Lumberton Township

Burlington County, NJ

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Lumberton Township [†] was created by an act of the New Jersey State Assembly on March 14, 1860, and was formed from portions of Northampton, Eastampton, and Medford townships. Lumberton Township's name was inspired by the large amounts of oak and pine that were harvested for lumber in the area. Originally, Lumberton Township comprised an area of 20.7 square miles in the center of Burlington County. However, in 1924, the northwestern portion of the township, 6.8 square miles, detached to form Hainesport Township.

Before European settlers arrived in the Delaware Valley, Native Americans populated the Burlington County area. The Native Americans that lived in the Lumberton area belonged to the tribes of the Lenape Nation. One settlement was located west of present-day Eayrestown Road and north of Newbolds Corner, while another group settled along the Rancocas Creek in present- day Hainesport Township. There are signs of additional Native American settlements in Lumberton Township. In 1916, a group from the University of Pennsylvania excavated a mound on the Crispin Farm, at the intersection of Fostertown and Crispin roads. The university's archeologists discovered Native American tools and relics suggesting "fine workmanship."

The first documented European settlers in Lumberton Township were English in origin. The early settlers traveled along the Rancocas Creek to reach the Lumberton area. In 1680, only three years after Burlington was founded by Quakers, John Haines pulled his boat to the side of the Rancocas and dug a cave on the north side of the creek. Haines lived in the cave until he was able to raise sufficient funds to build a house.

Another English settler, Doctor Robert Dinsdale, shares a similar story with Haines. Dinsdale, a nonconformist if not a Quaker, purchased a tract of land on the north side of the Rancocas Creek from his friend William Penn, while still in England. After arriving in North America in 1683, Dinsdale navigated his boat up the Rancocas along a tributary that would later be called Dinsdale Run or Bobby's Run in his honor. When Dinsdale came to his tract, he, too, dug a cave in which he lived for a year until his house was constructed.

Much like the rest of Burlington County, Lumberton was an attractive area for the newly arrived Quakers that settle after arriving in the colonies as it offered tall trees, fertile ground, and a tidal passage to the Delaware River. Early development in Lumberton occurred slowly during the 18th century. Several small houses dotted the Rancocas shoreline, but few settlers ventured into the interior forests. The village of Lumberton grew slowly along the banks of the Rancocas Creek's South Branch, at the head of navigable waters leading to the Delaware River. This colonial settlement was modest in size, although only two miles south of Mount Holly, which was the Burlington County seat during the 18th century, as it is today. In 1795, one visitor commented that the village "contained but eleven dwellings and a meeting house, the whole number of inhabitants being thirty-three."

Waterways were important to Lumberton from its earliest days. In the 18th century, Lumberton became a regional shipping point in Burlington County, relying on the navigable waters of Rancocas Creek. In 1711, the first wharf was constructed behind the current location of the F.L Walther Elementary School. More development followed and, in a few years, the creek was lined with wharves, warehouses, shipyards, and iron works. Lumberton was also a shipping point for industry located in the dense Pinelands. Atsion Iron Works and Martha Iron and Glassworks had loading docks on Landing Street. By 1766, it was necessary for the West Jersey Colonial Assembly to establish guidelines for the accepted use of the creek and its banks. This legislation took the form of the Pioneer Navigation Act of 1766, which gave Lumberton's settlers the right to erect sawmills and forges, as well as the right to transport lumber, and iron merchandise down the Rancocas Creek.

Industry thrived around Lumberton's wharves in the Rancocas Creek. In 1807, Samuel Howell erected an iron works near the creek. This and other foundries in the area forged pipes used in the innovative public water system built in Brooklyn, New York. By the mid-19th century, the Rancocas Creek was lined by numerous large industries including sawmills, forges, and several iron companies. The creek was noticeably polluted and often filled with loose timbers, refuse, and noxious discharges. A group of Lumberton businessmen created an organization to exact taxes on all vessels traveling the creek, both freight and passenger, as well as on the local industries, in order to dredge and clear the creek routinely to allow for passage. Lumberton was also home to a lime pulverizing plant, which, at its height, claimed to sell more than a million bushels of gas lime annually. In the 17th and 18th centuries gas lime, or hydrated lime, was first used as a pesticide to protect turnip crops from fly infestations. It was later used for purifying coal gas because it soaks up ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other impurities from coal.

As transportation methods and technology changed, Lumberton's economy also changed. Lumberton's early economic success was tied to its location at the southernmost navigable point on the Southern Branch of the Rancocas Creek. The advent of rail transportation in the mid– 1800s threatened Lumberton's economic vitality. Rail transport brought goods to market in a faster and less expensive manner than water transport and reduced the need for most economic development to occur on or near navigable waterways.

In 1855, Lumberton tried to remain competitive with the railroad towns by introducing steamboat transportation along the Rancocas. This attempt was met with limited success. One of the most notable steamships, The Barclay, sailed out of Hainesport, which was a part of Lumberton Township at the time, down the Rancocas and southward to Camden and Philadelphia by the Delaware River. However, the Barclay was out of commission by 1870, less than 15 years after steamships had first navigated the Rancocas. Some steamships, such as the Steamlet, were able to keep going into the early years of the twentieth century. However, even the last of these stalwart vessels succumbed to rail's domination. Steamlet's Captain Bill Voorhees scuttled the steamboat with dynamite in Lumberton's harbor.

The most prominent manufacturing industry in Lumberton was shoe production, which located to the village because of its water access, railroad access, and nearby raw materials. The first factories were small, employing only a few people, and were located in modest buildings. David Brock opened the first shoe factory in 1825 on Creek Road. Samuel Holland started a shoe factory on Bridge Road in 1874. Frank Morton followed in 1877, locating his factory on Chestnut Road. The Ried Shoe Manufacturing Company opened the largest and most successful Lumberton shoe factory on North Main Street and East Landing Road, which employed more than 100 people from 1882 to 1933. In the late 1800s, a visitor to the township mentioned that Lumberton was particularly noted for its "...enterprising people and the manufacturing of shoes of all kinds."

For a short time in the 19th century, Lumberton became a modest resort community, as its location along the picturesque Rancocas Creek offered swimming, fishing, and boating. The village of Lumberton boasted a reliable hotel, a reputable boarding house, and a few restaurants and taverns.

† Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Environmental Resource Inventory for the Township of Lumberton, 2007, www.dvrpc.org, accessed October, 2020.


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