New Jersey Natural Lands Trust Documents:
The following is a very brief history of Petty's Island.
For a more comprehensive historical overview click here.
Native Americans, European and Quaker Settlement
(CE 1600 to 1800)
During this time period the Lenape Indian population in the Delaware Valley went from about 20,000 down to about 200. Europeans took advantage of the availability of “free” land in the New World. Ownership of Petty’s Island changes from the Lenape to the Swedes, Dutch and English. In 1678 Elizabeth Kinsey, a Quaker, purchases the island but allows Lenape to continue to hunt as long as they agree to protect her from wild hogs let loose on the island. By 1722 the island is considered “uninhabited” but Kinsey and her son still hold title to the island. In 1732 John Petty purchases the island. Later, parcels would be sold off to individuals or sold via lottery to help pay for street paving on the main land. Slave traders also used the island for detaining Africans to be sold into slavery, this site was chosen to avoid import taxes on slaves.
Shipbuilding and the Industrial Revolution
(CE 1800 to 1900)
Early in the 17th Century as slavery is abolished in New Jersey the slave depot closes. Ownership of Petty’s Island changes several times during this period. In 1830 William Cramp expands his Philadelphia ship building operation on to the western edge of the island. By the end of the century Cramp Shipbuilding takes up 32 acres on the island. Around 1851 records show that the island was home to several small farms and 18 families. There was a lumber business on 2 small tracts, a chain manufacturing plant and in 1870 a railway was built on the island. In 1880 a resort called “Willow Grove” was completed and included a dance hall. From 1882 to 1893 the island was reshaped. 23 acres was removed from the western side of the island and 50 acres was removed from the south end so the channel could be widened, straightened and deepened.
Petroleum and Ports
(CE 1900 to 2000)
Improvements made to the channel and western edge of Petty’s Island made this an attractive place for international commerce. In 1916 Crew-Levick Company (later Cities Service Company and ultimately CITGO) purchased 50 acres of the island and planned to build a refinery. WW I may have slowed development of the refinery, however, the US Government found it useful as an anti-aircraft gunnery. In 1927 Crew-Levick built a drawbridge from Camden at 36th St. to the island and erects a tank farm, refinery, and tanker ship port. By the mid-1930s the tank farm would store about 100 million gallons of oil. The southern part of the island was left as forest habitat. In 1980 Crowley Terminal, which ships roll off containers to Puerto Rico, is built. By 2000 CITGO Petroleum closes its oil terminal operation on Petty’s Island.
The Island Today
(CE 2000 and beyond)
Although CITGO has closed its terminal, it still maintains ownership of Petty’s Island. Pennsauken decides that the island and waterfront should be redeveloped to include housing, recreation and stores. In 2002 a CITGO employee finds an American Bald Eagle nest on the island. Instead of selling to a developer, CITGO decides to donate the land to the State; Pennsauken, however, continues its plans to redevelop the island. After several years of battles a final decision was made. In 2009 the NJ Natural Lands Trust accepted CITGO’s offer of a conservation easement for Petty’s Island. After Crowley’s lease expires in 2017 CITGO will pay for the environmental cleanup of the island. Forest and wetland habitats will be restored and a grassland habitat will be created in the center of the island. The State will take ownership of the island in 2020.