19th Century Mount Laurel
The 19th Century saw the establishment of Mount Laurel village, centrally located in the vicinity of William Evan’s original homestead, Mount Pray. People settled near enough to be able to walk conveniently to the new meeting house. Other early buildings included a Wheelwright, a blacksmith shop and a shoe shop. The first area post office was established in 1849 inside the General Store. The General Store was a very important building for the townspeople. It not only held the original post office, it also housed 500 volumes of the “Enterprise Library,” the first lending library of the area. At one point there was even a stagecoach stop in the settlement. The “Mount Laurel Stage” made a stop here on its way to Philadelphia.
The Old Town Hall is another building of significance. The Farmer’s Progressive Club built it in 1866; hence it was called Farmers Hall. Following the incorporation of Mount Laurel in 1872, Farmer’s Hall was used for annual election of Town officers. It was used as the official Town Hall from 1904 till 1969. Mount Laurel Township is currently in the process of restoring Farmer’s Hall, which is located directly across the street from the Friends Meeting House at the base of the Mount.
In 1872, this busy intersection known as “Lower Evesham” became officially incorporated into its own village, Mount Laurel. The present Mount Laurel Township encompasses over 13,000 acres but the official village has nearly vanished. The Friends Meeting House and Farmer’s Hall still stand on their original sites, faint reminders of the humble beginnings this town had over 300 years ago.
Also in the 19th Century, Mount Laurel saw several small villages arise including Masonville, Centerton and Fellowship. Agricultural products supported residents and were transported via the Rancocas Creek. Goods were transported on the Rancocas Creek on flat-bottomed boats called scows.
In 1863, the Burlington-Camden Railroad was built. Centerton, located near the Moorestown border, thrived because of its wharf, lumber and coal yard, phosphorus factory, tavern and the Centerton Hotel. Centerton was a popular vacation spot for families from Philadelphia seeking the tranquility of the countryside during the hot summer months in the city.
Masonville grew when a highway was built in 1794 and is still a community today, located just east of Moorestown. The village was named after the James Mason Plantation and included about 100 people, an iron factory, facing mill, a railroad freight and passenger depot and Darnell’s Grist and Sawmill. Also in Masonville was the 1,800 acre tract granted to John Borton by King Charles II in 1716. The home of the late Senator C. William Haines, Jr. and his wife Sally rests upon the foundation of the original house built by his ancestor John Borton.
On the western side of town, Fellowship was settled on land owned by George Roberts, a well-known Quaker. Fellowship was the most established of all the villages that comprised Mount Laurel at that time. The village included two general stores, a wagon shop, a shoe shop, a blacksmith shop, mechanics shops and a boarding school. The first Catholic Church and a post office were built in Fellowship by 1849.