Similar to other areas near rivers and the bay, this area was inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. At the time of European contact, Lenni-Lenape Native Americans lived in the area, following a seasonal pattern of cultivation and hunting and fishing. The state-recognized Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey maintain a cultural center here, serving a community of 12,000 in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
The first recorded European settlement in what is now Bridgeton was made by 1686 when Richard Hancock established a sawmill here. Settlers established a pioneer iron-works in 1814. Bridgeton was incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 3, 1845, from portions of Deerfield Township. Bridgeton city was incorporated on March 1, 1865, replacing both Bridgeton Township and Cohansey Township. The city was named for its location at a bridge on the Cohansey River and is said to be a corruption of "bridge town".
After the American Civil War, Bridgeton's industrial base and commercial centrality in this area of high agricultural production, along with its high profile as an educational center (it was home to the South Jersey Institute, the West Jersey Academy, and two notable academies for women), made it the most prosperous town in the state. Bridgeton was home to glass factories, sewing factories, metal and machine works and other manufacturers, most notably, the Ferracute Machine Works, which was founded and operated by Oberlin Smith, an inventive genius and philanthropist credited with inventing the first device for magnetic recording, and now in the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.
Although it is visually dominated by large Victorian homes and a downtown area constructed from the 1880s to the 1920s, the district, besides many neighborhoods of gingerbreaded "doubles" that were essentially working-class housing, includes several notable structures dating from the 18th century and early Federal period. One of these is Potter's Tavern, said to have been built in the 1750s, but restored to its appearance in 1776 when it was home to The Plain Dealer, considered New Jersey's first newspaper.
A second is Brearley (Masonic) Lodge, founded by General James Giles in 1795, and still active. A third is the so-called "Nail House" (c. 1815; second build c. 1855), administrative home of the Cumberland Nail & Iron Works that established Bridgeton's industrial prowess in the early nineteenth century. The first Cumberland National Bank building (1816), which was only the second bank chartered in New Jersey, is now part of the Bridgeton Library. There is also the David Sheppard House (1791), recently restored with assistance from the Garden State Historic Trust and home to the Cousteau Coastal Center of Rutgers University since 2008.
Bridgeton straddles the tidal Cohansey River and is located near the center of the Delaware Bay lowlands. It derives its name from the original movable bridge that offered the option of regular overland travel on the "King's Highway" across the Cohansey watershed region for the first time in 1716. The name is believed to have been changed from Bridge-towne to Bridgeton in 1816-1817 due to a printing error on documents published by the Cumberland Bank.
Bridgeton is home to numerous large municipal parks. The largest of these, consisting of pinelands, wetlands and lakes, as well as the original raceway system that provided waterpower to the mills, was formed out of the property owned and managed by the Cumberland Nail & Iron Works until 1899. Long considered a recreational area for the region even under ownership by the Iron Works, the property was finally purchased in 1902-3 by the City and preserved in perpetuity as the Bridgeton City Park. It includes three major lakes: Mary Elmer Lake, Sunset Lake, and East Lake. Bridgeton Park encompasses about 1,500 acres (6.1 km2). It now includes the Cohanzick Zoo, New Jersey's oldest zoo, which is free to the public.
The city suffered an economic downturn in the 1980s with the loss of its remaining manufacturing sector jobs in glass and textiles. Agricultural employment, however, has continued to attract immigrant workers largely from Mexico but also Guatemala, creating new challenges and opportunities for revitalization. A significant minority of Bridgeton residents and their children speak Zapoteco, either as their only language or alongside Spanish.
Downtown Bridgeton includes an art gallery, second hand stores, a makerspace, and the headquarters of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation. The makerspace, called STEAMWorks, was opened as a collaborative project between the city and the local Cumberland County College, run by the college the space offers specialized equipment and software to the public at a membership based pricing system, as well as workshops and a limited set of certification courses, no involvement with the college is required.
Bridgeton Main Street declared its downtown a Culinary Arts district and is highlighting downtown activity through the food and cooking-related retail sector. Bridgeton Main Street Association is the oldest Main Street Association in the state, founded in 1990.
In 2008, Rutgers opened the Cousteau Coastal Center of its Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences in the former David Sheppard House, a base from which it coordinates cutting-edge ecological research and develops modules for environmental learning at all educational levels from elementary school upward.
Bridgeton is home to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, an entry point for startup food manufacturers that allows a new company or entrepreneur to work with a specialized team from Rutgers University to develop, test, brand, and package their product.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 6.431 square miles (16.656 km2), including 6.179 square miles (16.003 km2) of land and 0.252 square miles (0.653 km2) of water (3.92%).
As of 2015, 32.0% of residents were living in poverty in 2015. The poverty rate was 13.3% for White Non-Hispanic residents, 35.6% for Black residents, 33.7% for Hispanic or Latino residents, 66.3% for American Indian residents, 32.9% for other race residents and 29.9% for two or more races residents.
There were 6,265 households out of which 40.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.7% were married couples living together, 27.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.3% were non-families. 25.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.36 and the average family size was 3.85.
In the city, the population was spread out with 27.9% under the age of 18, 12.2% from 18 to 24, 34.6% from 25 to 44, 18.1% from 45 to 64, and 7.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29.7 years. For every 100 females there were 135.3 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and older there were 151.6 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $31,044 (with a margin of error of +/- $2,412) and the median family income was $38,750 (+/- $2,233). Males had a median income of $31,202 (+/- $3,369) versus $31,031 (+/- $2,158) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $12,418 (+/- $1,023). About 26.3% of families and 27.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.4% of those under age 18 and 15.6% of those age 65 or over.
There were 6,182 households out of which 36.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.3% were married couples living together, 26.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were non-families. 27.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.96 and the average family size was 3.49.
In the city, the population was spread out with 26.0% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 36.0% from 25 to 44, 15.9% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females, there were 130.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 139.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,923, and the median income for a family was $30,502. Males had a median income of $28,858 versus $22,722 for females. The per capita income for the city was $10,917. About 22.7% of families and 26.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 33.3% of those under age 18 and 17.8% of those age 65 or over.
Portions of Bridgeton are part of an Urban Enterprise Zone. In addition to other benefits to encourage employment within the Zone, shoppers can take advantage of a reduced 3½% sales tax rate (versus the 7% rate charged statewide) at eligible merchants.
Bridgeton has consistently had violent crime rates above the national average. They are among the highest in the state, along with Camden, Atlantic City, Newark, and Trenton. In 2015, NeighborhoodScout, a real estate analytics firm, ranked it as the 25th most dangerous city in America. It has also ranked within the top 50 several other times. Several government officials have attributed crime in Bridgeton to high levels of poverty. According to census data, the poverty rate in Bridgeton is 32%, nearly three times the national average.
The Cumberland County Courthouse in Bridgeton in 2006
The City of Bridgeton is governed within the Faulkner Act system of municipal government, formally known as the Optional Municipal Charter Law, under Mayor-Council plan A, as implemented on July 1, 1970, based on the recommendations of a Charter Study Commission. Voters elect a mayor and five members of the City Council. Council members are elected at-large in non-partisan elections and serve four-year concurrent terms of office in balloting held as part of the November general election. Based on the results of an ordinance passed in June 2011, Bridgeton's non-partisan elections were shifted from May to November, which took effect with the November 2014 general election.
The mayor exercises executive power of the municipality and appoints department heads with council approval. The mayor may remove department heads subject to council disapproval by 2/3 of all members, prepares the budget. The mayor has veto over ordinances, subject to override by 2/3 of all members of the council. The mayor exercises executive power of the municipality. Up to ten departments may be created under the mayor's direction. A business administrator assists the mayor in budget preparation and administers purchasing and personnel systems. By ordinance, the business administrator may supervise administration of departments, subject to mayor's direction.
The City Council exercises legislative power of municipality and approves appointment of department heads. The council may disapprove removal of department heads by 2/3 vote of all members and can override the mayor's veto by 2/3 of all members. The council selects one of its own members to serve as its president.
As of 2016[update], the Mayor is Albert B. Kelly, whose term of office ends on December 31, 2018. Members of the City Council are Council President J. Curtis Edwards, Gladys Lugardo-Hemple, William D. Spence, Jack Surrency and Michael D. Zapolski Sr., all of whom are serving concurrent terms of office that end December 31, 2018.
Federal, state and county representation
Bridgeton is located in the 2nd Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 3rd state legislative district.
Cumberland County is governed by a seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders, who are elected at-large in partisan elections to serve staggered three-year terms in office, with either two or three seats coming up for election each year in a three-year cycle. At an annual reorganization meeting held each January, the freeholders select one member to serve as Freeholder Director and another as Deputy Director. As of 2018[update], Cumberland County's Freeholders are
Freeholder Director Joseph Derella Jr. (D, Millville, term as freeholder and as freeholder director ends December 31, 2018),
Deputy Freeholder Director Darlene R. Barber (D, Upper Deerfield Township, term as freeholder ends 2019, term as deputy freeholder director ends 2018),
George Castellini (D, Vineland, 2020),
Carol Musso (D, Deerfield Township, 2020),
James F. Quinn (D, Millville, 2018),
Joseph V. Sparacio (R, Deerfield Township, 2019) and
Jack Surrency (D, Bridgeton 2020). The county's constitutional officers are
Clerk Celeste Riley (D, Bridgeton, 2019),
Sheriff Robert A. Austino (D, Vineland, 2020) and
Surrogate Douglas M. Rainear (D, Upper Deerfield Township, 2018).
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 8,699 registered voters in Bridgeton, of which 2,816 (32.4%) were registered as Democrats, 772 (8.9%) were registered as Republicans and 5,104 (58.7%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 7 voters registered to other parties.
In the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 81.6% of the vote (4,125 cast), ahead of Republican Mitt Romney with 17.6% (891 votes), and other candidates with 0.7% (37 votes), among the 5,088 ballots cast by the city's 9,034 registered voters (35 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 56.3%. In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 77.9% of the vote here (4,238 cast), ahead of Republican John McCain, who received 20.4% (1,111 votes), with 5,440 ballots cast among the city's 8,986 registered voters, for a turnout of 60.5%. In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 66.0% of the vote here (3,044 ballots cast), outpolling Republican George W. Bush, who received 33.6% (1,552 votes), with 4,615 ballots cast among the city's 7,978 registered voters, for a turnout percentage of 57.8.
In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Democrat Barbara Buono received 62.7% of the vote (1,513 cast), ahead of Republican Chris Christie with 35.9% (867 votes), and other candidates with 1.4% (33 votes), among the 2,499 ballots cast by the city's 8,320 registered voters (86 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 30.0%. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Democrat Jon Corzine received 67.2% of the vote here (1,806 ballots cast), ahead of both Republican Chris Christie with 24.1% (647 votes) and Independent Chris Daggett with 4.4% (118 votes), with 2,687 ballots cast among the city's 8,524 registered voters, yielding a 31.5% turnout.
As of May 2010[update], the city had a total of 71.95 miles (115.79 km) of roadways, of which 46.36 miles (74.61 km) were maintained by the municipality, 20.62 miles (33.18 km) by Cumberland County and 4.97 miles (8.00 km) by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
^Marine, Jaime. "Annual Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Pow-Wow coming to Salem County Fairgrounds", Today's Sunbeam, June 9, 2010. Accessed July 9, 2012. "'The main purpose of the Pow-Wow is to educate the American public about the rich history of the Native Americans,' Gail Gould, of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Office in Bridgeton, said Wednesday. 'It is also like a big family reunion for us.' According to Gould, there are more than 12,000 members of the Lenape tribe throughout Salem, Gloucester and Cumberland counties."
^ abStaff. "Rites for Oberlin Smith Held.", The New York Times, July 22, 1926. Accessed July 8, 2012. "The funeral of Oberlin Smith, Bridgeton's most distinguished citizen and inventor of international note, took place this afternoon from Lockwold, his late residence on the shore of East Lake."
^Adomaitis, Greg. "Bridgeton Main Street president receives inaugural award", South Jersey Times, February 2, 2012. Accessed May 31, 2015. "Fellow BMSA members and co-workers turned their attention to their president and member of five years, who leads the oldest Main Street association in the state.... The Main Street effort was instituted nationally around the late-1970s and was officially incorporated here in 1990."
^Barlas, Thomas. "Cumberland County banking on prisons for economic stability", The Press of Atlantic City, July 3, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2013. "Those prisoners - the county will accept between 100 and 350, depending on space - will join thousands of inmates lodged in three state prisons located in Cumberland County. Bayside State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility in Maurice River Township and South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton house about a third of the more than 23,100 inmates in all of the state's prisons."
^City Code Chapter 19: Elections, City of Bridgeton. Accessed March 18, 2018. "In accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:45-5 et seq., the 'Uniform Nonpartisan Election Law,' after January 1, 2011, election of municipal officers will be held at regular general elections to be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November."
^About Cumberland County Government, Cumberland County, New Jersey. Accessed June 7, 2018. "By law, Cumberland County is allowed 7 freeholders, who serve staggered, overlapping three year terms. Two are elected in two successive years, three in the third year, elected from the county at-large. A Director of the Board is selected by his colleagues for a one year term."
^Staff. "Bridgeton High School", South Jersey magazine. Accessed December 21, 2014. "Bridgeton High School provides opportunities for students from Bridgeton, Lawrence Township and Downe Township in Cumberland County to become members of society who are thoughtful, informed, involved and committed to life-long learning."
^Old Broad Street Church, First Presbyterian Church of Bridgeton, NJ. Accessed November 8, 2016. "This was the first church erected in Bridge Town; the cornerstone was laid in 1792. It was finished and first used for worship in 1795, but not before funds were raised by a state-wide lottery to complete the building. "
^Colman, David. "His Guiding Light? Mom, of Course", The New York Times, December 7, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2012. "One might guess that Mr. Adler, 46, who studied semiotics at Brown University and ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design, had developed his careful balancing act of cynicism and sincerity -- cynicerity, for short -- as an adult. But, it turns out, he had a lucky star guiding him right from the day he was born. A wholly artificial star, of course: the chandelier that hung above his family's dining table in their house in Bridgeton, N.J."
^Bodine, Frank Lee (1874-1964) , Philadelphia Architects and Buildings. Accessed December 21, 2014. "Frank L. Bodine was born in Bridgeton, NJ, the son of J. Nixon and Annie Alexander Millikan Bodine."
^Arney, Pat. "HORROR-FICTION WRITER FOUNDS CREATIVE SOCIETY", The Press of Atlantic City, July 18, 1994. Accessed February 20, 2011. "Julie Ann Dawson, a budding horror-fiction writer and poet, found herself in a "creative void" after she graduated from Rowan College last year. At college she had many opportunities to socialize with fellow creative artists, said the 22-year-old Bridgeton resident, such as the English honor society, the student honors organization, the Literary Forum, and the school magazine, Venue."
^Biography, C. Carwood Lipton. Accessed November 25, 2017. "In 1966, he moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey where he became an Administrative Manager, and in 1971, he and his wife moved to London where he was the Director of Manufacturing for eight different glass companies in England and Scotland for several years."
^Sims, Gayle Ronan. "Harold E. Pierce Jr., 84, dermatologist, surgeon", The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 4, 2006. Accessed December 21, 2014. "He was born in the Art Museum area, and his mother died when he was 7. His father decided the best situation for his son was to be raised by his paternal grandparents in Bridgeton, N.J. He graduated from Bridgeton High School in 1939 and earned a bachelor's degree in science in 1943 from Lincoln University and a medical degree in 1946 from Howard University."