You know me. I ALWAYS have a story to tell you. You may have heard of Stewart Lake in Woodbury? Or Stewart Memorial Park in Harrisonville? I'm sure you've heard of National Park, right? These parks and land would not be here, if it wasn't for this man named, Frank H. Stewart. He left a trust in his will to preserve treasured land and history of the South Jersey area.
In fact, almost ALL of the public parks you have probably enjoyed in Gloucester County were purchased from his trust fund.
Mr. Stewart was a rich South Jersey businessman. He earned his fortune by selling wholesale electrical goods. He was a man of controversy and admiration in the early 1900s. He had purchased the U.S. mint building in Philadelphia and knocked it down. He most likely did this to bring awareness to historical preservation. Stewart protested with the government in preserving historical landmarks. In fact, most people who had the money would tear an old building down and rebuild in those days. Stewart wanted to sincerely, "wake people up." In order to promote awareness on the need for historical preservation. He saved all of what was in the building, created a massive collection of coins and artifacts of the mint. He even wrote a book about it. On the cover of his book it had a picture and a big sign across stating, "Ye Old Mint."
Mr. Stewart wasn't just an ordinary wealthy fellow. He wrote many history books, obtained a massive collection of deeds, historical documents and preserved thousands of artifacts. He was also the head of the Gloucester County Historical Society and infamously created the room "202" in the Gloucester County Courthouse for storing/preserving documents.
In his Foreword section of his book, "Notes on Gloucester County, New Jersey." He is quoted, "All over the State of New Jersey there are priceless and genealogical manuscript records gradually decaying and wearing away. Every year destruction by fire, age, and carelessness takes place."
He also states in his findings that Gloucester County was the first county enacted in the country in 1686.
Frank H. Stewart was a historical pioneer and perhaps the most important man who ever lived in Gloucester County.
Now we'll venture onto National Park....
Stewart was instrumental in preserving the old Fort Mercer (National Park) along the Delaware river. He in fact helped to fix up the infamous Whithall House. The house aided wounded soldiers in the famous Revolutionary War Battle that occurred on these premises. He also developed technology with his electrical company to find old cannonballs stuck in the muddy Delaware. This device he developed would be known in the future as a metal detector.
Our National Park would not be in existence if it wasn't for this inspiring man. In fact, it was going to be a new housing development until he stepped in.
The battle at Fort Mercer was instrumental in the Revolutionary War. Our soldiers were outnumbered by 3-1. However, a man named Jonas Cattell helped our troops to win the battle. He had overheard the Hessians while he was in jail (for curfew) that they would be attacking Fort Mercer by dawn. Cattell was extremely knowledgeable about the area and was able to beat the Hessians in arriving to the Fort. He was able to warn our troops about the surprise attack. And the rest is history.
There is one funny story I should mention about the Whitall manor. Ann Whitall was told by her son to run to safety to her neighbors' house. However, she had faith in god that she would not be harmed. As the battle was beginning, Ann heard cannons and rifles flying in all different directions. However, this did not bother or alarm her. She took her spinning wheel to her southeast room (probably for good lighting from the sun) and spun that day. The sounds of battle did not bother her until a cannonball hit the house and flew into the room where she was sitting. The funny thing is she grabbed her spinning wheel and continued spinning in the basement for the remainder of the battle. Ann was instrumental in giving medical care to the wounded soldiers. Her lovely brick home was used as a hospital.
That's pretty much the story. I'm not going to go into the entire battle, but wanted to give you the gist of things that occurred and how the park is in existence today.
It offers great monuments, cannons, cannonballs, walking trails, picnic pavilions, a fishing pier, children's play parks, bathroom facilities, a great view of the Delaware River and tours of the Whitall House. It's a beautiful place to go right close to home.
Also, Frank Stewart's collection is now housed at Rowan University. The collection contains over 15,000 books, manuscripts, artifacts, wills, deeds, family genealogical lines, maps and many other important documents of South Jersey and Philadelphia. In fact, his home in Woodbury is the residence of the President of the College.
This is a man we shouldn't ever forget folks! I honestly have never heard of him until I saw a plaque with his name on it at National Park. I of course had to look into this great man and see who he was. He is far more than I expected. To me, he will always be a true gem of New Jersey.
As always. you can join me in my South Jersey Adventures via www.yummygal.wordpress.com!