Beauty Pageant Helps Recall History of Penns Grove
There is perhaps no more fitting occasion for the Exchange Club’s Miss Salem County Beauty Pageant than the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the
Borough of Penns Grove.
Separately each would be among the county’s biggest and most exciting affairs of the year. Combined as they are they add up to the number one activity
of 1969 for all of Salem county.
“A marvelous mating of significant events”. That is the view of the 75th Anniversary Committee as they look at the comperative effort. The Exchange
Club is an important partner in the Committee’s efforts to properly observe the occasion of Penns Grove’s 75th birthday. It can make no finer event than
to bring together the county’s most beautiful young ladies for a contest that adds lustre to the anniversary week program.
It was quite by accident that the Club became the sponsor for the beauty pageant. Back in January a small group of community leaders recognized the
need to celebrate the community’s diamond jubilee. That same month the 75th Anniversary Committee was organized.
All of the organizations in Penns Grove were invited to participate and with their usual spirit of cooperation the Exchange Club agreed to plan and
coordinate a local beauty pageant. During the planning stage the Club discovered that it could acquire the Miss America Beauty Pageant franchise for
Salem County. The Club jumped at the opportunity and suddenly Penns Grove’s 75th anniversary was the occasion for a pageant that could produce a
Even with the larger scope of femine beauty, the Anniversary remains the primary purpose of the celebration. It is a tribute to those men and women of
earlier days who pioneered and built the community which in 1894 was incorporated as the borough of Penns Grove.
Only a beautiful wooded area nestled along the eastejn bank of the Delaware river greeted the first visitors to the area that became Penns Neck
Township and later Penns Grove.
William Penn, who purchased all of John Fenwick’s rights title and interest in West Jersey in 1682, gave his name to the area and it became Penns Neck.
IN 1721 the township was divided into Upper and Lower Penns Neck by court order. A hundred years later William Penn again gave his name to a small
section of river front land and it was known as Penns Grove.
But before the name came into general use there was a beginning of a community at the river end of what is now Maple Ave., Andrew Helm, on of the
original Swedes to settle in the area, was granted a license for a tavern and ferry to run to Christiana (now Wilmington), Del.
Helm’s Tavern was located in a brick house on East Maple Ave., generally known as the Summerill house. His little community was known far and wide as
Helms Cove and the term is recognized even today as the very southern part of Penns Grove. In 1834 it had grown to a village with “eight dwellings, a
tavern and a store”.
The first known usage of the name Penns Grove appeared on the cornerstone of a school building in 1821. “Penns Grove School, 1821" was inscribed
for posterity on the cornerstone of a unique octogonal building commonly referred to as the “Eight Square School located on the property know called the
Delaware Ordinance Depot. The first post office using the Penns March 27, 1844.
Helm’s Cove thrived in its early days and with its bustling commerce came expansion northward to the area now recognized as the center of Penns
Grove. Although West Main St., was not officially laid out as a street until 1882, a wharf was built at the end of the street as early as 1829.
The Wilmington-Philadelphia steamboat landed at the wharf each day and a four-horse stagecoach ran from the ferry to Salem.
Upper Penns Neck township continued to grow in the years before the Civil War and as it grew Penns grove, still a part of the Township, began to take
shape. During the war the Penns Grove area mustered almost an entire company from its menfolk. From 115 houses in the area, Company K. 24th
Regiment, mustered 21 officers and 72 men. That was in September, 1862.
When the war ended commercial interestes turned to fishing and by the 1920's it had developed into the principal industry of the community. During the
hey day of fishing in the area shad was so plentiful that a seine fisher off Carney’s Point caught 25 to 50 bushels on a single haul.
As late as 1910 there were 203 shad boats operating out of Salem County, manned by 406 men, most of them from the Penns Neck area. Philadelphia
was the big market for shad and Capt. Sameule Denny of Penns Grove was for many years a familiar figure aboard his steamer “Admiral” as he plyed the
waters between the two ports with precisous cargoes of fish.
Shad fishing gave way to sturgeon, in great demand for the caviar it provided. “The King of Caviar”, Penns Grove’s Harry A Dalbow, developed a vaccum
pack for caviar that helped build an industry in Penns Grove. Dalbow teamed up with the Hansen Company of Hamburg, Germany, to import Russian
caviar which was canned locally and distributed to all the large American markets. The building still stands on Railroad Ave.
The fishing boom of the last two decades of the nineteenth century gave rise to a growing desire for a separate local government. The campaign that
followed was climaxed in 1894 when a one-mile square area along the river from Helms Cove north was incorporated as the Borough of penns Grove.
The new borough could boast of 337 houses, three general stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, one ice house, one men’s clothing store, two
churches, two livery stable, one drug store, two coal yards, an Odd Fellows Hall, and one newspaper, the Penns Grove Record which was founded in
Penns Grove became a bustling boom town during World War I when the DuPont Powder Works produced millions of pounds of powder for the war effort.
Population estimates ran as high as 15,000 for the borough.
In the years since then the borough has stabilized its population between six and seven thousand. It retains its mayor-council form of government.
Now, with a hectic history of population and industry behind it, the borough looks forward to a new era of rebuilding and popularity.
The Penns Grove Record
Borough of Penns Grove
75th Anniversary Supplement
August 14, 1969