Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anchors aweigh in Brooklawn: the hidden naval history of Noreg Village

Wrong turns can lead you into some puzzling places, as was reconfirmed to me recently. I was driving along Broadway in Gloucester City, looking for the waterfront and Proprietors' Park, when I overshot and ended up driving through a very compact housing area. Uniformly-designed, smallish stucco houses, both attached and unattached, stood on postage stamp-sized lots along narrow streets barely wide enough to accommodate two cars across.

The neighborhood put me in the mind of company housing, arranged on a modified grid. One road wound against the Delaware River and a small inlet, marking the outside border of the neighborhood. Other roads branched from a central Paris Avenue like veins on a leaf, with names evoking the local geography (Pennsylvania, New Jersey) and World War I (Pershing, Marne). It all seemed to have been planned to get the maximum density of housing into a peninsula hemmed in by river and creek. Might this might have been a quickly-built village for workers at the Gloucester City and Camden shipyards?

A recent look at Noreg Village housing
That, as I discovered later, was exactly the case. Shortly after the United States entered the war in April 1917, the Navy ordered 30 destroyers and other ship components from the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, prompting the company to ramp up work at its Camden shipyard. Additional workers poured into the region to supply labor, but they needed places to live and house their families.

In a strategy that would later be echoed in World War II developments like Winfield Park and Victory Gardens, the federal government financed the construction of homes for about 6500 shipyard workers in a riverside portion of what was then known as Centre Township. Built by the U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, the middle-income community was completed in 1917. New residents surged into the neighborhood, which was then called Noreg Village.

In 1923, well after the end of hostilities in Europe, the government held a massive auction of the 450 properties, including some commercial buildings and undeveloped lots. Home prices ranged from $1875 to $4000 for two- and three-bedroom properties described in promotional materials as the "ideal place of residence" for "the highest type of men and their families."

Brooklawn was officially formed as a borough in 1924 when it joined a growing number of hamlets separating from Centre Township by referendum. (Lawnside did the same two years later, rendering its parent township defunct.) Now home to about 2000 residents, its residential stock includes additional homes built to the east of Broadway, the road I'd taken to discover this little-known evidence of New Jersey's contribution to America's World War history.


6 comments:

  1. The house I grew up in was one of the "model" homes in the neighborhood. It had a much larger livingroom than most of the homes there and it had a dinning room too. Many of the other row homes didn't have a dinning room. We had a closed in porch and a large back yard(ours was an end of a row). My dad added a dormer when the family grew too big for the house. I had so many wonderful memories as a child growing up in that house. We had wonderful neighbors and friends. My parents lived in that house for over 40 years. The house today is still owned by a family member. It was a great time being raised in my hometown of Brooklawn.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your memories, katpen. Brooklawn struck me as a really sweet place to grow up -- a cozy, small community.

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    2. It truly was a "Leave it to Beaver" neighborhood....those were the days....

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  2. Awesome read. I live in town and its the best place in the world. Thanks for the write up, if you ever come back, beers on me. 4th street.

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  3. i call brooklawn "sj's best kept secret".....my house used to be the corner store...so proud to live and raise kids here.

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    1. oh wow! my grandparents owned that store & my dad & aunt grew up there- I have early childhood memories there- do you have any pictures!?!?!
      Fondly~
      Jacki Kollar
      ykityjk@aol.com

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