Vincentown?…You Wouldn't Like it There
Vincentown? Oh … Well … You Wouldn’t Like There
by Dan Eisenhuth
“Vincentown? Where’s that?” When I first moved to Vincentown five years ago, I was very sensitive about that question, so I developed some non-committal, stock answers: “At the end of Church Road.” “Between Mount Holly and Medford.” “Near Route 206.” Seemed nobody knew where Vincentown was. It was embarrassing.
Today, however, whenever someone asks me where Vincentown is, I sidestep the question. Pinpointing the town would be like giving my wife’s telephone number to a stranger. If it is possible to have a love affair with a town, Vincentown and I are deeply involved.
It began when I first saw Vincentown covered with snow. It was a striking scene stolen from a New England Christmas card. The tiny Episcopal church, nestled beside the south branch of the Rancocas, with its arching roof and green shutters, looked as if it had just escaped from a model train layout. The waterfall where the gristmill once stood ran black and silver in the moonlight. The ancient, stately pine trees were festooned with snow.
Vincentown is the archetypal American town. Its streets – all eight of them – could be transplanted bodily to Massachusetts or Indiana or a mountain valley in Pennsylvania and look right at home. The homes are old – very old. Some date from when Vincentown was a carriage stop on the road from Philadelphia to the shore. Others date from the time Vincentown was a summer resort for the very rich who wanted to enjoy the town’s mirror-like lake and cedar water. The homes come in all styles – gothic, Victorian, and plain old South Jersey farmhouse, but they blend their diverse architectural styles into a scene so pleasing it defies description.
The most pleasant thing about Vincentown, however, is its people. The town seems lost in some kind of a time warp. The pace of living is slower than the 1970’s demand, in total defiance of the calendar.
For instance, there’s Al, the town’s only grocer, whose stockboys not only bag your groceries, but carry them to the car too. There’s Ed at the gas station who is always willing to come right to your house when your car won’t start. There’s Margaret Allen’s department store where you can buy anything in the world as long as you ask her to locate it. And there’s friendly Mrs. Wignal at the corner bank who makes cashing even my meager paycheck a pleasant experience. Personal contact, unlike elsewhere in our push-and-shove society, has not been forgotten in Vincentown.
It is a wonderful place to raise a child. Farmlands touch the town’s western border and pinelands are to the east with their deer and cranberry bogs. It is not unusual to look out the window and see horse and rider or ponycart on the street rather than an automobile. Crime is almost unheard of there.
During the summer, children flock to Mill Pond to swim, fish and canoe. During the winter, there’s sledding on Race Street (conveniently blocked off by the police department) and ice skating on the pond.
And in the quiet of the evening, when the town is bathed in the warm glow of sunset, chimed hymns float tranquilly over rooftops from a church tower.
It is the peacefulness of Vincentown, the restfulness, the sense of well-being the town imparts upon its citizens I like best. The signs of care are everywhere. Every headstone in the town cemetery carries a wreath at Christmas, and the cemetery is well cared for. People of Vincentown do not forget their ancestors or their heritage.
It is a place to live rather than just exist. A place where the family roots grow as deep as the massive trees that line the streets.
You become very possessive about the place after you’ve lived there for awhile. It is a dreamer’s dream to hope Vincentown never changes, to hope that the town fathers are foresighted enough to protect its unique character.
I plan to do everything I can to preserve what I now call my home.
“Where’s Vincentown?” I don’t think I’ll tell you.
Editor’s/webmaster’s comment: The above article first appeared in the Burlington County Times in the fall of 1977. It was reprinted in “The Country Press”, Volume 1, No. 2, February, 1978. “The Country Press” was a private newsletter of Chesley & Alloway, a Vincentown Realtor. When he wrote the article, Dan Eisenhuth lived in the village. He still lives in Southampton, but just ouside the village of which he wrote so eloquently.
A 1998 Retrospective from a 26-year Resident of Vincentown
by Joseph M. Laufer
Dan, you and I moved to Vincentown in the same year. When I read your article 20 years ago, I reflected to myself that you had expressed my every sentiment about Vincentown, but much more eloquently than I ever could. You ARE a journalist, after all.
A lot has happened to each of us during the 26 years that we’ve lived in Vincentown. I am grateful that my four kids were able to grow up here. Even now, in their young adult lives, they reflect the Vincentown values of which you wrote. I myself have assumed one of the roles you mentioned at the end of your article. As a member of the Township Committee I have become one of those “town fathers” you challenged to be “foresighted enough to protect (Vincentown’s) unique character.” Frankly, that’s why I decided to run for public office. I hope I can live up to the challenge.
Despite many changes since you wrote the article, Dan, Vincentown is still the town you described. Sadly, some of the key players in the commercial life of Vincentown are gone. Al’s is now the Riviera Pizza, and the only commercial establishment on Main Street. When Ed left Vincentown, his garage passed to another owner, then closed. Margaret Allen is gone, and with her, the department store which amazed and amused people from far and wide. Perhaps the most tragic loss to the village was the most recent one — the closure of the town bank on the corner of Mill and Main Streets this past February. (See editor’s note below). Its absence means the loss of a major townfolk meeting place — no more bake sales or girl scout cookie sales out front and no more reason for folks from outside the village to pop into town.
Editor’s note: Since this piece was written, Sterling Bank took over the old bank building, restoring and re-opening it late in 1998. The bank flourishes after one year of operation at this historic corner of Vincentown. JML 11/1/99).
I guess it was “a dreamer’s dream to hope Vincentown never changes.” But, Dan, you and I both knew then that change was inevitable. However, I am happy to report that Vincentown remains a place to live rather than just exist. The most pleasant thing about Vincentown is still its people. The chimed hymns still float tranquilly over the rooftops from the Baptist and Methodist churches, and yes, there are still horses and the occasional pony cart. We haven’t gotten around to outlawing the Good Humor truck yet — I heard it drive by the other night. Best of all, the Mill Pond is still there (although we almost lost it two years ago) and farmland, pinelands and cranberry bogs still surround the town.
Some things have changed, Dan, but the essence of Vincentown remains. I plan to do everything I can to preserve what I still call my home.
“Where’s Vincentown?” I don’t think I’ll tell you.