opportunity has come to him too late in life. The occupation of a lifetime has unfitted him for farming. With this experience in mind the founders of the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School at Woodbine have formulated a plan for the education of the children of immigrant Jews. In the few years of its existence the school has given ample proof of its usefulness. It aims to give its pupils a practical, agricultural education, in order that the graduates may (after an apprenticeship of some years with practical farmers) be competent to manage farms of their own. The school has now about 120 pupils, of whom about ten per cent. are girls. Theoretical instruction in the class-room is given together with practical work on the school farms, in the dairy, blacksmith shop, poultry houses, green houses, etc.

Independently of the Woodbine school, an agricultural school has been established at Doylestown, Pa. The curriculum is somewhat different from that of the Woodbine school, but its aim, as in the other case, is primarily the instruction of the children of immigrants in the arts of husbandry.

The work of these two institutions is watched with deep interest. The visitor to the schools, as he sees the boys working in the fields, or as he watches them in their moments of recreation, rushing a foot ball against the opposing line, or running on a base ball field, can not but feel glad and hopeful. He remembers the stooping, narrow-chested men in the crowded thoroughfares, he remembers the long centuries of artificial Ghetto life, and he rejoices for those who shall grow broad of shoulder and brawny of arm, who shall have laughter in their eyes, who shall contribute as great a share to the physical work of the world as has been contributed by their race to the mental and the spiritual life.

Best regards,