Small South Jersey town, big heart: Barrington celebrates 100

Barrington doesn’t have a downtown. But it certainly has a heart. And it’s been beating for a century.

“When you ask for help [on a community project]  in Barrington,” Mayor Bob Klaus says, “you get more volunteers than you can shake a stick at.”

Says Megan O’Donnell, a volunteer who heads up the Fall Festival  and is involved in Barrington’s Centennial: “When we need something, everyone comes out.”

The Camden County borough of 6,900 people was incorporated in 1917 and is celebrating its 100th birthday all year long. Festivities include the dedication of a centennial clock, the sealing of a time capsule, and performances by the Barrington Band.

By the way: The 40-piece, all-volunteer ensemble is five years older than its namesake.

“Barrington has a proud history, and the band has been an important part of that,” says conductor Millicent “Penny” Teter, who’s 77.

“We continue to be a band with family values. No crazy music and no bad talk,” she adds. "We always end with ‘God Bless America.’ ”

Barrington has never had a high school -- borough kids go to Haddon Heights after eighth grade -- and does not possess landmarks of historical or architectural renown.

But it once had an airport. And for decades, it was home to the Edmund Scientific Co..

A quirky retail outlet that closed in 2001 (the company itself still exists), Edmund’s was much beloved by generations of geeks enthralled by the firm’s space-age gadget advertisements in comic books. 

“It was Barrington’s claim to fame,” recalls Janice Bantle, proprietor of Bantle’s Banners & Signs on Clements Bridge Road.  “Once upon a time.”

Edmund opened in 1942, before the arrival of the New Jersey Turnpike and I-295. Hurtling above and below grade, the highways crisscross the borough’s 1.7 square miles, where Gloucester Pike and Clements Bridge -- each of which connects the Black and White Horse Pikes -- intersect.

Nevertheless, the borough doesn’t look or feel like an expressway exit or a generic, strip-mall suburb, particularly along the “Old Barrington” stretch of Clements Bridge, where vintage homes and small businesses mix.

There, the ambience is more like that of a traditional and rather walkable small town. 

Which may explain why families stick around -- some for generations. Four of the mayor’s six grown kids are in Barrington; his secretary, Eileen Holcombe, lives in the house she was born in.      

”I’m one of nine [siblings], and four of us still live in town,” she says.

“I’m Barrington born and raised, and my dad was born in Barrington,” says Bantle, whose firm is making the T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and other promotional items for the centennial.

Bantle’s also did the 20-foot blue banner that stretches across Clements Bridge at Trenton Avenue, where the clock will be installed July 3. 

”They keep ordering more T-shirts,” Bantle says. “We’ve probably done 500 already.”

Sylvia Hearne, whom everyone tells me I ought to talk to, also was born, raised and still lives in Barrington. At 85, she remembers the trolleys and the Reading Seashore trains that came through town. She still sees some of her Haddon Heights High School Class of 1950 members once a month for lunch.

“I was born in 1932 in Happ’s Hospital. It was a small private hospital on Reading Avenue,” recalls  Hearne, who works part time as a clerk at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

She’s among nearly 100 individuals, organizations, and companies to so far purchase a paving stone (or in Hearne’s case, two -- one for her and her husband’s family)  for installation around the centennial clock. The project will cost $40,000; the pavers are $100 each.

“After the clock is dedicated, we will continue to sell the pavers, the sponsorship plaques at the base, and the banners along Clements Bridge,” notes municipal clerk Terry Shannon.

Demand has been so great that the number of available pavers has been doubled to 200. And individuals and organizations also are stepping up to offer special mementoes to be included in the time capsule.

Cub Scout Pack 96 will create a special centennial patch. “They were the first to respond when I put the word out,” says volunteer Frances Forte-Gomolson, a Barrington resident for nearly 40 years.

Social media sites are also appealing to centennial civic pride by urging folks to vote online to help win the borough a $25,000 grant from Kiwanis International to rebuild the much-loved but deteriorating “Wish Upon a Star” playground on Reading Avenue.

O’Donnell fondly remembers the five-day-long community effort to build the facility 20 years ago.

“I have a film of it,” she says.

“The whole town came out to help.”