HAMMONTON, New Jersey. Oh yeah! After a little research, we decided to take a ride to Hammonton, NJ, a short 30 minute drive. We ran into our next door neighbor as we pulled out of the drive, and chatted for a bit. We mentioned that we were headed to Hammonton for the day to check it out. “Why are you gonna’do that? There’s nothing there – just a small town”. Now I have to admit that gave us pause – but not enough to stop us from going.
So why Hammonton (H). Well, as I’ve said before, I’m an Italian – American. All four of my grandparents are from Italy. I’ve heard that Hammonton is mainly an Italian town – so of course, I wanted check it out. With a little research, I found that Hammonton is between 45% and 54% Italian. I read an article about Hammonton, where the author admitted to not having the appropriate pedigree – an Italian last name, and a birth certificate from South Jersey. She goes on to say that even though she moved there when she was 10 years old, she was still an “iffy” Hammontonian. It wasn’t always that way. Hammonton was settled in 1812, and named for John Hammond Coffin – the “d” was lost over time. John was the son of William Coffin, who owned a lumber mill and glassworks in the town. He became interested in real estate and realized that “COFFINTOWN” was not very conducive to sales. So he removed his name, and named the development after his son, JOHN HAMMOND.
Hammonton is within the National Pineland Reserve, and is one of 52 municipalities in New Jersey. In 2014, creditdonkey.com reported it as the 2nd happiest town in New Jersey. How they measured that, I don’t have a clue. A few famous people were born in Hammonton – Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, a member of the American Mafia who eventually became the Boss of the Philadelphia crime family. Most importantly to me, it is THE BLUEBERRY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. Its location in the Pine Barrens is mostly sandy ground, which is ideal for growing blueberries. As we drove around the area, we saw acres of land with blueberry bushes. Of course, the berries won’t be ready for picking until summer, but we took a few pics of the rows of empty bushes.
A fact – they use the same kind of hose systems to water the bushes as is used for wine grapes, making it quite labor-intensive. Agriculture is what brought the Italians to this area 100 years or so ago – farming, garment making and wine producing is what has kept them here. The best way to learn about Hammonton is through its people. Hammontonians are family-oriented, civic-minded, and dedicated to the place they call home, or so I’ve read.
Every summer in July, there is the Feast of “Our Lady of Carmel”, started on July 1st, 1875. There is a procession of the statue of Our Lady, as well as other statues of Catholic dignitaries, carried through the town by parish volunteers.
Many of the hundreds of spectators lining the 3-mile route, hold handfuls of money to pin to the sashes on the saints. In Belmont Hills, PA, where I spent my childhood, there was a similar procession. St. George was carried through the streets of the town as all of the children and many adults pinned our dollars to his sash while saying a little prayer. For us, it was so much fun.
After the procession, there is a carnival for the kids, and lots of drinking and eating. You will find something very interesting going on – Five Finger Tournaments, known in Italy as “A MORRA“. For me, this was way cool to see. I remember my Dad and his brothers and friends playing this game at every family gathering. Hammonton still has an Italian Fingers Team. It is very loud, and very competitive. In fact, in some provinces in Italy A Morra has been banned because people have killed each other over it. Perhaps it has a little something to do with the gambling that goes along with it – ya’ think ???
It’s kind of like hard core “rock, paper, scissors”. If you want to see the game being played, check this out. Go o youtube.com. In the search bar put “a morra”, and click on the first show.
Along Bellevue Avenue, the main street, there are lots of restaurants and shops. I thought it rather weird that there were at lot of MEXICAN restaurants. I have to confess, we ate in one. It was the most prominent building on the street, sitting at #101 Bellevue. Check this out :
EL MARIACHI LOCO
Address: 101 Bellevue Ave
On the side of this building, we saw this sign – of course Tim, the rebel, had to “lean”. Don’t you just love him ?
This BYOB was pretty authentic. After eating my “pozole”, and Tim his “Mexican style” tacos, we checked out a few other places.
THE EAGLE THEATER
The following history is from the Eagle Theater website –
“The Eagle Theatre’s beginnings were humble, with just a simple announcement printed in the local newspaper in June of 1914, stating that “Mr. Litke will put up a concrete building on his lot on Vine Street, for his moving picture winter theatre.” From that, the Eagle Theatre was born.
The Eagle Theatre functioned as a silent movie theatre and playhouse from 1914 until 1944, when it was then sold to the Pentecostal Assembly of God and converted into a church. The church occupied the building for 15 years, then sold it to Harry and Evelyn Hitman in 1959. The Hitman’s used the building for storage until 2006. By that time, the old building was on the verge of being demolition. Tracy Petrongolo, the head of the Hammonton’s arts and cultural committee, researched the building’s history and determined that it was worthy of preservation. What followed was a remarkable example of dedication by a devoted base of volunteers who were intent on seeing the theatre restored.
Since reopening in June of 2009, the Eagle Theatre has quickly grown into an artistic epicenter of the South Jersey region. Located in the heart of the Hammonton Art District, the Eagle Theatre of today features performances of a professional caliber in one of the most intimate and comfortable venues in the area. We look forward to sharing with you our theatre, our town, and the joy of the performing arts”.
THE FUNKY COW, at 224 Bellevue Avenue, is a newly opened waffle cafe. It is charmingly decorated with “cow decor”. My favorites were the cow-shaped seats outside the cafe, where you can sit and have a taste from their very waffle-icious menu.
BAGLIANI’S MARKET, at 417 12th street, is a place we will most definitely return to again and again. It is a market dedicated to mostly Italian food items. If you need an Italian deli market, this is worth the trip.
I put this picture in because it was a “wow” item. Prosciutto for $44.99 a pound. I’m sure it’s crazy delicious, but…
Check out this deli section. YUM !!!
Our final stop was the WHITE HORSE WINERY, at 106 Hall Street. which opened less than 1 year ago.
We purchased two tastings. It was $10 per person, and it included two take-home glasses. I must say – all of the wines are quite good. This is Kearsie, she is co-manager of the tasting department – and really knows her wines.
They have a wine club for anyone interested, with lots of perks. They often have music and fun events. Check it out at whitehorsewinery.com
BTW – so cool – their label was created by world-renowned local artist, Jamie Wyeth. According to the website, “Mr. Wyeth has captured the bold, independent spirit of White Horse Winery. We are proud to display this inspiring work of art on each and every bottle of White Horse Winery wine”.
All I can say about Hammonton is, “Who Knew ?” Halfway between Philadelphia and the shore, it is well worth the visit !!!