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Burlington was first incorporated on October 24, 1693, and was reincorporated by Royal charter on May 7, 1733. After American independence, the city was incorporated by the State of New Jersey on December 21, 1784. On March 14, 1851, the city was reincorporated and enlarged with portions of the surrounding township.
Burlington was originally the county seat of Burlington County. In 1796, in response to the growth of population to the east away from the Delaware River, the county seat was moved to Mount Holly Township, a more central location.
The council of West Jersey Proprietors purchased roughly 30 miles (48 km) of riverfront land in 1676 from the LenapeNative Americans. Burlington was founded on part of that land by English settlers (primarily Quakers) in 1677. It served as the capital of the province until 1702, when West Jersey and East Jersey were combined into a single Crown Colony.
Burlington takes its name (including the county name) from the English east-coast town of Bridlington, of which Burlington was a district. It is now amalgamated into the larger Bridlington town.
The Quakers formally established their congregation in 1678. Initially, they met in private homes; between 1683 and 1687, Francis Collings constructed a hexagonal meeting house of brick. Over the next century, the membership grew substantially and a larger building was needed. The present meeting house on High Street was built in 1783 in front of the old meeting house and cemetery. The cemetery predated the first building. A tablet commemorates that the Lenape chief King Ockanickon, a loyal friend of the English settlers, was buried here in 1681. The oldest gravestone is inscribed "D.B. 1726." Many notable Quakers are buried here.
One of the oldest buildings in Burlington is known as the Revell House. Originally built in 1685 for George Hutchinson, it stood on East Pearl Street. The property was purchased by Thomas Revell, one of the original Anglo-European settlers. Local tradition associates this house with the young Benjamin Franklin, who received gingerbread from the household while traveling from Boston to Philadelphia.
In the early 20th century, the house was purchased by the Annis Stockton Chapter of the DAR for use as their clubhouse. The Colonial Burlington Foundation acquired and restored it in the 1950s.
Many institutions established in the 18th century continue to function in the 21st century. After the Quakers, the second oldest religious congregation in Burlington were the Anglicans (later known as Episcopalians). Their original church, Old St. Mary's, is the oldest church in Burlington and New Jersey. The congregation was founded in 1702 by George Keith and John Talbot. Talbot became the first minister and laid the cornerstone for the church in 1703. He served as the church's rector until 1725. The congregation prospered, and the church became the see of the Anglican bishops of New Jersey.
Bishop Doane founded an Episcopal girls' boarding school, St. Mary's, in Burlington in 1838, at a time when interest in girls' education led to development of schools for them in many areas. Girls from families up and down the East Coast came to study there, from as far as New England, Virginia, and upstate New York. St. Mary's provided a classical education, as well as classes in arts and music.
The Library Company of Burlington was organized in 1757 as a "free" library open to the public as well as members. There were 60 members of the original Library Company, each paying ten shillings per year to support the institution. The Library received a Charter from King George II of Great Britain in 1758. The Library's books were kept in members' homes for a few years: Thomas Rodman's at 446 South High Street and, after 1767, Robert Smith's at 218 High Street. In 1789 the Library moved to its own building. In the early 21st century, the Library is housed in a stone building that was built on West Union Street in 1864. The Burlington Library is the oldest continuously operating library in New Jersey and the nation's seventh oldest.
The Endeavor Fire Company was organized in 1795. It was one of the four companies in the Burlington Fire Department when it was organized almost a century later. Endeavor was the first permanent firefighting organization in Burlington and remains one of the oldest fire companies under its original name in the state. By 1882, the company had relocated to its present building, which was erected in 1852 as a Market House.
Burlington has been the home of many notable people including John Lawrence, a politician and his son, Captain James Lawrence. The elder Lawrence served in the State Assembly, as Mayor of Burlington, New Jersey in 1769, and as a member of the Provincial Council from 1771 to 1775. He was suspected of being loyal to the British during the Revolution, which ended his career. His son was born on October 1, 1781, and became a legend during the War of 1812 with the command "Don't Give Up the Ship." Lawyer and writer, James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote The Last of the Mohicans, was also from Burlington. His father was a merchant there before buying land and developing Cooperstown, New York after the Revolution.
As education for girls and young women became emphasized in the 19th century, Bishop George Washington Doane founded St. Mary's Hall in 1837 in association with the Episcopal diocese as the first Episcopal boarding school offering a classical education for girls and the first such school in New Jersey. In the 20th century, a boys' school was added. It is now known as Doane Academy and is a private, co-educational school for grades from Pre-K through 12th.
The building at 301 High Street houses the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in New Jersey. Originally a dwelling, the ground floor was converted to commercial use around 1845 by William Allinson, a druggist, local historian, and leading Quaker abolitionist. He used the building as a center of anti-slavery activity.John Greenleaf Whittier denounced slavery from the doorstep, and local tradition holds that fugitive slaves hid in tunnels under the building in their passage on the Underground Railroad. New Jersey ended slavery, but many fugitives wanted to go further north, beyond the reach of slave catchers.
During the 19th century, Burlington City was known for the quality and quantity of its manufacturing. The shoe industry rivaled shipbuilding and canning in prominence. The 1850 United States Census indicates that the largest number of men were employed in the shoe industry, followed closely by carpentry and bricklaying. J. Frank Budd got his start in the shoe business at a Burlington shoe company just after the Civil War. In 1887, J.F. Budd broke ground for a children's "shoeworks" at the corner of Penn and Dilwyn streets. The company employed approximately 325 people and operated six days a week for ten hours a day. The J.F. Budd Baby Shoe Company billed itself as the "largest baby shoe plant in the world."
The commercial activity provided revenues for the City's cultural activity. In 1839, a Lyceum was erected as a venue for lectures, concerts, and public meetings. It served in that capacity until 1851, when it was turned over to the city to be used as the City Hall. The municipal offices' move was concurrent with the adoption of a new City charter.
The Oneida Boat Club was organized in 1873 by a group of 10 members. It is named for one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York. Over the next few years, membership in the club grew rapidly. In 1876, they dedicated their newly built clubhouse on the banks of the Delaware River at York Street. The Oneida is the oldest continuously operating boat club located on the Delaware River.
During the 19th century, the City of Burlington developed in a grid pattern from the main crossroads of High and Broad streets. Blocks of attached rowhouses built in the latest architectural style characterize the city as a 19th-century town. Ferries carried traffic across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania before bridges were built.
This historic carriage house now houses the local tourism office in Burlington.
Burlington's waterfront park along the river was developed as a result of urban renewal and flood control projects in the late 1960s and 1970s. The shoreline improvements--revetments, walkways, etc.--span the city's Delaware riverfront from the Burlington-Bristol Bridge to Assiscunk Creek.
The remains of former waterfront industries, ferry terminals, and docks were demolished. Development of an open, grassy park with a tree-lined waterfront esplanade has reconnected city residents to the riverfront for recreation. This also ensures that business properties are not at risk during floods and reduces damages.
In this period, the United States federal and state governments began to value their historic assets more highly, and efforts were made to preserve structures that were significant to the layered history of places. In addition to recognition of individual structures, such as the National Historic Landmark St. Mary's Church, the city has two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with multiple contributing buildings: the Burlington Historic District includes structures from both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is adjacent to the city's High Street Historic District.
The Oneida Clubhouse narrowly escaped demolition during the urban renewal campaign. It was saved and renovated. As the new esplanade was built on fill that added land between the building and river's edge, it created a landlocked clubhouse for the boat club.
Burlington Coat Factory was founded in 1924 as a wholesaler of ladies' coats and outerwear. The modern company was formed in 1972 when Monroe Milstein purchased a warehouse in the outskirts of the city of Burlington. He started selling coats and outerwear there at discount prices. The company gradually added other apparel, including suits, shoes, and accessories, and has branched out to include baby items and linens, all at discount prices. The company's corporate headquarters was moved from the city to Burlington Township in 1988. The Burlington Coat Factory relocated to a new store site in the fall of 2008.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 3.782 square miles (9.793 km2), including 3.063 square miles (7.932 km2) of land and 0.719 square miles (1.861 km2) of water (19.00%).
There were 3,858 households out of which 27.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.6% were married couples living together, 20.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.8% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.18.
In the city, the population was spread out with 23.9% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 26.4 % from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38.9 years. For every 100 females there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and older there were 83.8 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $48,317 (with a margin of error of +/- $3,334) and the median family income was $62,049 (+/- $6,446). Males had a median income of $43,146 (+/- $7,469) versus $40,929 (+/- $3,562) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $24,612 (+/- $1,541). About 10.6% of families and 11.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.0% of those under age 18 and 7.4% of those age 65 or over.
There were 3,898 households out of which 27.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.6% were married couples living together, 17.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.3% were non-families. 29.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.9% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 16.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $43,115, and the median income for a family was $47,969. Males had a median income of $38,012 versus $28,022 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,208. About 5.4% of families and 8.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.2% of those under age 18 and 7.0% of those age 65 or over.
The City of Burlington is governed within the Faulkner Act (formally known as the Optional Municipal Charter Law) under the Mayor-Council form of municipal government (Plan 4), implemented based on the recommendations of a Charter Study Commission as of January 1, 1992. The governing body consists of a mayor and a seven-member Common Council, all elected on a partisan basis in balloting held as part of the November general election. The Mayor serves a four-year term of office. The Common Council consists of seven members, each serving four-year terms of office: three at-large Councilmembers are elected to represent the entire city, while four are elected from single-member districts, known as wards. The three at-large and mayoral seats are up for election in one cycle, and the ward seats are elected two years later.
As of 2019[update], the Mayor of Burlington City is Democrat Barry W. Conaway, whose term of office ends December 31, 2019. Members of the City Council are Council President Ila Marie Lollar (Ward 4; D, 2021), Vice President David Babula (At-Large; D, 2019), George Chachis (Ward 1; D, 2021), Helen F. Hatala (Ward 3; D, 2021), Jeanette M. Mercuri (At-Large; D, 2019), Thomas J. Swan (Ward 2; R, 2021) and Suzanne E. Woodard (At-Large; D, 2019).
In January 2016, the City Council appointed George Chachis to fill the Ward 1 seat expiring in 2017 that had been held by Barry Conaway until he was appointed as mayor.
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 5,765 registered voters in Burlington City, of which 2,813 (48.8% vs. 33.3% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 795 (13.8% vs. 23.9%) were registered as Republicans and 2,150 (37.3% vs. 42.8%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 7 voters registered to other parties. Among the city's 2010 Census population, 58.1% (vs. 61.7% in Burlington County) were registered to vote, including 76.4% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 80.3% countywide).
In the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 3,138 votes here (72.0% vs. 58.1% countywide), ahead of Republican Mitt Romney with 1,146 votes (26.3% vs. 40.2%) and other candidates with 35 votes (0.8% vs. 1.0%), among the 4,356 ballots cast by the city's 6,097 registered voters, for a turnout of 71.4% (vs. 74.5% in Burlington County). In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 3,285 votes here (69.9% vs. 58.4% countywide), ahead of Republican John McCain with 1,308 votes (27.8% vs. 39.9%) and other candidates with 55 votes (1.2% vs. 1.0%), among the 4,697 ballots cast by the city's 6,117 registered voters, for a turnout of 76.8% (vs. 80.0% in Burlington County). In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 2,819 votes here (64.2% vs. 52.9% countywide), ahead of Republican George W. Bush with 1,486 votes (33.8% vs. 46.0%) and other candidates with 37 votes (0.8% vs. 0.8%), among the 4,390 ballots cast by the city's 5,832 registered voters, for a turnout of 75.3% (vs. 78.8% in the whole county).
In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 1,422 votes here (50.9% vs. 61.4% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with 1,284 votes (46.0% vs. 35.8%) and other candidates with 30 votes (1.1% vs. 1.2%), among the 2,793 ballots cast by the city's 6,115 registered voters, yielding a 45.7% turnout (vs. 44.5% in the county). In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Democrat Jon Corzine received 1,622 ballots cast (59.6% vs. 44.5% countywide), ahead of Republican Chris Christie with 881 votes (32.4% vs. 47.7%), Independent Chris Daggett with 129 votes (4.7% vs. 4.8%) and other candidates with 48 votes (1.8% vs. 1.2%), among the 2,723 ballots cast by the city's 6,010 registered voters, yielding a 45.3% turnout (vs. 44.9% in the county).
Doane Academy, a co-educational, Episcopal college-preparatory school, was founded as St. Mary's Hall, a boarding school for girls, by George Washington Doane in 1837. The name was shortened from St. Mary's Hall-Doane Academy in March 2008. All Saints Catholic Grade School (Pre-K though 8th grade) closed in June 2006 with several other Catholic schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton due to low enrollment, after 75 years of operation, based on recommendations issued in 2005 to help improve diocese finances.
Waterfront Park and Oneida Boat Clubhouse - located at York Street on the Delaware riverfront, the club is the oldest continuously operated club on the river.
People who were born in, residents of, or otherwise closely associated with Burlington include:
Joseph Bloomfield (1753-1823), captain in Revolutionary War, New Jersey Attorney General, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Vice-Admiralty Court, president of the first Society for the Abolition of Slavery, Mayor from 1795 to 1800, Governor of New Jersey (1801-1802 and 1803-1812), a brigadier general in the War of 1812 and U.S. Representative from 1817 to 1821.
^HistoryArchived 2011-01-24 at the Wayback Machine, Burlington County Prison Museum. Accessed September 21, 2011. "When the county seat was moved to Mount Holly in 1796, the federal-style courthouse was newly completed the same year."
^Walton, Jean R. "New Jersey County Formation, New Jersey Postal History Society. Accessed September 24, 2011. "The Capital of East Jersey was moved to Perth Amboy (then just Amboy) in 1683. Burlington, founded in 1677, was named Capital of West Jersey in 1681. In 1702, these two proprietorships were combined into one Crown Colony, but the two Capitals were maintained until the Revolutionary War, with the Governor sharing his time between each."
^"The Founding of the Quaker colony of West Jersey", Independence Hall Association. Accessed September 24, 2011. 'At Chygoes Island they laid out a town. "After locating the main street, they divided the land on each side into lots - the easternmost among the Yorkshire proprietors, the other among the Londoners. The town was first called Beverly, then Bridlington, and finally Burlington.' (Smith's History of NJ)"
^Centuries of ServiceArchived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine, Library Company of Burlington. Accessed July 1, 2011. "It is the oldest library in continuous operation in New Jersey, and has the distinction of being the seventh oldest in the United States."
^ abcShermerhorn, William. The History of Burlington, New Jersey (Burlington, NJ: Press of Enterprise Publishing Co., 1927)
^ abStrauss, Robert. "Driving Through the Heart of a State", The New York Times, January 2, 2000. Accessed August 14, 2013. "James Fenimore Cooper, too, has his own eponymous service area in Mount Laurel, near where he was born in Burlington, but he spent only a few years of his childhood there before migrating to New York State, the scene of much of his writing."
^St. Mary's Hall, New Jersey Women's History. Accessed October 16, 2019. "Bishop George Washington Doane founded St. Mary's Hall on May 1, 1837 as an academic, private Episcopal school for girls. At that time, most schools for girls were finishing schools, not institutions like St. Mary's where girls studied the same subjects as boys. St. Mary's was only the third 'church' school for girls in the country and the first in New Jersey."
^Underground Railroad Tour, City of Burlington Historic District. Accessed June 14, 2012. "301 High Street: This is New Jersey's oldest pharmacy in continuous operation. Burlington Pharmacy was built in 1731, the numerals spelled out in bricks on the gable end facing Union Street. In 1841 commenced pharmacy operations. It was owned, then, by Quaker William J. Allinson, an active abolitionist who used it as a forum for anti-slavery rallies."
^Ward One, City of Burlington. Accessed June 20, 2016. "Appointed and sworn in on January 19, 2016, by the Common Council to represent the citizens of Ward 1 of the City of Burlington and serve as their Councilperson to complete a vacated term that will expire on December 31, 2016."
^Burlington City High School 2016 Report Card Narrative, New Jersey Department of Education. Accessed November 28, 2017. "Burlington City High School is a six-year secondary school that includes grades seven through twelve with a total current enrollment of 700.... Thirty-nine percent of students in grades nine through twelve are students from the neighboring Edgewater Park community. BCHS has served as the receiving district for the Edgewater Park School District, which educates students from kindergarten through eighth grade, for many years."
^Historic TimelineArchived 2011-11-24 at the Wayback Machine, Doane Academy. Accessed July 1, 2011. "For decades, Saint Mary's Hall-Doane Academy had labored under the awkwardness of the hyphenated dual name. Longstanding confusion about the school's identity made it increasingly difficult to recruit new students to continue Bishop Doane's mission. In 2008, the board of trustees voted to simplify the school's name and honor its founder by changing the school's legal name to 'Doane Academy'."
^Joseph Bloomfield, Burlington City, N.J. Accessed July 1, 2011. "Born in 1753, Joseph Bloomfield reached the rank of captain in the Revolutionary War, then served as New Jersey state attorney general and chief justice of the New Jersey Vice-Admiralty Court. He moved to Burlington upon marrying Mary McIlvaine, and took up residence in a mansion on High Street which had been built about 1750.... Bloomfield served as Mayor from 1795 to 1800, the second mayor under the Act of Incorporation of 1784."
^African American History, Burlington County, New Jersey. Accessed July 27, 2017. "After his discharge, he established residence at 114 E. Union Street in the city of Burlington, New Jersey."
^Staff. "Death of Bishop Doane.", The New York Times, April 28, 1859. Accessed July 27, 2017. "The Right Rev. GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, died at his residence in Burlington, yesterday, aged sixty years."
^William FranklinArchived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine, Burlington City, N.J. Accessed July 1, 2011. "The son of Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin spent much of his youth in England, where he earned a Master's degree by Oxford, was accepted to the bar, and married. Upon his return to America in 1763, he became royal governor of New Jersey at the age of thirty-two, and took up residence at Green Bank, a riverside Burlington mansion."
^Egle, William Henry. "Ann Wood Henry", Some Pennsylvania women during the War of the Revolution, p. 87, Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1898. Accessed July 1, 2011.
^James KinseyArchived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine, Historic Burlington County, March 1, 1997. Accessed November 22, 2013. "Kinsey's house, built in 1770, was sold after his death by his wife Hannah. Located at 38 West Broad Street, the house now serves as Lodge 965 of the Loyal Order of Moose."
^Mannion, Helen. "Take a self-guided tour of S.J. history", Courier-Post, August 25, 2010. Accessed April 5, 2011. "Captain James Lawrence House -- This building served as the birthplace of the naval war hero in the War of 1812, who coined the U.S. Navy's motto 'Don't Give up the Ship!' 459 High St."
^See Over 40 Historic Sites: 16-20, The City of Burlington Historic District. Accessed November 22, 2013. "McIlvaine House 100-102 W. Broad Street - This house was built in 1813 by Joseph McIlvaine."
^Revolutionary War Sites in Burlington, New Jersey, Revolutionary War New Jersey. Accessed November 22, 2013. "Bowes Reed - Served as colonel of the Burlington County militia during the Revolution; Mayor of Burlington in 1780, His brother was Joseph Reed, aide-de-camp to Washington."
^HistoryArchived 2011-03-16 at the Wayback Machine, Burlington Lodge #32. Accessed April 5, 2011. "John Skene, Deputy governor of West Jersey, moves to Burlington, the capital of the Province. As far as can be determined, Skene has the distinction of being the first Freemason in the American Colonies."
^Mackey, Albert Gallatin; and Haywood, Harry LeRoy. "Encyclopedia of freemasonry, Volume 3", p. 1151, Kessinger Publishing, 1946. Accessed April 5, 2011. "John Skene settled at Burlington, capital of East Jersey, and was Deputy Governor from 1685 until his death in 1690."
^Medal of Honor Recipients - Civil War (M-Z), United States Army. Accessed November 22, 2013. "TAYLOR, ANTHONY Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, Company A, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Place and date: At Chickamauga, Ga., 20 September 1863. Entered service at: Philadelphia, Pa. Born: 11 October 1837, Burlington, N.J."
Field, Jeremy (January 2019). "Hometown of American Legion's first national commander tolls bells on Armistice Day centennial". Rapid Fire. The American Legion Magazine. Vol. 186 no. 1. Indianapolis, Ind.: The American Legion. p. 36. ISSN0886-1234.