There’s no shortage of historic, entertaining, or just plain interesting sites up and down the Jersey Shore. But after years of going “By the Exits” here up and down the Garden State Parkway, in 2018 we’re trying something different: the New Jersey Turnpike!
Sure, “You’re from Jersey? What exit?” gets old after a while. But when you’re thinking about how to tackle all there is to see and do in our great state, it’s not the worst way to break things down. Taking the Turnpike bends you west into some of New Jersey’s best agricultural regions (including some outstanding wine countries) and most interesting historical areas. The exits, of course, are more widely dispersed than those on the Parkway – giving you roughly one county per exit to explore. So far this year we’ve moved through Salem, Cumberland, and Gloucester; in this issue, we’ll explore Camden County.
Exit 3, Camden County.
Camden. Adventure Aquarium is the city’s big draw for families, and with good reason. In addition to being a first-class facility with a breathtaking array of aquatic life (don’t miss the hippos!) a short walk out back brings you onto a promenade on the shore of the Delaware River. Directly across is the Philadelphia skyline, and not far down the river is the historic U.S.S. New Jersey. In the opposite direction, a few blocks north you’ll find a spot where Cooper Street dead-ends at the water: it is believed that a ferry operating here beginning in the 1680s was the first official ferry business in what would become the United States. Linking the area with the young land’s major port, Philadelphia, the ferry industry was responsible for the rise of Camden.
A bit inland from the Delaware, on Martin Luther King Blvd. (which you’ll likely take to reach the aquarium from the Turnpike) stands the Walt Whitman House. Whitman died here in 1892, after a stroke left him severely weakened in 1873 and he moved to Camden to be closer to his family. About two miles away, you can visit Whitman’s tomb at Harleigh Cemetery, which neighbors the Camden Historical Society headquarters.
Cherry Hill. The city of Cherry Hill featured prominently in the films “12 Monkeys” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” – but I digress. Originally a Lenni Lenape settlement, the city takes its name from a 19th century farm that’s now the site of the AMC Loews on Route 38. For a taste of Cherry Hill history, take a tour of the Barclay Farmhouse and keep an eye on their schedule for special living history programs throughout the year. The Farmhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Haddon Township/Haddonfield. Haddon Township’s Ritz Theater marked its 90th anniversary last year, and along with Barclay Farmhouse represents Camden County on the National Register. It opened the same year Irving Berlin wrote “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” Berlin’s song is said to have been inspired by London’s Ritz Hotel, but you never know!
(Actually, we do know – the Theatre opened in September 1927, while Berlin’s song was written in May. But it’s fun to imagine.)
Decades earlier, in 1858, neighboring Haddonfield was the site of an incredible archaeological find when the full skeleton of what became known as Hadrosaurus was uncovered. “The official dinosaur of New Jersey,” the discovery site is now a park and historic site at the end of Maple Avenue, near the Cooper River. It’s also interesting, and maybe a little disappointing, to note that the name “Hadrosaurus” has nothing to do with Haddonfield – it comes from the Greek word “hadros,” meaning “bulky.” So New Jersey’s official dinosaur is the “bulky lizard” … in case you were wondering!