Charles K[line] Landis.

The founder's own story of the founding of Vineland online

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Founding of Vineland, New Jersey*





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Founding of Vineland, New Jersey*


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The Yin ei. and Printing House Print.



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Among the private papers of the late Charles K. Landis, which, in accordance
with his Will, have recently come into the possession of the Historical and Antiquar-
ian Society of Vineland, and which are held by this Society as among its most
important and valued archives, was found the following very interesting sketch of
the first steps taken, and of his first year's experiences in the Founding of Vineland.
It would be scarcely possible for any other hand, though of a ready writer, to set
forth so graphically and so vividly, the story of this unique settlement, itself so un-
like anything the world had ever before seen, in its plans, its purposes, and its
a 'hievement. It is due to the memory of this remarkable man, much misunder-
stood as he was in those early days, that this frank record of his secret thoughts and
motives, as of his public acts, should be given to the public substantially as it came
from his own hand. It was evidently written off-hand, in pencil, and bears no
marks of subsequent revision.

When this was written in 1882, after 21 years, Mr. Landis was already able to
see, and had seen, with the natural eye, as before he had seen as in prophetic vision,
brilliant and beneficent fruits of his great work. Indeed it was his remark in later
years, that he always saw it from the beginning, just as we others see it now. Such
was his profound faith in himself and in the soundness of the principles upon which
he built. In this narrative of the events of 1861-2, he has introduced but few allu-
sions to the later resulting conditions of which he might justly be proud. No one
evermore truly "made the wilderness to blossom as the rose." Of no other could
it more appropriately be said, "If you would see his monument, look around you."

Vineland, N. J., Oct. 13, 1903.



My experience in the founding of Hamnionton, a place covering
about 5,000 acres, led me to believe that with a larger tract of land I
might carry out my purposes. These were, to found a place which, to
the greatest possible extent, might be the abode of happy, prosperous,
and beautiful homes; to first lay it out upon a plan conducive to beauty
and convenience, and in order to secure its success, establish therein the
best of schools, — different branches which experience has shown to be
beneficial to mankind; also manufactories, and different industries, and
the churches of different denominations; in short, all things essential to
the prosperity of mankind; but, at the same time, under such provision
for public adornment, and the moral protection of the people, that the
home of every man of reasonable industry might be made a sanctuary of
happiness, and an abode of beauty, no matter how poor he might be.
In fact, I desired to make Vineland so desirable a place to live in by
reason of its various privileges, and over all to throw such a halo of
beauty as would make people loth to leave it, and, if they did so, would
draw them back again. With all of this I desired to get enough money
out of it to cover my expenses for advertising, and public works, and
leave me a reasonable competency besides. I never expected or particu-
larly wished for a large fortune out of it, but I did most earnestly wish
for a firm enduring success in attaining the objects herein set forth.

Before founding this colony I examined various places, knowing
that location in relation to market, climate, and health, were of vital
importance. I visited tracts in the upper part of the State, also different
places in the West. I wanted land more adapted to fruit than to grain,
because, to grow grain and stock would require much more capital than
to raise fruit, and the rate of profit on stock would be much smaller.
In short, fruit-culture was better adapted to the kind of town and col-
,ony that I wished to found; — it would give more opportunity for people


of small means — more chance to make beautiful and profitable homes.
I decided in favor of South Jersey, because the soil, climate, and loca-
tion, were best adapted to my objects. A better soil for fruit than the
oak lands of New Jersey cannot be found. The climate is peculiarly
temperate, and mild in winter, far more so than in New England, giving
us the advantage of an earlier and longer season in which to send our
fruit to market by R. R. Then, the immense city of Philadelphia was
at our door. The healthfulness of the place was beyond question.
What is life worth without health! As I intended to stake my own
health and fortunes upon the success of this colony, I was perhaps all
the more careful upon this point.

I learned that Richard D. Wood, an eminent merchant of Philadel-
phia, a Quaker, was the owner of .a tract of 1 8 or 20 thousand acres of
land on a new railroad just completed to Millville. This railroad had
been surveyed by a young engineer of my acquaintance, Geo. B. Rob.
erts. I called upon Mr. Wood in Philadelphia, and explained to him
my design in full. Instead of considering it Utopian, he appeared to
enter into and appreciate the idea, and said that he was particularly in-
terested in the actual settlement of his wild land, in order to afford the
people of Millville an opportunity to get supplies of market produce.
I explained to him fully my design of selling the land to actual settlers
only, and not to speculators. This was in the early Spring of 1S61,
j ust at the time when the black clouds of war were beginning to lower
darkly over the horizon of our country. One evening we — Mr. Wood
and myself — started from Philadelphia by railroad, to visit Mr. Wood's
tract. We went as far as Glassboro by the West Jersey R. R., and
thence by the new road then called the Millville and Glassboro R. R.
which Mr. Wood himself controlled. The train consisted of an engine
and one small car. I think there were about three passengers besides
ourselves. After a slow run we got to Millville in the dusk of evening.
I stopped at a hotel kept by a Mr. Wescott. Mr. Wood stopped at a
house in charge of an overseer. In the evening I found that the town
was a small and poor place. The streets were not paved and had no
sidewalks. They were deep in sand, and pigs were allowed to run at
large. The houses were small frame buildings, old and dilapidated.
The place looked as though it had been finished long ago. The next
morning I got up early, and went out before breakfast to see the town,
and seek information about its .shops, lumber yards, and other facilities,
as I knew that it would have to be the base of operations for our sup-
plies for several years to come. I walked up the street, and noticed a
man taking down the shutters from an oyster saloon. Thinking this a

good opportunity for a talk with him, I walked up and requested an
oyster stew, which he made with a spirit lamp. I soon got a great deal
of the information I wanted, when he commenced telling about the for-
lorn condition of Millville. Said he, "It is a miserable place to live in,
as we have no vegetables except what they bring by the wood sballops
from Philadelphia, — no potatoes, no cabbage or turnips." "How
about fruit?" "That is something we scarcely cxp :ct. We never see
a strawberry, pear, peach, or apple, unless we go to the city." "Why
do you live here?" "Because I do not know how to get away. lam
making a living here, such as it is, but I hope to get away before long."
Rising from my seat, I said, "My good man, do not despair. It will
not be long before you will have in this town an abundant supply of
vegetables and fruits, alkyou want, all kinds, not by the small box, but
by the wagon load. You will have the finest of fruits, strawberries,
raspberries, grapes, pears, apples, all kinds in their season, peddled
thro' the town, and offered from door to door." Who is going to do
all this?" "I am going to do it." I walked out, and after I had got
some distance I looked back and saw the man standing in the street,
looking after me, wiping his hands upon his apron. I can see him now.
I wonder what he thought. This was a Mr. Wells, afterwards Mayor
of Millville. I knew enough of the land and of Mr. Wood to feel per-
fectly certain that I should commence the work.

Q Going back to the hotel I saw six or seven men standing in front of
the door. It was not yet open. I asked someone what was the matter.
The reply was that they were waiting for their bitters. A man from this
• crowd crossed the street and came over to me where I was standing and
wanted to know if I were Mr. I^andis of Hammonton. I replied, "I
am." "I heard," said he, "that you came down with Dicky Wood,"
as he called the polite and even venerable old gentleman, "and I wish
to give you a word of warning. " "What is it?" "Well, he is very
sharp, and if he gets you into his clutches he will hold you hard to any
contract you make. " "Will he keep his contract ?" "Oh yes, but he
will make you keep yours." "Then I am not afraid. I shall make no
contract that I am not willing to keep. ' ' I afterward found Mr. Wood
an excellent man to do business with, and I also bought property to the
amount of many thousands of dollars from this very man who would
have sent me away with a warning.

That day Mr. Wood drove me over his tract. I had seen enough
in the railroad cuts, coming down, to convince me that the land was
very good, and this exploration confirmed my opinion. We dined at
the house of Wm. D. Wilson, at Forest Grove. He, in partnership


with Mr. Wood, carried on a lumber business at that place. He evi-
dently looked upon me with suspicion, after he heard that it was my
design to build a city and improve the country. His mind could not
take it in. He could not be blamed.

Upon my return to Philadelphia I found that Mr. Wood was dis-
posed to be slow and cautious. His price was exorbitant, to begin
with, at that time— ten dollars per acre without the timber. I decided,
however, to humor him in the negotiations; not to hurry but to call
upon him ever)' day. After I had been to see him every day for a
week, he decided to visit Hammonton which he did in company with
his son Richard. He was more than pleased, — in fact, astonished to
see a beautiful place produced in so short a time out of the New Jersey
wilderness. It convinced him that I possessed some capacity in that
line. He then requested me to go over his tract of land with him
again. This time I stopped at his house. His wife was there. In the
evening she asked me to describe how one of the avenues in my pro-
posed colony would look after it was finished. I described it to her as
faithfully as I could. The next morning, after I got into the buggy
with Mr. Wood, he said he had a little matter to tell me. Said he,
"My wife awoke me about half past two o'clock this morning and said
she wished to caution me against making any agreement with you, as
she is afraid you are of unsound mind, owing to your description of the
avenue last night She said she had no doubt of your sincerity. But
what I wish to say, Mr. L,andis, is, that our people, inexperienced in
business, have no conception of what can be done. When you talk to
me of the grand possibilities of enterprise, it is all right, as I have seen
a great deal myself, in my time," (he might have said, truthfully, that
he had done a great deal.) "and I w r ould suggest to you that when my
wife, or my partner, Wm. D. Wilson, asks you questions, you had
better not give them an)* more than their minds are prepared for."

The trouble in Mr. Wilson's mind resulted from a question he
asked me one day, when we were going up together in the cars. Along
the line of the railroad there was at that time a great deal of swampy
laud, covered with water, and looking impassable. Turning to me he
said, "Mr. L,andis, what do you propose to do with this land ?" "Drain
it all," I replied, "and reclaim it. Along the railroad, on both sides,
where we are now going, I intend to make a good carriage road after
the land is reclaimed." He said nothing in reply, but told Mr. Wood
that I must be demented in thinking of such an impracticable under-
taking. It was afterwards done.

During the progress of the negotiation Mr. Wood several times


suggested that I should commence operations, and the details of the
agreement should be settled afterwards. My reply was, that I "should
not commence one move until I had a written agreement."

" Fnally he suggested that we should see his lawyer, St. George
Tucker Campbell. This we did, and explained the nature of the agree-
ment that was wanted. Mr. Campbell half listened, constantly inter-
posing objections, raising difficulties and starting questions directed to
Mr. Wood and myself. I kept out of it and allowed Mr. Wood to do
the talking. After about two hours we left, and as we went out of the
door Mr. Wood remarked, "Mr. Landis, if we are ever to have an
agreement we have got to make it ourselves, without the lawyers. "
He then requested me to write such an agreement as would suit me and
bring it to him the next day. This I did and left it with him. The
day after I called, and he said it was satisfactory, with the exception
of one word. He wanted the work "wood" substituted for "timber."
I agreed to take the land at $7.00 per acre, without interest for three and
one-half years, he reserving the timber, which I was allowed to have as
wanted, by the appraisement of three disinterested persons. If I had
had the cash, no doubt I could at that time have bought the land for
much less. I had means, not at that time available — not great, but
which I afterwards put into the enterprise. My available cash was
about $500 in gold, which my mother had saved up, and which she
handed over to me cheerfully, without question or hesitation, with a
mother's faith and devotion. With this amount I was to commence
operations upon my favorite doctrine of "Pay cash as you go." Some
may say, a difficult problem to carry out with so small a sum, and so
rash an enterprise, yet it was done. The agreement was signed in
July, 1 86 1.

The principles that I designed should govern my enterprise for all
time to come, if possible, were clearly defined in my mind and I decided
to make them an integral part of each written contract, so far as it
could be legally done. These were, to sell under improvement stipula-
tions, to the effect

That a habitation should be erected within one year on each plot of
ground sold. This was done to insure the success of the place; to bring
business, and insure the establishment of all the concomitants of civili-
zation — stores, churches, schools and manufactories.

That at least two and one half acres of land should be cleared and
cultivated each year;

That the houses should be set back at least seventy-five feet in the
country, and twenty feet in the town, in order to afford room for flowers


and shrubbery;

That shade trees should be planted along the entire front of each
place within a year. This was done for beauty, shade, health, and to
afford a harbor for birds, which I regarded all important, as against
insect enemies in a fruit country

And that no man should be required to build any fence, and that
where it was done it should consist of a hedge, or a good board and
picket fence. I wished to do away with the necessity of fencing, owing
to the enormous expense of building fences and keeping them up. This
would not only save fencing but would prove conducive to good agri-
culture by the saving of manures. The improvement also would not
only build up the city and country, but act mutually to the benefit of
each improver, and insure an increase in the value of his property; and
while each man would stand independent and alone, at the same time
the whole thing would be co-operative.

In the center of the tract I designed a model town of a mile square
for residences, business, and manufacturing purposes, which would be
a center of trade, and all sorts of conveniences to the entire colon}-, and
a home market.

The whole tract was a wilderness of a forbidding aspect; no beauti-
ful parks, but oak of second or third growth, pine and brush, all of
which had been swept hy fires. The lay of the land was graced by no
pleasing diversity of surface; it was level, with sufficient roll for drain-
age — about nine feet to the mile — but many miles were covered by
small streams and swamps that needed to be drained. That it had no
population was a positive advantage, as it lessened the opposition I
would meet with in my plans. Yet there was a population to a certain
extent, of wood choppers and charcoal burners who lived around in log
cabins with clay floors, a people as simple, and almost as barbarous in
their habits as though they lived a thousand miles from Philadelphia.
The policy of all the landholders had been an extremely selfish one,
opposed to selling small holdings for fear of depredations upon their
timber, which really was of no great value. This narrow view kept
the people degraded, and the country a wilderness. These wretched
people worked for only fifty cents a day, paid in orders on the stores at
Millville. Their supplies usually consisted of pork, whisky, and tobacco
and an occasional calico dress for wife or daughter. They owned no
land. There were scattered upon the tract several persons who did- own
land, but they possessed very little. Mr. Wood had started a clearing
of 300 acres upon the Main Road and had erected a house in which
lived Andrew Sharp, a farmer whom he had selected to run the business.

1 3

My plans for laying out the place had already been matured. Along
each side of the railroad there was to be an avenue ioo feet wide;
around the mile square, avenues ioo feet wide; Landis, Chestnut and
Park Avenues, to be ioo feet wide from Malaga Road to Main Road,
all lined with a double row of shade trees; the streets in the town to be
66 feet wide; the farm roads 50 feet wide; all to be lined with shade
trees, and the roadsides to be seeded to grass to keep down noxious
weeds. The roads were to be laid out as nearly at right angles as was
practicable. I rightly expected that this would make one of the most
beautiful places in the country, and that the lack of natural scenery
would be made up by the labor of art. This result was to be reached
after the planting of orchards and vineyards, shade trees and miles of

Intending to make it a vine country, I called it Vineland. I de-
cided that, if possible, it should be free from taverns. I thought that
this might be accomplished in the start, with an industrial population.
In fact, I did not see how the people could succeed without temperance,
as well as industry. The labor to be done in the clearing of the Vine-
land tract was something stupendous; and besides this, a living was to
be made. I knew that, for years, rich people would not come to such
a banquet as this, where they would not be permitted to buy on specu-
lation. It was therefore important that people should have the full use
of their health, strength, and faculties, that they might be able to labor
with all their might, and efficiently, and also be happy in their homes,
with all of which liquor sadly interferes. In fact, I had never known
a sober man to be a pauper. I also knew that the temptation to drink
would be much stronger in a new country than in an old one, and that
wives and families would be terrified if the evil of drink were to be
added to the trials they would be called upon to endure. In short, I
intended to fight this battle of the wilderness with sober men. I fully
appreciated the magnitude of the work before me, the clearing of miles
upon miles of wild land, the draining of miles of swamps, the building
of many miles of roads, the organizing of churches, schools, societies,
and industries; in short, planting in this dark and forbidding wilderness
the industries, the arts, and even the elegancies of civilization, and do-
ing it at once It never entered into my head to be long about it, but
yet to stick to it, whether for a short or long time, until it was done.

I advertised for a surveyor, and engaged a tall Scotchman who
brought satisfactory references. My preparations necessarily required
some little time, after which, on tlie evening of the 7th of August,
1 861 , Heft Philadelphia to start this work. On the train there were


perhaps a half dozen passengers. Before we got to the nearest regular
station, Forest Grove, I desired the conductor, who was also one of the
lessees of the road, to let us off at an old wood road that led to the farm
of Andrew Sharp, and thus save us 7 or 8 miles of walking. This he
refused to do in a most peremptory manner. I then stated to him my
business. He simply looked at me, shook his head and left me. And
yet my work was to bring his road more passengers, and more business
than any other upon the line for many years to come. We had to get
off at Forest Grove station, and start upon our walk of six miles. We
did not get to Sharp's farm until after dark. As we walked up to the
house several dogs flew out at us, which soon brought the people of
the house to the front. The Sharps were at least glad to see us in their
lonely isolation. That night I engaged several choppers for the next

On the morning of the 8th of August we were up early. It was a
beautiful, clear day, but very warm. I had shown my plan to the sur-
veyor the night before, and I had noticed that he was silent. Now,
before starting out, he was disposed to give me his opinion, which was
to the effect that my plan was not practicable. That I had laid out the
streets and roads uselessly wide, and upon such a scale that nobody
could ever be made to believe that it could be carried out; and that the
design was far too magnificent for the country, or the opportunity He
would advise doing away with the mile square for the town plot, and
make it much smaller; and instead of ignoring the old wood roads of
the country, he would utilize them by selling land upon them, and save
the expense of opening new roads; also, that if anybody should be found
willing to buy any of the land, he would advise the selling it without
any improvement stipulations. He would not exact them for fear
that it would prevent sales. I replied that a magnificent design would
add value to the property, and that the stipulations would give assur-
ance to people that it would be carried out. His ideas were conven-
tional, and sounded wise and prudent, but were such as would surely
fail. I saw that he had no faith in my enterprise, and looked upon it
as the visionary scheme of a dreamer.

We breakfasted early, and were taken to the railroad by Mr.
Sharp, within about three quarters of a mile from the point I wished
to strike, which was the center of the tract. On reaching that point I
moved a little farther south where the ground was higher, and then
directed the stake to be driven for the center of I^andis Avenue and of
Vineland. From this point running eastwardry, Landis Avenue was
surveyed and opened by clearing the ground 100 feet wide, but some of


the best trees were left along the sides, for shade, This was the begin-
ning of the grand avenue ten and a half miles long. When the instru-
ment was properly adjusted, and a right angle taken to the line of the
railroad, the line was started, which was the beginning of all the work
since done in Vineland. As the surveyor was sighting through the
instrument, an old man came along the railroad, and looking at us
curiously, said, "What are you doing ? Building a railroad ?" "No,"
I replied, "I am about to build a city, and an agricultural and fruit-
growing colony around it." "What do you say?" I repeated my
answer and then said, "At this spot I am now opening a grand avenue
a hundred feet wide, and around here in a few years you will see built
hundreds of houses, dwellings, churches, school houses, stores and
factories, and around the town an agricultural country, wdiere products
will be grown adapted to this soil and to this climate. The streets will


Online LibraryCharles K[line] LandisThe founder's own story of the founding of Vineland → online text (page 1 of 2)