Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Collingswood, a town arisen from the dead

Yesterday, a friend and I after being disappointed at The Cooper House, tried our luck at Sabrina's for lunch.  My friend is vegan, I am only vegetarian.  Cooper House had only a brunch menu and nothing without eggs.  We knew for certain Sabrina's had vegan friendly menu items so we headed over there.

I was astonished to find, not for the first time, a line so long, we had to give up.  And Sabrina's has a serious noise problem.  Although I have been a mother and was a teacher for 32 years, I have to become inured to the high pitched shrieks of toddlers.  Similarly, I have a dog, but prefer not to be plagued by incessant barking.  If my dog barks, I bring her in from the yard.  I taught my daughter restaurant manners, but she seemed to know how to behave and it was never a problem.  Anyhow, we marched on to find another place to eat.  We went to SaladWorks, an old favorite of mine.  

But the theme of our conversation became how Collingwood, once a dead, or dying town, was resuscitated and has become the hip and happening place it is, vibrant with new restaurants, young families, and beautifully maintained houses and properties.  They have spring garden tours and porch teas and summer park movies!  This is a great place to live and visit.  The park is clean, and all of us dog walkers scoop and bag and use the many receptacles.  There are no dirty diapers in the parking areas and there are only bottles thrown during sports seasons when sports parents seem to either not teach their children manners or to not have manners themselves, then you find bags of fast food wrappers and discarded sport drink bottles, right next to receptacles for recyclables and trash.  Oh well.

Many years ago, I lived in Collingwood.  It was the 1970's and I was married.  We lived i one apartment then another, and liked it there so much, we bought a house, a little brick row home facing the Cooper River.  We were both fitness oriented and we both biked and hiked the 4 mile Cooper River trail daily.  I loved that house and that town.  Often I would walk from Cooper River to Knight's Park, then to Newton Creek, about a 5 mile walk, maybe 7 miles round trip.  

During my early years, the occupying force was Reverend Carl McIntyre and the Bible Presbyterian Church.  The 20the Century Reformation Building on Haddon Ave. faced it's brethren The Missionary Bible Building across the street.  It was a town of old-timers and fundamentalist religious people.  Then something happened.  Perhaps it was the death of Rev. McIntyre in 2002, and the closure of his radio program,  but the town began to founder.  McIntyre was a grass roots, fundamentalist, and populist preacher and a prolific fundraiser.

Now I have nothing against religion, but I do hold to the very basic principle that your rights end at the end of my nose.  An old saying of my fathers, which means I have a right to my own beliefs and my own body.  The period in which I grew up was a period when religion was on the wane but still held some sway.  

My mother was a deeply religious woman and my father was a respectful agnostic.  We children went to Sunday School and our first church, Gloria Dei, Old Swedes Church, in Philadelphia, was a place I actually enjoyed.  I liked Sunday School, and the churchyard, the interesting cemetery and the old and heart warming church building located at 916 Swanson St. 215-389-1513 for information.  It is the oldest church in Pennsylvania and was built around 1698.  I attended Sunday School there with my mother and my brother Joe from my earliest years to my early teens when we moved to New Jersey.

The town we visited during our whole lives for vacation was another of those old religiously founded towns, Ocean City, NJ.  My grandmother lived there.  The religious basis of the town kept it dry (as in non-alcoholic), clean, and family friendly.  Compare it to Wild Wood for example a hellish nightmare of ugly bars and ignorant and rude drunks like a "Pottersville" (from It's a Wonderful Life, the film).  

In the case of Collingwood however, Rev. McIntyre became a despot.  His need to dominate and exert his will over everything and everyone finally brought about the ruin of the empire he created.  He fought not only with the non-religious, but with other fundamentalists.  He alienated all his former associates and co-religionists. 

He brought "Pirate Radio" to the New Jersey shore, from which he broadcast his fiery sermons against Satan on earth, and apostates, and communists!  He had fought a long battle with the FCC and they finally won.  His voice could be heard over hundreds of other religious radio stations but his pirate ship was closed down.  Those were the days when people took the separaation of church and state seriously.  Eventually, like a disease, Reverend McIntyre's poisonous rage destroyed its own host.  He lived to be 95 and to see his empire crumble to dust and debt.  The Missionary building was demolished and I believe the 20th Century Reformation building is now a municipal office of some kind.  

I had an amusing experience some years back in Collingwood when I was out to lunch with my cousin, Patty.  We were walking down Haddon Avenue window shop amidst an unusually large number of other pedestrians.  Suddenly there were also major network news trucks, CBS, NBC, ABC.  Collingwood was allowing same sex couples to apply for marriage licenses, and later, ten couples celebrated their nuptials at the Scottish Rite Auditorium.  My cousin said we might be on tv and how shocked our friends and family would be if we were misidentified as one of the couples looking for a license.  Patty was a widow by then and I, a long time divorcee.

Collingswood had come a long way from the stodgy, angry, excluding and hell-fire and damnation of McIntyre's period, to the vibrant, open, cafe and restaurant decorated town of today.  Once, those store fronts were boarded up and covered with cardboard, now you see the faces of the happy people through the glass.  

It is a town I would be happy to live in if I didn't live in the house I love already.

If you want a walk and a lunch, you couldn't find a nicer spot - three parks - 4 miles at Cooper River and lunch at the Cooper House, 1 1/2 miles at Knight's Park, and lunch at Sabrina's or Salad Works, or 3 miles at Newton Creek.  By the way, I have kayaked on Newton Creek as well, you can go from Cuthbert Blvd. up to the BlackHorse Pike, not a long ride, but an interesting one.  I once saw a dozen white herons roosting in a tree along the banks of the creek near the Black Horse Pike.

Happy Trails,
Jo Ann

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