Elmer was formed on the dividing line of Pittsgrove and Upper Pittsgrove Townships and incorporated as a borough via public referendum January 24, 1893. The town was named after Judge Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Elmer, a jurist respected state-wide, who had presided over Salem County’s then-famous Treadway murder case and also produced the first compendium of New Jersey state statutes. As a Congressman, Elmer was largely responsible for securing a post office for the town.
Elmer was originally called "Cohockan," which means "cedar swamp land," by Lenni Lenape Indians, who camped there while on hunting trips from Delaware. These Indians were a division of the Algonquin Tribe. Europeans named them "Delawares" after the river by which most of them lived.
They came to Elmer when it was a wilderness. These people used the little stream, Muddy Run, whose headwaters are in Upper Pittsgrove Township, and its confluence with the Maurice River a short distance above what is Union Lake in Millville. At that time the stream was an excellent source of fresh water and fish. Most of the Delawares left the state and joined the Iroquois in New York. In 1801, the Indians gave up all title to lands in the state.
Besides Cohockan, Elmer had a variety of other names. One of the earliest was Ticktown. Then the town was named after Lord Pitt of the English Parliament, and became Pittstown (this name is on the cornerstone of the earliest portion of the Elmer United Methodist Church). However, when the postal service came to New Jersey, it was discovered there already was a Pittstown in North Jersey. Then Elmer also acquired the nickname of "Terrapin Town."
Elmer straddles part of the dividing line between Pittsgrove and Upper Pittsgrove Townships, and is located along Elmer Lake (on the Muddy Run). Elmer is in the center of an area of Salem County which exceeds 100 feet above sea level. Soils in the area are very fertile, making it an ideal place for agriculture and nursery businesses.
Elmer flourished as a transportation center with the opening of the West Jersey Railroad line between Bridgeton and Woodbury in 1862. The railroad bed, once the bustling center of town activity but now abandoned and the rails removed, still marks the dividing line between north and south Main Street.
According to the Elmer Times, Elmer’s industries in the early 1900s included two large glass and shoe factories, two saw mills, several feed mills and sewing factories. The railroad served as the hub of a thriving potato market with farmer’s wagons filling the area around the station on delivery days.
The land on which most of Elmer was built was owned by David Hitchner, who purchased it from John Elwell, who was a blacksmith, wheelwright, and owned much property. The sons of David Hitchner--Hiram Hitchner, Dr. C.F. Hitchner, and R.M Hitchner--laid out the parts of their inheritance and sold them to residents of Elmer from time to time as the town became more thickly populated.
There are some interesting myths connected with Elmer’s early years. One is that Main Street was formed because there was a tavern at each end, and a path was worn between them. Another is that Elmer was started as a retirement town, where retiring farmers moved to live out their lives when their farms were passed to younger family members.
Before the town was incorporated, people went to different townships to vote. If they lived on one side of town (south of the railroad tracks), they voted in the Centerton section of Pittsgrove Township; if they lived on the other side, they voted in the Pole Tavern section of Upper Pittsgrove Township.
The continued urging of men like the Hitchners and Samuel P. Foster, owner/editor of the Elmer Times, were the driving force that led to Elmer’s 1893 incorporation. A petition was drawn in 1892 by George M. Bacon, Esq., and S.P. Foster, and signatures were obtained. In January 1892, petition was made before Judge Alfred J. Reed of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for the Elmer section inhabitants of Pittsgrove and Upper Pittsgrove to hold an election for and against the forming of a Borough within said townships. The election was held in Reed’s Hall January 24, 1893, with the results positive. Only men could vote.
The first Borough officers were elected March 14, 1893. The first mayor was Franklin Beckett. He was also the lamplighter. Members of the Borough Council were Charles Morris, David Elwell, Frank Sturr, George Frazier, Frederick Schnetzler and C. B. Creamer. The council met in Armon’s Hall (now the "Main Street Peddler" building). The Assessor was Eugene Bostwick and the Collector was William Strang. Appropriations were: Roads, $600; Borough Purposes, $800; and Poor Funds, $50.
The Borough bought the Elmer Water Works from a private Pennsylvania concern in 1960. In 1975, under Mayor Robert Richards, the system was expanded to provide water service to the entire Borough. The original standpipe was replaced with a new water tower in 1990, paid for largely through a special state legislative grant arranged by Assemblymen Jack Collins and Gary Stuhltrager.
The Elmer Fire Department was formed Feb. 25, 1901 following a disastrous fire that destroyed many properties on S. Main Street, between Broad and State Streets. In 1909 the department was housed in the Borough Hall on Broad Street. The firemen built their own hall under direction of Chief Charles Dodge. This modern facility was dedicated in 1964. The department still maintains its original, hand-powered pumper, the "Merrimac" purchased in 1887 from the Andover, Mass. Fire Dept.
According to the Elmer Times, the following were flourishing in Elmer in the early 1900s: two large glass factories (one on the site of the community park on Rte. 40); two big shoe factories; one spindle factory, one millwright and machine shop; two saw mills; two grist and flour mills; two creameries; three livery stables; one hotel; three blacksmith shops, two wheelwright and carriage building and trimming shops; three barber shops, three poultry buyers, two bakers; eight grocery and dry goods stores, two flour, feed and farm implement stores, a newspaper, one dealer in organs and pianos, two cobbler and shoemaker shops, two wallpaper stores, four churches, two public school buildings; and more.
(From "Borough of Elmer 1893-1993," © 1993, Elmer Centennial Committee, and other sources.)
While the railroad and the original industries are gone, the town continues to thrive. The town has three unique features: the Elmer Community Hospital (now known as South Jersey Health System-Elmer, and one of the two hospitals in Salem County), founded and built by local residents in the 1940s and now part of the South Jersey Health System, which continues to expand its services; the Elmer Times, a weekly newspaper owned by the same Elmer family for more than 100 years; and the home-owned First National Bank of Elmer, also founded more than 100 years ago.
Elmer, designated a "Town Center" under the State’s Master Plan, is a commercial center to the surrounding townships of Pittsgrove and Upper Pittsgrove. It is home to Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches; General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler Corp. auto dealerships, a diner, coffee and bagel shop, three pizza parlors/restaurants; four banking institutions, a candle/gift factory, and four candle/crafts/gift stores. The town has its own police and fire departments and ambulance corps.
ELMER BOROUGH MAYORS
(From incorporation to present)
Based on a list in "Borough of Elmer 1893-1993,"
© 1993, Elmer Centennial Committee
1893 Franklin Beckett
(March-Sept., died in office)
Wm. B. Hendrickson
Harold S. Cain
Daniel C. Christy, Jr.
Benjamin ("Jerry") W.Timberman
Robert E. Richards
Robert T. Fetters
Richard M. Irelan
Theodore Ridgway, Jr.
Herbert D. Stiles, Jr.
Samuel H. Wright