Tuesday 07 Feb 2023
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History of Gibbsboro
(Derived from "Yesteryear - A Portrait of the Village of Gibbsboro, 1714-1989, 275 Years", by Barry Campbell, Borough Historian)

Deriving a Name

Gibbsboro was founded in 1714 when George Matlack built a mill on a branch of Cooper's Creek. Shortly after this time, Joseph Hilliard came to the area. By 1744 Mr. Hilliard had acquired the mill and surrounding territory. The community in the vicinity of the mill became known as "Hilliards Mill".
In 1766, Joseph Hilliard sold some of his property to John Matlack, a nephew of George Matlack. When John Matlack passed away, he left his property and a mill to his daughter, Hannah Matlack Gibbs. The Gibbs' Mill was situated on Silver Lake. A small community developed around this mill. During this early period, the town was a settlement of Waterford Township, Gloucester County.
The next important figure in Gibbsboro's history was Judge John Clement. In 1812 he purchased the Gibbs' estate, which included about 500 acres as well as a saw mill. During Mr. Clement's life, the area had many names. Some residents referred to the town as "The Centerville Millseat", because of the many profitable mills in the vicinity. While others called it "Cross Keys" because they paid their taxes at the Cross Keys Tavern from 1809 to 1850. According to local legend, Judge Clement named the town "Gibbsborough" in honor of the Gibbs family. A map made by Mr. Clement in 1846 bears this name as evidence of this story.
In 1852 English paint maker, John Lucas, purchased the mill on Silver Lake in order to set up a new paint-making facility. After having tested every stream east of the Mississippi, Mr. Lucas selected the water of Silver Lake as being best suited for his products. As Mr. Lucas expanded his operation, the town developed an identity of its own. Photographs from the 1880's show a quaint country village with shops, churches, several mills, and even a hotel. Because of the growth in his business, Mr. Lucas felt it necessary to establish a post office in town and the name selected in 1883 for the original post office as "Gibbsborough".
At the time that the post office was established, the town was still a settlement of Waterford Township. However, since 1844 Gibbsborough was included in the portion of Gloucester County that had been reclassified as Camden County. In 1893, the name of the post office was changed to Gibbsboro. This version of the spelling has been used ever since. From 1899 to 1924, the town was part of Voorhees Township.
Gibbsboro was incorporated as an independent municipality on March 8, 1924. The population at that time was approximately 800. At the first election for Borough Officers, held on May 27th, Reverend Thomas Wingate was elected Mayor. The original members of Council were Philip Lanard, Arthur Fulleylove, William Cunningham, Lucius Parker, Charles Ackerson and William Roberts. Consisting mainly of Lucas employees, Gibbsboro was a pleasant, self-contained community.


The Lucas Years     


In December of 1978, when the Sherwin-Williams plant closed, an era ended for Gibbsboro. The town had essentially developed around this factory. The place was called "the Mill" by most residents and it had formed the cornerstone of Gibbsboro's economy for well over a century. Many old families had worked in the Mill for generations. The story of this enterprise represents the realization of the American Dream in the best sense and this dream belonged to John Lucas.
On November 25, 1825, John Lucas was born in Staffordshire, England. As a young man he studied agricultural chemistry. At the age of nineteen he visited the United States. Mr. Lucas returned to England and in 1847 he married Mary Foster. Later that same year he emigrated to America with his wife, his brother William, and his sister-in-law Mary. In 1849, John Lucas settled in Philadelphia and began importing paint for his store at 33 North Front Street.
A shrewd businessman, John realized the potential for paint manufacturing in the United States and in April of 1852, together with his father-in-law Joseph Foster, he purchased a grist mill on Silver Lake in Gibbsboro, Waterford Township. The mill had belonged to John Ford. According to legend, Mr. Lucas selected this particular location because the water in the lake was free from lime and iron. This degree of purity was necessary for the production of high quality paints. After testing most streams east of the Mississippi, Mr. Lucas found that only Silver Lake had the proper characteristics. The company Lucas formed was originally called "The Gibbsboro White Lead, Zinc, and Color Works."
As his business flourished, John endured the loss of his wife Mary in 1854. On September 6, 1854, he married
Harriet Annie Bown who was to become very influential in the development of Gibbsboro. Together, John and Harriet built a summer home in town in 1856. From here, Lucas could oversee the operations of his growing enterprise. Indeed, by 1857, he had bought Joseph Foster's share of the business and purchased several surrounding parcels of land.
During the late 1800's, John Lucas was responsible for many innovations in paint manufacturing. He developed Swiss and Imperial Green paints that completely changed the process for making green pigment. Prior to this many shades of green paint contained toxic substances such as lead and arsenic; the Lucas method eliminated these elements. In 1872, Mr. Lucas patented the first ready-to-use paint products, which were called "Original Pure Linseed Oil Liquid Paints." Moreover, he developed an improved method for making White Lead paint in 1878 and later introduced equipment that produced paint without overheating.
John Lucas' vision also included the growth of Gibbsboro as a community. The small village he encountered in 1852 consisted mainly of a cluster of houses at the intersection of Old Haddonfield-Berlin Road, Clementon Road and Kirkwood Road. At that time, Haddonfield-Berlin Road followed a route straight through town along Silver Lake. The Mill stood almost directly in the heart of town. Mr. Lucas encouraged his workers to build their own homes in the vicinity of the mill.

A flurry of development occurred during the late 1870's and 1880's. The Gibbsboro Hotel was built at this time at the base of Pole Hill on the Old Haddonfield-Berlin Road. In 1881, Jesse Clark opened a general store which became the second such business in town. On January 15, 1883, the Gibbsborough Post Office was established and Mr. Clark became the first Postmaster in February of that year. The Church-of-St. John-In-The-Wilderness opened March 3, 1883 and John and Harriet Lucas were instrumental in building this beautiful country chapel. Development continued and in 1887 a spur of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad was laid between Gibbsboro and Lucaston. Again, John Lucas played an important role in this. Before the rail lines were in this area, products going to and from the factory had to be hauled by mule teams. This was quite time-consuming, considering that raw materials were shipped via the port of Philadelphia. The railroad was necessary for successful business.
In addition to economic endeavors, Mr. Lucas promoted social activities. He provided the town with an athletic field in the form of the Cricket Field. Over the years many local fairs were held at this location. Indoor events were housed in the Lucas Hall. This building, which stood near the triangle, played host to community theater, dances, meetings and even basketball games. At the height of
his influence, John Lucas was able to have the route of Haddonfield-Berlin Road altered ao that the road would by-pass the heart of his plant; this is how Foster Avenue came into existence. By the time of his death in Atlantic City in 1901, John Lucas had turned the quiet village that he stumbled upon in 1852 into a vibrant and thriving community.
The John Lucas Company continued to operate under the leadership of William H. Lucas, John's brother and Albert Lucas, John's son. Their tenure was brief, however, as both died within five years. Control of the company then passed to two of John's other sons, William E. and H. Spencer Lucas. However, by 1913 they too had died and this left another son, Joseph Lucas, as president of the organization. In January of 1930, the Sherwin-Williams Company acquired control of the Lucas Paint Company. Retiring in 1934, Joseph Lucas ended eighty-five years of paint manufacturing on the part of the Lucas family.

John Lucas and Company was officially dissolved in January of 1956. The name continued to appear on labels for many years because of the company's outstanding reputation. Nevertheless, by the time the Gibbsboro plant closed in 1978, the name had passed into history. The dream was over, now it is our duty to preserve its memory. After all, as residents of Gibbsboro, we are the beneficiaries of its legacy.