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Educational Pioneers, Burlington NJ

...Starting with one of America’s oldest educational boards...

From the first, Quakers made children’s education an imperative in Burlington. In 1682 they created one of the oldest trustees in the nation, the Board of Island Managers, to administer funds from Burlington Island (1 on map, viewed from the E. Riverfront Promenade) “...for the encouragement of learning and the betterment of youth.”

The Friends Meeting Nov. 7, 1705 established the first recorded school in Burlington, to convene at the old Meeting House (“new” Meeting House 1785, 341 High Street, 11 on map).

William Franklin, Royal Governor and diametrically opposed son of Ben, was instrumental in founding Queen’s College, since known as Rutgers University. He made his governor’s Palace at Green Bank, now the site of the V.F.W. (Riverbank Houses, 202 Riverbank, 29 on map).

The Friends Schoolhouse (1792, York & Penn Sts., 32 on map) was begun with but three pupils under young John Griscom, headmaster. The Quakers stressed education, feeling that a young person must be prepared to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Discipline was strict and the students spent long hours attempting to solve the mysteries of long division and Latin. This building contains many photographs, books, and documents of Burlington.
In 1977, the City of Burlington Historical Society placed a time capsule in these grounds to be opened in 2077 to celebrate four centuries of Burlington history.

The 1795 Burlington Academy (formerly on the site of “New” St. Mary’s Church W. Broad St.) had among its revered founders and trustees one Hon. Elias Boudinot (Boudinot-Bradford House 207 W. Broad St., 1804, 22 on map). Besides his great political career and social activism (click <here> for more) he was a founder and first President of the American Bible Society, and as trustee of Princeton University, founded the Natural History Department in 1805.

1805 also witnessed the erection of Burlington’s first public school house, Broad & St. Mary’s Streets, now the property of St. Barnabas Church, E. Broad & Stacy Sts.

John Gummere (Gummere House 1721, 222 Wood St., 26 on map) opened his classical Academy on E. Union Street (since converted into two homes) about 1814. In 1833, he was called to be President of Haverford College. Eminently qualified, he was a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society, corresponding Member of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, and wrote oft-used treatises upon Surveying and Astronomy. His brother, Samuel R. Gummere, founded the girl’s school later made into St. Mary’s Hall. Both John and Samuel, with Dr. John Griscom, founded Haverford College. John Gummere’s son Samuel J. Gummere became in time President there as well.

A deep appreciation of the American wilderness, and its indigenous peoples, was forever branded into the American psyche by that first American author, James Fenimore Cooper. Reading with his wife one night, he impatiently hurled a book by a British author to the floor, exclaining that even he could do a better job of writing than that. To which his wife simply said, well then, do it. In novels such as Last of the Mohicans and Leatherstocking Tales he placed memorable characters such as Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Natty Bumpo in action on vividly detailed, patiently described wild terrain unique to this continent. At every turn, Nature was not a mere backdrop, but a willing participant in the drama. Born here, Cooper returned to Burlington later in life. Visit the Cooper House at 457 High Street (37 on map), part of the Burlington County Historical Society row.

Bishop George Washington Doane in 1836 acquired Gummere’s girls academy, opening St. Mary’s Hall church school for girls in 1837 (now St. Mary’s Hall, 31 on map). Bishop Doane, in 1846, opened Burlington College for boys for a live-in classical education under religious principles. Bishop Doane was also instrumental in the founding of Columbia University, New York.

Joseph Taylor was one of the original founders of Bryn Mawr College.

Dr. Courtlandt Van Renssalaer, D.D. (Stone Cottage 1835, Talbot & Riverbank, 29 on map), first pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Burlington, established the Van Renssalaer Seminary in 1853.

To “meet” the greatest number of Burlington’s foremost citizens, take the Grand Historical Tour. Particular interests are served by Special-Interest Self-Guided Tours, including the Education Tour, African American Underground Railroad Tour and the Graveyard Shift. Call now to arrange a Guided Walking Tour, a Step-on Guide for your Tour Bus, or a Self-paced Audiocassette Tour. 609-386-0200 or 609-386-4773

For a quantity of concise biographies of Burlington notables, you may want to visit Dan Birchall’s site at

Illuminators of the past... and it’s our present to you. Welcome to the City of Burlington.

Read on, for more famous Burlington People to Meet:
Spiritual Leaders
Military Masters
Political Powerhouses
Educational Pioneers
Undying Legends



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