Lawnside, NJ has been a history making town since the 1700's. On November 5th, Lawnside made history again by being the first independent self-governing African-American community north of the Mason-Dixon Line to join PADD® in our mission to end distracted driving. We are proud to have our campaign help save the lives of the entire Lawnside community and to the general public shopping, visiting or just traveling through Lawnside.
PADD® president Mike Kellenyi presented "Nikki's Story" and PADD's mission to Mayor Wardlow, Council President Wakefield-More. Councilmen Pollard, Councilmen Rains, Councilmen Still, Councilmen Moore, Sergeant William Plenty and members of the community. It was a unanimous decision to begin immediately installing signs and scheduling to speak to schools and community events.
A LONG AND RICH AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY
If you drive through the Camden County borough of Lawnside, you'd be excused for thinking it's no different from any other small town in New Jersey. The typical appearance of its shops, school, and modest homes belie its history as the first independent self-governing African-American community north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
According to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, people of African descent began settling in what's now Lawnside in the 1700s. Both freedman and escaped slaves were drawn to the community, and as the anti-slavery movement grew, Philadelphia abolitionist Ralph Smith began purchasing land in the area. To encourage further settlement in the place he called Free Haven, Smith divided the acreage into lots and sold it to blacks at reduced prices. When a group of former slaves from Maryland joined the community, it became known as Snow Hill, after their former home. The current name of Lawnside was coined in 1907 when the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad built a station stop there.
All the while, the community was part of the larger Centre Township, with representation on the town council. As it grew to have its own school, churches, shops, and distinct culture, it was clear that Lawnside should stand on its own. Through an act of the New Jersey Legislature, Centre Township was disbanded and Lawnside officially became a Borough in 1926. To this day, Lawnside's population continues to be predominantly African American and extremely proud of our heritage, as evidenced on our Borough seal.
Considering its roots, it's not surprising that the community that became Lawnside made its own contributions to the freedom effort. Nearly fifty men joined the Union Army during the Civil War, likely in the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops that mustered out of Philadelphia. The hamlet was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, and its respected resident minister an agent. Preacher Peter Mott's house was the station, and it's been restored by the Lawnside Historical Society