Haddonfield gets ready to celebrate 300 years

At tryouts for town crier in November, Rich LaLena of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities gave Joey Rihl, 10, an audition.
At tryouts for town crier in November, Rich LaLena of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities gave Joey Rihl, 10, an audition. (STEVEN M. FALK/ Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 02, 2013

There's no certainty that a town crier walked the streets of Haddonfield in colonial times.

As the borough celebrates its tricentennial in 2013, however, one or more criers, clad in colonial garb, will shout out proclamations. Tryouts for the volunteer position are under way.

Over the next 12 months, through activities as varied as commemorative Quaker meetings, dance demonstrations, appearances by reenactors, house tours, classroom lessons, and charity work, Haddonfield Tricentennial Committee events will remind residents of the borough's rich history.

It is 300 years since Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh and her husband, John, moved into a new home on what is now Wood Lane. The town, with a current population of 11,500, is named after her father, John Haddon, a London businessman, Quaker, and friend of William Penn.

Elizabeth and John Estaugh's courtship is commemorated in a verse collection that also contains one of America's most famous poems. (More on that later.)

The Tricentennial Committee is headed by Maureen Eyles, a school board member and organizer of the borough's First Night events.

"The entire community has come together on this," Eyles said last week. "Many groups are planning activities that will become part of the celebration."

Fittingly, given the borough's Quaker roots, the first official tricentennial event will be a Jan. 27 Meeting for Worship at the Haddonfield Friends Meeting House. The first meeting house, which was where the Haddonfield Fire House stands today and was built in 1721, was the sole place of worship in the borough for almost a century. The current meeting house dates to 1851.

The Jan. 27 meeting, said Pam Perry, who is helping coordinate the event, will "remind people that Quakers are a living presence in Haddonfield, not just something out of our history."

Perry hopes the tricentennial will "bring people together to remember our beginnings and to continue to develop a spirit of community," she said.

Many tricentennial activities are still in the planning stages. Some are already set.

On Feb. 9, Elizabeth and John Estaugh will be portrayed in period costumes by historical reenactors who have spent months absorbing information about their history. They will appear at the Indian King Tavern, itself a historic site and state museum dating to 1750.

During the American Revolution, the state Legislature sometimes met there. The state seal was adopted at the tavern, and it also is where New Jersey was declared to be a state.

In April, colonial-era dances will be demonstrated during the annual Dance Haddonfield celebration at Tavistock Country Club.

In December, the Holiday House Tour will focus on historical residences. One of Haddonfield's oldest buildings is the Samuel Mickle House, which dates to the early 1700s. It now holds the Haddonfield Historical Society's library. A brewhouse that was part of the original Estaugh home also survives.

A tricentennial curriculum will be offered to schools. And high school students will record oral histories of residents with notable stories to tell.

Past Haddonfield greats also will be remembered, Eyles said, including Tom Sims, who invented one of the first snowboards in a Haddonfield seventh-grade shop class. He died in September.

A project named "300 Days of Service" will list charitable groups on the tricentennial website and seek to connect residents with them, said Carrie Valleau, who is helping organize the effort.

Some of the volunteer work will be recorded and showcased later in the year.

"We believe one of the best ways to honor the town is through giving back," Valleau said.

By this fall, a new biography of Elizabeth Estaugh should be ready, said historical society president Lee Albright. Haddonfield's bicentennial celebration sparked the formation of the historical society and an open space movement, Albright said.

"We're hoping the 300th will foster a renewed sense of community pride and provide the same kind of kick-start," Albright said.

Many Haddonfield residents may not know that Elizabeth Haddon and John Estaugh are the main characters in a Longfellow poem, part of an 1863 collection titled Tales of a Wayside Inn.

The collection's second poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," is still widely recited, though its historical accuracy has been challenged.

Longfellow's poem about the Haddons is "The Theologian's Tale: Elizabeth." It tells of their courtship.

The poem is likely the origin of a famous phrase. It goes, in part:

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,

Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;

So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,

Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

Contact Dan Hardy at 856-779-3858 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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