If you grew up in South Jersey, you probably already know that Cherry Hill, New Jersey, got its name from the Cherry Hill Farm.
It’s the kind of narrative that looks good on a monument, a pleasant picture of a suburban Philadelphia community coming of age in the post World War II boom years.
While it’s true that Cherry Hill gets its name from the farm, the longer story is actually the better one.
It all started because people’s mail took forever to arrive and sometimes ended up in the wrong town. But this is what life was like for what was then called Delaware Township.
Ye olde Delaware Township
Some of our readers will remember Cherry Hill before the name change in 1961. Delaware Township was incorporated in 1844.
It was downright pastoral with numerous farms that supplied produce for the Campbell’s Soup Company. Delaware Township didn’t even have a post office.
Instead mail was sent to seven neighboring municipalities, including Haddonfield and Merchantville. Their post offices, in turn, delivered to Delaware Township.
The turning point was the Post-World-War-II economic boom that fueled growth of America’s suburbs.
Before the war, in 1940, the population of township was 5,811, according to the Cherry Hill Historical Commission. By 1960 that number jumped to 31,522.
By the late 1950’s the out-dated postal system was becoming a liability for the flourishing business community. Mail was often delayed, sent to the wrong place or lost, said Denise Weinberg, Vice President of the Cherry Hill Historical Commission.
Time for a new name
Championed by Republican congressman, William T. Cahill, the township resolved to get a post office of its own in 1959.
But there was a hitch.
A post office named Delaware Township already existed in Hunterdon County. So the Post Office Department insisted that the Camden County township pick a new name.
Several names were considered (Chapel Hill, Cherry Valley and Moriville among them), but Cahill threw his support behind the name suggested by the Post Office Department – Deltown.
Mori was a developer who had a reason for liking the Cherry Hill name.
Many consider Mori to be the founding father of Cherry Hill because he changed the landscape in a big way.
His Garden State Park racetrack turned the agricultural community into a bonafide destination point.
He followed it up with even more development to entice visitors, industry and new residents to the area, starting with the Cherry Hill Inn, a luxury hotel built on the original Cherry Hill Farm.
Under the umbrella organization Cherry Hill Enterprises, Mori continued to dub numerous mid-century business ventures with the Cherry Hill name: Cherry Hill Lodge hotel, Cherry Hill Apartments, Cherry Hill Estates and the Cherry Hill Shopping Center (now Cherry Hill Mall).
As Delaware Township moved ahead with picking a new name for its new post office, Sen. Harrison “Pete” Williams (of Abscam infamy), a Democrat, intervened and suggested that a handful of politically connected Republicans were behind the whole scheme.
Or so public accusations chronicled in the Courier-Post newspaper would seem to indicate.
The Post Office Department officially approved a new post office for the growing community in 1959.
But just as construction was nearing completion something happened. Democrats took control of the White House. John F. Kennedy had defeated Richard Nixon and Democrats kept the House and Senate.
Not long after, the Post Office Department changed position and told Delaware Township that it would only get a branch post office and not a fully independent one.
Postal officials stated that they had “received representation” that it was a partisan idea which did not reflect the desires of the majority of residents.
Cahill immediately pointed the finger at Williams and denounced the decision as a power play.
Williams countered that having a branch office would save $25,000 in operating costs and field surveys by postal staffers concluded Delaware Township did not need a full blown facility.
Residents were outraged. The Courier-Post ran editorials decrying dirty politics.
Then the township pushed back with a petition drive that got the name change question on the general election ballot to gauge public sentiment.
Delaware Township becomes Cherry Hill
On Nov. 7, 1961 residents voted 5201 to 3700 in favor of adopting the new name of Cherry Hill.
Despite the election results, when the new post office finally opened the following year, it was not independent. Instead, it would operate as a satellite facility under the control of Haddonfield’s postmaster, a Democrat.
Williams later admitted that the change of the guard in the White House had everything to do with it.
As an olive branch gesture, Federal authorities did agree that residents could use Cherry Hill as their mailing address. But mail delivery problems reportedly persisted for several more years.
Cherry Hill, of course, did finally get its independent post office. But only after Republicans regained control of the White House and Cahill became governor of New Jersey.
Once elected, he put in a formal request for a “re-evaluation and re-determination” to the Postmaster General under the Nixon Administration.
Independent status was effective July 1, 1970.
Today, Cherry Hill boasts a population of 71,000 and the township currently has three post offices.
But where did the Cherry Hill Farm get its name?
A cherry orchard on Capt. Abraham M. Browning’s 19th-century farm is what inspired the flowery name.
Abraham Browning of Cherry Hill Farm is often confused with his uncle, a more prominent historical New Jerseyan bearing the same name.
The other Abraham Browning, of Camden, was a former state Attorney General under governors Stratton and Haines. He (the uncle) also is credited with coining New Jersey’s nickname “Garden State” in 1876.
“He was more famous, but he was not our Abraham Browning,” Weinberg said of the common misconception.
There is one other misconception that really irks Weinberg. That is when people ask her if the town got its name from the Cherry Hill Mall. “It makes me cringe,” she said.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version incorrectly stated the number of current post offices in Cherry Hill)