Uptown: Hammonton’s highway district
When The Gazette was searching for a name for the commercial district that includes the White Horse Pike (Route 30) and Route 206, we took our cues from the highly successful commercial area along Bellevue Avenue and 12th Street (Route 54) known as the downtown area. Like the downtown area of 20 years ago, the White Horse Pike and Route 206 corridors were —and are — in need of revitalization. A cohesive approach would start with a name that instantly identified the area: the uptown district.
Like the downtown area, the uptown district is a collection of commercial (and a few residential) buildings that house services, restaurants, retail and educational uses. Unlike the very walkable downtown area, the uptown district is on a four-lane highway. The car is the dominant way to access uptown, and businesses cater to car traffic with big parking lots, drive-through windows and easy-access strip centers.
The major shopping centers are Peach Tree Plaza, Blueberry Crossing, Hammonton Square, the Village Shoppes and Broadway Square, filled with shops, offices and restaurants.
AtlantiCare Satellite Emergency Department and Atlantic Medical Imaging (AMI) provide medical services for the town and surrounding communities from their new facility on the White Horse Pike. Nearby, the Hammonton Independent Volunteer Fire Co. No. 2 houses the firetrucks of that company of the Hammonton Volunteer Fire Department.
Uptown seems to move at a fast pace, due to the two major highways that run through it and the heavy traffic flowing on them. In the middle of the 20th Century, farmland gave way to the “big box” stores, strip centers and pad site restaurants that catered to the post World War II car culture. Office buildings soon followed as well.
The new Hammonton High School opened at the intersection of the White Horse Pike and Old Forks Road in 2002, serving the students of Hammonton, Waterford and Folsom.
Recreation is available at Frog Rock Golf and Country Club, located behind Kerri-Brooke Caterers and across from Sail Lake Professional Center, which is located on the shores of Hammonton Lake.
On Route 206, the landmark Red Barn acts as the friendly sentry at the gateway to the town as people drive in from the north. The Red Barn is exactly what its name states, a classic 100-plus-year-old barn, painted a deep red, housing Penza’s Red Barn Café and Pie Shop.
St. Anthony of Padua Church, now a part of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, is also located a little further south on Route 206. The church, built in the late 1960s, has a large hall and grounds used for church picnics and gatherings.
Uptown looks its best when the sun sets over Hammonton Lake, a beautiful view for motorists coming around the bend on the White Horse Pike, where the full glory of the lake can be seen. The lake is a beautiful jewel in the crown of a commercial district that is making swift progress toward being revitalized, using the success of the downtown as its guide toward success while carving out its own niche and separate identity.
Downtown: The heart of Hammonton hums with activity
It’s almost inconceivable now, but once the downtown was nearly abandoned. Empty buildings were left to deteriorate. Vacancy rates hovered near 75 percent, and the streets were home to crime and vagrancy.
It wasn’t even that long ago — just 15 or 20 years.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers spearheaded by the MainStreet Hammonton organization, along with private investment from individuals and businesses and government intervention, today the downtown has reclaimed its status as the heart of Hammonton.
Shops, restaurants, offices offering services, government buildings, educational facilities from kindergarten to college, an arts district featuring a theater, gallery spaces, artist studios and an arts center and green space all have helped create a place that draws people more than 14 hours a day — and even some during the overnight hours.
Historic buildings — many of them more than 100 years old, form the backdrop of the downtown area. Many of those buildings are now filled with some of the town’s most forward-thinking businesses and organizations, fostering a creative vibe that has energized the area.
Hammonton Town Common, located between Peach Street, Vine Street, Central Avenue and Third Street, is the heart of the downtown area. Town Hall — now nearly a decade old — is on one side of the common, and St. Joseph High School is across the street from it. The four-sided Seth Thomas town clock (said to be one of only nine originals left in working condition in the world) and the Chiofalo Fountain are between the two buildings, and the 1939 Hammonton Post Office (a Works Progress Administration (WPA) beauty), M.B. Taylor Masonic Lodge, Key Club Park, the Saints Peter and Paul Traditional Roman Catholic Church and Hammonton Baptist Church all front the common as well.
There are many green spaces in the downtown. Beautiful parks with trees and shrubs, including the towering mature trees of Veterans Park on Bellevue Avenue, can be found throughout the area. The manicured lawn that includes Leo Park, home of the Historical Society of Hammonton Museum. Front Street Park runs the length of the street, from the New Jersey Transit Train Station, past Stockton University’s Kramer Hall, to the replica train pavilion at the intersection of Bellevue Avenue and Front Street. Columbus Plaza is located at the intersection of Egg Harbor Road and Vine Street. These parks form an “emerald necklace” throughout the downtown.
Ronald Reagan Rock, located next to the town Christmas tree at the intersection of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive section of Central Avenue, commemorates the day in 1984 when the president came to town and spoke before nearly 30,000 people.
Places of worship are clustered in the downtown area, attracting people of all faiths. Besides the Baptist and Episcopal churches on the common, there are: Hammonton Methodist Church, Hammonton Presbyterian Church, the Spanish Pentecostal Church and more.
The Hammonton Water Works building dates back to the early 1900s, with the iconic water tower that recalls Hammonton’s industrial past and is emblazoned with the town logo and name.
People in need are served well by the Atlantic County Human Services Building, which is home to the Hammonton Family Success Center.
During the last decade, many buildings were renovated and filled with strong, viable businesses, new sidewalks and roadways were built, seasonal decorations were hung and directional signage was created. The result is a cohesive district that has seen people embrace it with passion. Most of the vacancies, crime and problems are gone, replaced with mothers with strollers, people sitting at tables outside restaurants and huge crowds at public events that bond the people of the community in a setting where they feel safe, comfortable and happy.
The downtown is the heart of Hammonton, the center of the town that keeps us all connected. The quest to revitalize it is far from concluded — emboldened by their many victories, the caring people who are making a difference are working harder than ever to make the downtown the place where Hammontonians — and visitors to the town — come together.
Little Italy: An enclave of ethnic, religious heritage
Hammonton’s Little Italy is bordered by the following streets (according to a grant proposal from the late 2000s by the town): Third Street, Fairview Avenue, Egg Harbor Road and Orchard Street. The area between those streets is largely residential, but also includes some of the most Italian-American businesses, civic organizations and institutions in the town.
In recent years, Little Italy has seen revitalization, with new businesses opening, buildings being remodeled and the resurgence of the town’s biggest celebration, the weeklong Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Part religious observance, part ethnic street festival featuring a block-wide carnival from Amusements of America, food, beverages and entertainment, the high point of the week is the Feast Day of July 16, which features a Grand Procession of Saints through the streets of Hammonton.
The Italian flavor can be seen and felt throughout the year as well. The centerpiece of Little Italy is St. Joseph Church, now part of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish. The church, a mid-century marvel, was built in 1964 on the corner of Third and French Streets, replacing former churches that dated back to the 1800s on the same spot. The former St. Joseph School building is now part of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish. The building dates from the early 1950s (and can actually trace its roots on Third Street to 1939, when the former St. Joseph Convent located across from St. Joseph Church was originally a seminary.
According to the St. Joseph Elementary School website, St. Joseph Elementary School was founded in 1922 by the Pallottine Fathers. Four years later, the school was staffed by the Religious Teachers of St. Lucy Filippini (www.filippiniusa.org) whose mission is to educate and inspire young people with an awareness that will empower them to influence their world in a Christian manner.
The former convent and church are located across French Street from the Mt. Carmel Society Festival Grounds, which encompasses nearly a block of the town and is used for rides and Midway games of Amusements of America each July.
Many of the Italian-American and Catholic civic organizations have their headquarters within walking distance of the festival grounds. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society Hall, the Italian Sons and Daughters Hall, the Knights of Columbus (Pallotti Council) Hall and the Sons of Italy Lodge are all located in Little Italy.
Road repairs, new restaurants, commercial reinvestment, homeowners and young families returning to Little Italy and a recommitment to the area by longtime business owners and residents have helped revitalize the area in recent years. The sounds, smells, tastes and traditions of Hammonton’s Italian-American community are alive and well in Hammonton’s Little Italy.
Hammonton Business Park: the town’s big business
Hammonton Business Park is home to some of the town’s largest companies. The business park is bordered by 12th Street (Route 54), Egg Harbor Road, Weymouth Road, Second Road and 11th Street. Inside those borders are businesses that employ hundreds of people, almost all of them from our town and region.
New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance (NJM) built a $48 million building that employs more than 300 people on its three floors. The building was constructed with vision; it has the ability to double in size as the company continues to grow in Hammonton. (Hammonton is the southern New Jersey headquarters for the company, which has its main headquarters in West Trenton and its northern New Jersey headquarters in Parsippany. When the company had its original offices in uptown Hammonton nearly 20 years ago, it had 25 employees.)
Kramer Beverage Company is located around the corner from NJM. The company on Second Street has been in business for more than 90 years and has called Hammonton home for more than a decade. Its impressive edifice has been an outstanding addition to the business park.
Located across Commerce Way Drive from Kramer Beverage Company, Lexa Concrete is one of the business park’s newer facilities.
Custom Sales and Service, known for its use of diamond plate on vehicles and kiosks, as well as its food trucks and other vehicles, has been located in the business park for decades.
There is a shopping center located at the entrance to the business park. Raspberry Run features services, restaurants, gym space and other commercial space.
Aon, another large local employer, is located at the corner of 12th Street and Second Road, across from Raspberry Run.
The business park covers a large area on the southern side of Hammonton, including many large facilities on S. Egg Harbor Road.
Universal Supply Company’s headquarters are located on this side of the business park, as well as Foley CAT (Caterpillar) known for its heavy construction equipment, and its associated nearby repair facility.
Atlantic County government has a public works building on S. Egg Harbor Road. There are also two large churches located near each other on the same road -- Victory Bible Church and Calvary Chapel.
Hammonton Business Park has grown through the decades, seeing the most significant successes during the last 15 years. More growth is on the horizon for the area, which continues to serve as a major engine of the local economy.