The Heritage of William Penn
Penns Grove Record
August 14, 1969
The Name of Penns Grove, like that of Upper Penns Neck, Lower Penns Neck, and Pennsville, stems from the name of the illustrious William Penn.
This region was the first land owned by William Penn in the United States. It was on March 1, 1682, that he purchased by deed all of John Fenwick’s
rights, title and interest in West Jersey.
Due to the fact that Salem county was an intricate and important part of West Jersey, he proceeded to give deeds for unoccupied lands north of Salem
According to the 1968 Salem County Yearbook the region between Salem Creek and Oldmans Creek was named Penns Neck Township. In 1721, this
area being too large to govern properly, the court ordered the division into Upper and Lower Penns Neck.
The first village in Upper Penns Neck was Helms Cove, where a store and tavern came into existence. Andrew Helm, one of the original Swedish families,
was granted a license for a tavern and a ferry to run to Christiana (now Wilmington).
The tavern was in a brick house located on East Maple Avenue known as the Summerhill house. During the revolution, a British warship shot a
cannonball through the west wall of the house. The ball is now in possession of Katherine Summerill Madole, the present owner.
In 1834 Helms Cove (now the southern part of the borough) was listed in the New Jersey Gazetteer as a “village twelve miles north of Salem” containing
eight dwellings, a tavern and a store.
By this time the name of Penns Grove had come into being. The first time the name was used was on the eight-sided brick schoolhouse know as the
“eight Square School” located on what has been known “Delaware Ordinance Depot”. The marble cornerstone is inscribed, “Penns Grove School, 1821".
In 1829 Wilmington businessmen built a wharf at the foot of West Main Street, but the street was not laid out officially until 1882.
The Wilmington-Philadelphia steamboat landed daily, and a four horse stage ran from the ferry to Salem. By 1884 the township contained one friends
Meeting House and one Methodist Church, five one-room schoolhouses, five taverns, six stores, one grist-mill and one sawmill. The gristmill was built by
Thomas Carney at Laytons Lake. The 447 taxable inhabitants included women who could vote from 1776 to 1844.
By the time of the Civil War, Upper Penns Neck had grown to 582 houses, with 563 voters (all male at this time). In 1863 the budget contained
$67,192.10 for army volunteer and draftee bounty payments.
War expenses were all raised locally and by the county. There was no state or federal assistance. The Penns Grove area did its part in the Civil War.
Company K. 24th Regiment, mustered in September 1862, was composed almost entirely of Penns Grove men - 21 officers and 72 men. There were
only 115 houses in the Penns Grove area.
The first post office was located in the Cove store in Helms Cove in 1826. The mails were brought twice a week from Westville by wagon until 1863. The
mails was then brought by wagon from Yorktown, then the end of the railroad.
It was not until 1876 that the railroad came into Penns Grove. With the impetus of the steamboat landing, the area around it became known as Penns
Grove and it grew sufficiently that the first post office by the name of Penns Grove was established on March 27, 1844.
Penns Grove experienced a post office robbery on January 16, 1916. There were five men implicated. A gun battle ensured and two men were shot.
The third surrendered and two escaped. The latter were captured boarding the train the next morning at Pedricktown. The post office was then in the
Yeader-Layton building, corner of Main and Penn Streets. This building burned down in 1964.
During World War I the business center expanded greatly in the vicinity of Broad and Main streets, and the merchants were instrumental in having the
post office moved into the Poland Building in December 1916 where it remained for 22 years. On Nov. 16, 1940 it went into the new federal post office on
West Main Street.
In 1875 there were 122 houses, two blacksmith shops, four general stores, one hotel, one cigar manufacturer, one drug store, one school, one church
and a lumber and coal yard. By 1894 the town had grown to 337 houses, three general stores, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, one icehouse, one men’
s clothing store, two churches, two livery stables, one drug store, two coal yards, and an Odd Fellows Hall.
The citizens becoming dissatisfied with township administration had the borough incorporated on Feb. 20, 1894. One of the first official acts was the
erection of kerosene street lamps and the purchase of barge-loads of oyster shells to build roads.
During World War I, Penns Grove was packed with people working at the DuPont Powder Works. It was estimated that 15,000 persons were living here.
Nearly every home had roomers, and some beds were used in double shifts. The Powder Works expanded until over a million pounds of powder was
made per day.
Penns Grove is still governed by a Mayor and six Councilmen. It has two banks, the federal post office, a new large public library, a Savings and Loan
Association, and over 1500 homes. Among the fraternal orders of the borough are the Masons, Elks, Moose and many women’s organizations.