Glass Windows and the Nicholson House – Tracking History

Glass Windows - AI Stock Photo

By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor

It's hard to imagine living in a house with windowpanes that you cannot clearly see through.

Being able to view the outdoors without difficulty is something we take for granted every day.

But there was a time when there was one thing that our forefathers could not see through—and that was windows in their homes.

According to a web site on the history of glass, flat glass for windows was still rare during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Small panes were made by blowing a large glob of glass, removing it from the blowing iron and then rotating the glass quickly so it would spread and flatten. Such glass had a dimple in its center, many air bubbles and a pattern of concentric circles. This type of glass was the standard equipment in the old days. In most cases it was translucent, but not transparent.

Old newspaper clippings reveal that at one time Camden had the dubious distinction of having the first house south of Trenton to have glass windowpanes similar to today's clear glass windows. They were a major part of the construction in the old Nicholson house that was once located off Bridge Boulevard, now the Admiral Wilson Boulevard and just east of Baird Boulevard.

When Joseph Nicholson built the house for his bride, Hannah Wood in 1696 along the banks of the Cooper River, he incorporated glass windows in the construction, which was considered a marvel at the time. Joseph was the son of Samuel, who immigrated to the new land from Nottinghamshire, England, with John Fenwick in 1675.

But just where Nicholson obtained the glass panes for his windows is a matter for speculation and experts in the 1940s believe the glass was imported. Others contended that the panes were muff glass blown in North Jersey and transported to Camden. According to, muff glass was window glass, made by a now obsolete technique. A glass cylinder was blown; but before it cooled, it was sliced lengthwise and unrolled into a flat piece from which the panes were cut.

The windows of the old house were smaller than the present day standard and only the lower sash was moveable. The lower sashes contained four panes while the upper sashes had six. At any rate the young couple must have enjoyed all of the light provided by the windows. But by 1940 none of the original panes remained in the structure.

The stories reported that the brown Jersey fieldstone used in the construction of the house was not indigenous to Camden, but might have been quarried from an area in Burlington County. The first floor was unique because of its low ceiling, just a little over six feet in height. Doorways were only five feet, six inches and led to the assumption that the Nicholsons may have been short in stature.

The houses quaint architecture with beams protruding through the exterior walls furnished a link to the past that is not usually duplicated in today's construction. The two-storied house stood unnoticed and neglected for years before it met with a wrecking ball in 1948.

Newspaper reports at the time the building was razed stated that the house was one of the few remaining landmarks in a city that has erased the past in a rapid industrial growth. The report claimed that it was once the object of heated debate by city officials and historical societies, which sought to save it from destruction.

As the story goes, movements were started by patriotic organizations to preserve the old landmark or move it across the river to another site in the city park. But there were difficulties with plans to move the solid stone structure whose walls had sagged and cracked with age.

In 1936 the Camden County Historical Society supported a movement to have the city purchase or acquire the building and make it a memorial to Charles S. Boyer, a former president of the society. The Nassau Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) requested the city acquire the home in 1937. At that time a spokesperson for the DAR said the organization would do everything in their power to preserve the old house and that it seemed a shame to let the place go to ruin when it could be made into a museum. The DAR also claimed it would have been a great advertisement for Camden since thousands of motorist pass by the landmark every day.

In 1940, F. Harvey Tripp of Haddonfield, who then owned the house, offered to give it anyone who was interested in preserving it for historical value. Jack Goncheroff of Camden, who owned the house in 1948, offered it to the Camden County Historical Society, but no action was taken by the society at that time.

But between 1940 and 1948 the elements continued to whip through the exposed and poorly protected structure quickly hastening its demise.


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