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HAMMONTON - For some people, a train is a vital part of their commute to work; but few people may realize how important trains were to the development of South Jersey.

That history was exactly what Paul W. Schopp, assistant director of the South Jersey Culture and History Center of Stockton University, hoped to impart during his lecture “By Rail to the Promised Land: The Role of Railroads in Immigrating to South Jersey” on Oct. 11 at Kramer Hall.

“The railroads really do have transformative power,” said Schopp. He said railroads had the power to bring people, business development, and materials to areas that did not have them before, transforming little towns into major centers of development.

Prior to the arrival of railroads, South Jersey was mainly known for logging, charcoal and glass. The glass from South Jersey was particularly distinctive because the sand used to make it would turn the glass into a green color, he said.

Once railroads began to be introduced in South Jersey in the 1800s, development across the region exploded. Where there used to be only a few houses scattered across a stretch of land, there was now thriving industrial towns that were drawing countless people. Railroads, he said, led to the development of numerous towns in South Jersey, including Hammonton, Vineland, Millville and Egg Harbor.

Many of these newly developed towns benefited from the arrival of immigrants. For example, Hammonton saw a wave of immigrants from Italy, while the land that would become known as Egg Harbor was settled by Germans, he said.

It seemed that wherever a railroad would was placed, a town would then soon experience swift development. As trains became more influential across South Jersey, more rail lines were built to connect more towns across the region. Still, these lines were only a fraction of the railroads proposed for South Jersey.

“If all the railroads that had been proposed had been built, it was said you wouldn’t have had to walk more than seven miles in either direction,” said Schopp.

Schopp’s lecture last Wednesday was the first in a two-part series. The second part will be presented by Mark Demitroff, an adjunct instructor of geology at Stockton University. Demitroff’s lecture, titled “Come Earnest Home-seekers: Ethnic Settlements in the Pines,” will be held on Oct. 25 at 12 p.m. at Kramer Hall in Hammonton. To RSVP, please visit http://ethnicpines.eventbrite.com.

Both lectures are a part of a collaborative effort among Kramer Hall, The Noyes Museum of Art, and South Jersey Culture and History Center to raise awareness of the cultural diversity that is deeply rooted in South Jersey history.

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