By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor
The Fairview section of Camden was the mother of all planned communities. It was born at the beginning of the “war to end all wars.”
In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, the New York Shipbuilding Corp. on Broadway, owned by the American International Corp. since 1916, raced to build its share of fighting ships. The influx of workers at the shipyard and their families at the time put a strain on Camden housing, schools and transportation.
As the need grew larger, Federal funds financed the construction of Yorkship Village. In 1917, the War Department established two housing agencies to combat the wartime housing need. The United States Housing Corporation and the Emergency Fleet Corporation were assigned the task of addressing the problem.
Fairview was designed by Electus Darwin Lichfield in 1917 and ground was broken on May 1, 1918 for construction of 1000 village homes on a 225-acre parcel of land called the Old Cooper Farmstead. At the time the farm was located in Haddon Township.
Construction was of brick units containing two, three, and four homes under one roof. There are some single homes. A church was provided but no school facilities.
The tree-lined streets are narrow and winding with the main roads leading to and from the center of the village, Yorkship Square. The streets are named for ships, such as the Merrimac, Ironside, Alabama and Constitution. Construction of the village cost the federal government about $11 million.
Camden County Historical Society records show that in response to growing knowledge and awareness of the importance of health standards at that time, the government required that municipal improvements, such as sewer lines, water pipes, fire hydrants and police and fire protection be provided by the local community. But, according to the society records, Haddon Township at the time could not afford the service expenses and neighboring municipalities began to bid for the village. Since Camden City at the time was interested in acquiring tax ratables they were anxious to acquire the village.
To show good faith, the records say, Camden erected the firehouse on Morgan Boulevard in an effort to attract the planned community. Then finally on July 8, 1918 Haddon Township ceded the American Federal style village to the city.
Records show Camden designated the area as the 14th Ward and after taking possession adopted an ordinance for a $650,000 bond issue to cover construction of a school and other future improvements. The first school was opened in the village in September 1918 in a four-unit home while construction on a new school building began early in 1919.
The homes were, at first, rented to shipyard workers, but after the war, in 1921, they were sold to the employees at public auction. According to records an estimated 1,500 homes were sold in three days at prices from $800 to $1,800. In 1922 the name of the village was changed from Yorkship to Fairview.
Pat Tracey of the Sicklerville section of Gloucester Township grew up on N. Congress Road. She lived with her parents and a brother and sister in a three-bedroom semi-detached home that she called a large six.
Many residents never forgot the closeness of the village and the popularity of the Fourth of July parades. After the parade they would block off part of Yorkship Square and hold a block party and a dance. Tracey, who attended St. Joan of Arc School, enjoyed her after school visits to Bill's Sweet Shop, confirming it was the hub of activity for young people. “They made the best hoagies around,” Tracey recalled.
Tracey remained faithful to Fairview for many years. Her husband, George, was a village native growing up on Kansas Road, and when they were married in 1960 they stayed in Fairview until 1969 when they moved into larger digs.
By today's standards Fairview may not qualify as a planned community, but when the century was young it had a lot to offer the people. The village square rendered the services of a food market, a pharmacy, dry cleaner, doctor's office and library. To those living then this was progress, this meant not having to travel too far for these services, this was the beginning of big and betters things to come. The future was looking good and showed promise.
Writing in the American Review of Reviews in December 1919 on the village Litchfield said “It [Yorkship Village] was to be a place of light rooms and clean yards, with adequate playgrounds and amusement fields; a place of beauty and appropriateness and cleanliness so great that a man returning from his daily toil would receive new strength and recreation; a place where the man who could save a fraction of his income, would be able to obtain with it, for himself and for his children, a share of play and education, literature and music, and other uplifting things.”
On April 1, 1974 Fairview was recognized and became protected by the State of New Jersey and recognition and protection was secured from the federal government on Nov. 19, 1974.