Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey
By Henry Charlton Beck
Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ
c. 1936 by E.P. Dutton; c. 1961 by Rutgers
Chapter XXXIII, Pages 251-254
This is the story of Red Lion.
You will find it by referring to a map of New Jersey and tracing the southernmost line of Burlington County. It is northwest of Medford Lakes and southeast of Pemberton. For some reason or other the letters of the town’s name are second only to Medford and as large as Four Mile, and even Medford Lakes.
Red Lion has always been known as a “large settlement,” but as a matter of fact there are very few houses. When you are in “the center of town” no more than eight houses can be seen.
The most prominent of all the town’s buildings is one of three stories, red brick and of considerable size. This, if you please, is the Red Lion Hotel, a hostelry which, they say, could tell a story all its own. The hotel took its name from the town and the town got its name—well, here’s one story we heard:
The original settlers were people by the name of Parks. No one seems to know from where they came nor exactly when. It was long before the present inhabitants can remember, but the story of how the town was named has been handed down from the Parks, father to son, for several generations.
About half a mile from the settlement is what is know as the Bear Swamp. (Editor’s Comment: Bear Swamp is a part of the current Red Lion Preserve, 827 acres dedicated to passive recreation and located on Hawkin Road, just south of Red Lion Circle. Oversight of the preserve is in the hands of the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust – JL) Bear were plentiful once through this locality and were hunted, in season and out of season, by earlier inhabitants. This town, before it had any definite name, was supposed to be a base for such hunters. They used the settlement at the crossroads as a sort of headquarters for their expeditions.
Here at the intersection of the winding trails that lead to Tabernacle, Beaverville, Vincentown, Friendship and Medford, the hunters gathered in those long-ago days to take vengeance on the wild animals that were nightly attacking their cattle. But on this occasion the huntsmen failed to find even a bear. However, after the “posse” departed, the same conditions prevailed and Old Man Parks resolved to do a little hunting by himself.
He thought he was going out in search of a bear. Actually he was to meet a lion and get a name for his home town. He came upon it one day, a mountain lion, crouched at the edge of a cedar swamp.
Parks shot at the lion and wounded it. Then his gun failed. He was compelled to grapple with the animal hand-to-hand. He clubbed at its head and it clawed at him. Blood flowed freely. The yellow beast, covered with gore, seemed to turn red, as it expired.
Parks finally brought his kill to town and the town became Red Lion.
Following erection of the hotel in the good old days when a license for selling strong liquors, fork lightning compared to what the ultra-moderns call laughing soup, could be had for the asking, if one was deemed necessary, the inn hung out a sign with the picture of a brilliant carmine lion above its name, “The Red Lion Hotel.”
Since the coming and passing of Prohibition, the hotel has figured now and then in the news as the enforcement forces conducted their business. But despite the number of times the place has spattered the court records at Mount Holly under different managements, the hotel appears a peaceful place, a building that remembers a town of other days and times, that were, undoubtedly, much merrier.
On the opposite corner there is a building which is also public, a combination gas station, general store and poolroom. Our visit here was as to some great institution of which there are fewer each year. The day was cold, skies were dismal and inside, around the stove, was most of the town’s male population.
It was here that we learned the story of how Red Lion was named. It is here that many such stories were told, some of them flavored with peanut shells, sticky candy, fizzing pop and the click of billiard balls. Here wars are won and family troubles are ironed out in the advice of a powerful congress, offered free.
The best times for planting are decided at the Antrim Store. Religion is pounded and expounded and sometimes cast aside. Old times are praised and exiled. Prophecies are made and dreams built in the haze of tobacco smoke. Marriage, hard times, great statesmen, and disarmament are discussed with authority and confounding foresight. Of course, everything from candles to oil and rope and edibles is sold but these provide only casual interruptions to the sober senate in session.
Red Lion may be a greater town some day. A concrete cross-State highway has been constructed cutting close to this strange-named village. With autos swinging through on the new route to the seashore, there is no limit to its future, especially with a story like Red Lion’s.
Joe Laufer’s notes: Of course, the Red Lion Hotel is now the Red Lion Inn, operated for many years by the DiPaolo Family. It is now managed by young Stephen Black, grandson of the fabled Archie DiPaolo. It is said that it was built in 1710. The general store across the street was operating when I first moved to Vincentown in 1972. It closed a few years later. Currently, the “Green Lantern Florist” is directly across Red Lion Road from the Red Lion Inn. It has a character all its own. The old Red Lion School to the north of the Red Lion Inn on Red Lion Road is now a storage building. And of course, the highway referred to at the end of the narrative is Route 70. The Red Lion Circle, intersecting both Route 206 and Route 70 is becoming busier and busier as development surges south and east through Southern New Jersey.
July 31, 2001 – JML