Pennsville Township Historical Society

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History of Pennsville Township 

At the time of the European settlements in America in the 1600s, the Lenni Lenape Tribe called Unilachtigo occupied our area, and they called it Hoppemense.  In 1638 Sweden established a trading fort in (Wilmington) Delaware and called it Fort Christina.  Only 24 Swedish Soldiers came on the first expedition.  Their orders were to buy land, build a fort and establish trade on the West side of the Delaware River.  There were no colonists at Fort Christina in 1638.  It wasn't until 1641 that the Swedes purchased land on the East side of the Delaware River.  A May 1671 Census of the Delaware by Walter Wharton  documents Swedes and Finns living on the East side of the Delaware River in what we know as Pennsville today.


When English Quaker John Fenwick arrived in 1675 to colonize his territory in West Jersey, called Fenwick’s Colony (present day Salem and Cumberland counties), he had already sold large tracts of land to fellow Englishmen.  He named our area West Fenwick.  He was not aware that there were already European settlements here along the Delaware River (in what would become Pennsville).  The plantations owned by the Swedes and Finns in West Fenwick Township, which pre-dated Fenwick’s arrival, specifically at Obisquahassit, Finns Town and in the Church Town area, reluctantly acknowledged John Fenwick as the new Lord Proprietor.  To insure possession of their tracts of land, they signed quit claims to Fenwick in consideration of a yearly rental payment.


A series of financial, legal and political difficulties followed John Fenwick from England, as well as a couple of imprisonments in America; so, by age 65 John Fenwick was in declining health.  Those four factors caused Fenwick to convey all his right, title and interest in West Jersey, except for 150,000 acres, to William Penn on March 23, 1682.  Fenwick died in 1683.


In 1701 West Fenwick was re-named Penns Neck Township in honor of the new Proprietor, William Penn.  In 1721 Penns Neck was divided into Upper and Lower Penns Neck.  The Township was incorporated in 1798 as one of New Jersey’s original group of townships.  In 1965 the Township residents voted to change the name of the township from Lower Penns Neck to Pennsville Township, which includes Deepwater and Pennsville.


Since the founding of the Fenwick Colony, our neighbor, Salem, was designed to be a city with areas for commercial growth.  It was also designated as a Port of Entry in 1682.   Other areas in Salem County experienced growth through industry, but Pennsville remained a farming and fishing community.  Since the shortest distance across the river to Delaware was at Pennsville, Pennsville was a hub for colonial ferries and connecting stagecoaches.  Steam ferries would stop here, too, for wood and coal on their way to Philadelphia from Salem.


Pennsville became a resort destination thanks to two riverfront resort hotels:  The Silver Grove Hotel in 1851 and the River View Hotel in 1883.  Both waterfront properties were located right next to each other in Pennsville Proper.  In 1908 a new resort community of Fenton’s Beach was being developed at Deep Water Point.  In 1914, the Silver Grove Hotel owner purchased the River View Hotel to create Riverview Beach.  In 1922, an adjoining farm was purchased, and the Park expanded once again.  Thousands would come by the Wilson Line ferry to the park each day from May to September.  In 1916, the DuPont Company bought the Fenton's Beach resort community and established the DuPont Dye Works.  This ushered in industry to the Pennsville community.  In 1929 the Deepwater Generating Station was built here, too.  In 1951 the Delaware Memorial Bridge linking New Jersey and Delaware was opened.