HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - Close to 10,000 people are expected to attend the township's 200th birthday celebration this weekend at Lake Lenape Park, a far cry more than the number of people who lived here when the municipality formed back in 1813.
Only nobody is totally sure how many that is.
"When the 1810 census came out, we were part of Egg Harbor Township. In the 1820 census, we had 877 people," said Carl Farrell, who heads the Township of Hamilton Historical Society.
One indication could be the 47 who voted in the first election, which made Frederic Steelman the first mayor back in 1813. Of course, back then, much of the population couldn't vote.
The birthday party included live music, face paintings, magic shows, amusements, a classic car show, a dog parade, an outdoor movie and many other events Saturday, with another round of events Sunday, but the history tent manned by Farrell also proved to be a big draw.
Many stopped by to take the 24-question Hamilton History Test, which stumped many a local resident. The best score of the day was 17 correct answers, but those who took it learned about natives who went on to become famous and how many early industries shaped the town. Farrell said the township has a largely retail economy today, influenced by a large mall, but the tent documented other industries, including iron-making, cotton, horse-racing and a brickworks.
One question addressed the common misconception that Dutch explorer Cornelius Mey founded the Mays Landing area.
"He was a Cape May guy. Everybody assumes he came up here but it was John May who ran a wharf and dock, where the library is today, that led to the name Mays Landing," Farrell said.
The celebration is only for the past 200 years, but Farrell said John May predated the township's incorporation. He noted the first known reference to Mays Landing dates to the Revolutionary War when local privateers captured three British ships and advertised in a Philadelphia newspaper that their contents would be sold at Mays Landing. There was a sawmill here as far back as the 1740s.
Anybody hanging out in the history tent long enough is bound to learn something they didn't know.
"This park has a lot of history," Farrell noted. "They've had continuous roller skating here for 106 years. The first rink was on stilts out in the lake. The brick one out front is the third rink."
The last documented Lenape Indians in the area are also part of a daily log kept at the Weymouth Iron Works, a furnace that made cannon and cannonballs for the War of 1812. The log for Nov. 3, 1813, notes that three Indians passed by.
Crowds were heavy Saturday, with the parking lot - which holds 650 cars - at capacity, said President John Kurtz of the Mays Landing Merchants Association, a sponsor of the event with the township. Parking is also available at Atlantic Cape Community College, with a free shuttle to the park.
Kurtz said the association has an annual celebration every year but it is held on Main Street and lasts one day. He said it it usually draws about 3,500 people. He said the two-day event held at the Lake Lenape Park, a larger venue, is expected to draw about 5,000 each day. Sunday night fireworks will be shot off from a barge in the lake.
"I know we'll get 5,000 tomorrow for the fireworks," said Kurtz.
Farrell is just happy so many are learning about the township's history. Now if he could just figure out how many were here in 1813.
"I've tried to find it," he said.
Contact Richard Degener:
If you go
The two-day celebration continues today with live music, magic shows, a decorated bike parade, fireworks over the lake at dusk and 153 vendors. There are also dive team, K-9, water skiing, Jaws of Life and athletic demonstrations during the day. There is no admission charge.