A visionary and a dreamer, Philadelphia native Charles K. Landis set out to create a town where hardworking men could earn a living farming the land. He found an ideal site in the heart of South Jersey – one with the presence of the railroad, affording easy access to the marketplace of Philadelphia. On August 8th, 1861, Landis acquired 20,000 acres and paid workers $1 per day to cut an avenue 100 feet wide and about one mile long, using the railroad as a center point. Upon completion of the first leg of Landis Avenue, Landis set out to establish a post office in the still desolate town he called Vineland.
Landis began advertising his planned community throughout the U.S. and overseas in the hope of luring farmers to settle. In 1862, the first house was built on East and Landis Avenues. Shortly thereafter, direct train service was established to Vineland from Philadelphia and New York. By 1865 a population of roughly 5,500 had settled in Vineland.
In addition to its hardworking farmers and industrialists, the new community attracted many idealistic and progressive settlers. Throughout the years, Vineland men and women stood at the forefront of many reform movements. The Friends of Progress – a group formed to support, discuss and promote progressive thinking – erected Plum Street Hall for meetings, lectures and other town gatherings. Many of the group’s discussions focused on Equal Rights, and on December 4, 1866, the Equal Rights Association was formed. One month later, the Equal Rights and Universal Peace Association held a convention at Plum Street Hall and elected new officers.
In late August 1867, a mass meeting on Impartial Suffrage was held in Vineland. A year later, in September 1868, Susan B. Anthony spoke at Plum Street Hall, and on November 3, 1868 – 52 years before the 19th amendment was passed allowing women the right to vote – 172 women cast votes in the Presidential election.
Landis kept a strong hold over the community. He tried to ensure that Vineland remained a “dry” town and a law was passed prohibiting the sale of liquor. Because many of the churches needed wine for their religious ceremonies, a man by the name of Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch came up with the idea of preserving grape juice without fermenting it, hence alcohol free, in 1869. The demand for the grape juice spread rapidly, spurring Welch to form the Welch’s Fruit Juice Company, forerunner of today’s internationally known Welch Company. Dr. Welch set up a factory site near his second house, at Wood and Sixth Streets, where the Vineland Police Department is now housed. Operations were eventually moved to New York State, where a more plentiful supply of Concord grapes could be found.
In the late 1940s the poultry business took off in Vineland. The city became a leader in the industry, earning recognition as “The Egg Basket of America.” Ultimately, new technology brought an end to the poultry business in Vineland and, over time, new industries such as glass manufacturers, food processors and clothing companies were established in addition to farming. Retail stores abounded in a thriving downtown section, reaching its peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
A major milestone in Vineland’s history occurred on July 1, 1952, when two subsections of the town, Landis Township and the Borough of Vineland, were consolidated to become one city. Today, nearly 60,000 people call the City of Vineland home – a far cry from the city’s beginnings in the Civil War year of 1861.
Vineland continues to cherish its rich past, recently celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2011. The community hosts an annual Founders Day in May. The city honored its 150th birthday first on August 7, 2011, with the Birthday Barbecue, Carnival, Parade and Fireworks, then on September 24, 2011, at the Civil War Ball. The city’s history remains preserved, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society – the second-oldest historical society in New Jersey. The society operates a museum and library that houses numerous interesting pieces of local history, and hosts a variety of events and activities designed to keep the history of Vineland alive for generations to come.