The history of Woodbine began in 1891 with philanthropist Baron de Hirsch. Seeking to help the Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in eastern Europe, he established a fund to provide financial assistance. As part of these efforts, the Baron de Hirsch Fund purchased a tract of land in Dennis Township, Cape May County. The 5,300 acre purchase led to the clearing of land that eventually became the borough of Woodbine. 1 Per William Stainsby:
“Woodbine is located in Upper Township in the northwestern section of Cape May County; it is fifty-six miles from Philadelphia and twenty-five from Ocean City and Atlantic City. Two railroads-the West Jersey and Seashore and the South Jersey-give direct communication with the neighboring towns and with Philadelphia and New York.”2
With the help of agriculturist and chemist Hirsch Loeb Sabsovich, the settlers learned the most up-to-date agricultural processes.
Group of Woodbine Agricultural School students, Woodbine, New Jersey. Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society, Baron de Hirsch Fund Records, 1870-1991.
As a place perfectly positioned near a network of railroad lines, the agricultural community in Woodbine forged a successful path to sustainability. Much like other farming communities in southern New Jersey, the land itself was uniquely suited for certain crops:
“The experiment of planting a colony in the bushland of South Jersey was certainly a bold one; to take the bush and woodlands, clear and subdue the soil and work it to productiveness and fruitfulness was a stupendous enterprise and required careful thought and planning, ceaseless and untiring activity and energy to produce satisfactory returns…The soil, naturally warm and level, is easily worked and when once cleared of stumps and roots is subject to easy drainage and well manures and fertilizers; it is rich in the mineral constituents though somewhat deficient in humus owing to the frequent forest fires…”3
Through the hard work and perseverance of the original settlers, Woodbine became the largest Jewish agricultural colony in southern New Jersey. As the agricultural side grew, the community continued to expand and have a lasting impact on the area.
1. “History of Woodbine,” Greater Woodbine Chamber of Commerce, accessed May 15, 2022, http://www.wccnj.org/wcwoodbinehistory.html.
2. William Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey: A Historical Sketch of their Establishment and Growth. Bureau of Statistics of New Jersey: Camden, 1901, republished (Galloway: South Jersey Culture and History Center Press, Stockton University, 2019), 17.
3. Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey, 17.
For more information about the history of Woodbine and the Jewish community there, see the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage.
Scroll through the images below for more on historic Woodbine and the Jewish community there.