Washington Park upon a Frozen Delaware River

Frozen-Wasteland-detLast week I assumed I had a picture of men plowing snow. As it turned out, my assumption was false, and it turned out to be a team of ice cutters. With this week’s photo, I was reasonably sure that the two men and the dog were standing upon the Delaware river which had frozen over, but I wasn’t sure of the location. I decided to take the preemptive measure of forwarding the photo to Jerseyman who has helped out enormously in the past identifying places and things in these old glass negatives.

Sure enough, Jerseyman got right back to me with this fascinating piece of information:

This image shows John Capewell and presumably his son out on the Delaware River ice with Washington Park on the Delaware stretched out along the shoreline behind them. The Shoot the Chute ride is the one on the extreme left with the incline extending down from it. chute-shoot

Directly behind the two men is a head-on end view of the Ferris Wheel, the largest in New Jersey at that time. To the left of the Ferris Wheel is what appears to be the carousel pavilion and other buildings associated with the park. ferriswheel

I would guess this photo dates to before 1909, when the park suffered a disastrous fire, based on the rides viewable in the image. If I had to hazard a guess, I would suggest the year 1907, but only if that fits with the age of the son.

Thanks, Jerseyman!

My guess is that John B. Capewell is the fellow in the derby, but I doubt if the other guy is one of Capewell’s boys. I sent Jerseyman a small JPEG and there’s not a lot of detail to grab a hold of. If it was 1907 to 1909, John Jr. and Henry would have been infants to toddlers. In this tighter shot, the shorter figure looks like an adult.

Here is the full frame of this glass negative:

Frozen-WastelandWashington Park-on-the-Delaware was in Westville, NJ along the Delaware River. It was built by Billy Thompson who was known as The Duke of Gloucester. He was a fascinating character whose life and career sound like it would be great material for a prequel series to Boardwalk Empire. Thompson emigrated from Ireland and wound up in Gloucester City in 1870 where he would make his fortune. He was a shrewd businessman, an entrepreneur and eventually a politician serving on the Gloucester City Council, the New Jersey legislature, and was a member of the County Board of Freeholders. He opened the 900 acre amusement park called the Washington Park-on-the-Delaware in 1895. and it was billed as The Greatest Pleasure Resort in The World. It had the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, an all girl orchestra, a baseball diamond, restaurants and all sorts of amusements. It packed them in until a fire destroyed it in 1909. There were plans to rebuild, but it never happened.

Westville’s website has a historic section with some fascinating information on Washington Park-on-the-Delaware. It seems like something may have happened to the text or the website because there are some strange repetitions and disjointed sentences, but stick with it. The Park sounds like an incredible place, and although I went to grade school in Westville, I’ve never heard anything about Washington Park until the incredible Jerseyman identified the place in the background of Capewell’s frozen landscape. Read about Washington Park-on-the-Delaware HERE.


About The Capewell Glass Negative Collection

The Capewell Glass Negative Collection is a series of about 200 5-inch by 7-inch glass negatives shot early in the 20th Century by John Batt Capewell (1878-1951) of Westville, New Jersey. John passed the negatives down to his son Henry who left them in his wife’s possession upon his passing. Henry’s widow didn’t know what to do with them and didn’t particularly want them so she offered them to my Dad who couldn’t turn down anything. Ultimately I wound up with them and thought I would one day have photographic prints struck from them. That didn’t happen, but I came up with the digital workaround of placing the negatives on a lightbox and rephotographing them with a digital camera. The “processing” was then done on a computer with image editing software. Many of these pictures have not been seen in a century, and I’m proud to be presenting them today.

At first, I did not know who the people were in the photographs. I have a box of ephemera that accompanied the negatives and snagged a few clues from that as far as the Capewell name. I did some research on the internet and had a few false starts and wrong turns, but the readers of these posts have provided a remarkable amount of research and detail. I’m amazed at what people have turned up sifting through public records and such!

This story continues to evolve. Every Thursday, I will post a Capewell picture or two. If you recognize a person or place in one of the shots or just want to drop a line, feel free to comment!

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4 Responses to Washington Park upon a Frozen Delaware River

  1. Joe:

    Here is a link to some of my comments on Washington Park:


    I plan to prepare a full history of this great amusement center for my own blog in the coming months. I have the text started, but work always interferes with my pleasure!

    My dating of the image not only stems from the rides shown, but also when, according to newspaper articles, the river frozen solid enough to support the two men. My apologies for misidentifying the other man as one of the sons.

    Keep up the good work, Joe!

    Best regards,

  2. Joe_Williams says:

    Thanks, Jerseyman!

    No need to apologize. It’s hard to identify the figures in the shot.

    I became fascinated with Washington Park and The Duke of Gloucester after chasing down some background on the info you supplied. I can’t wait to read your history on the subject!

  3. Jim Bessing says:

    Joe, I hope this isn’t a repeat, I think I forgot to hit enter the last time, I don’t think that is John B. unless he figured out a better way to trigger the camera. That is a great historical shot tho.

  4. Joe_Williams says:

    It’s not a repeat, and you’re probably right. Capewell was probably behind the camera unless he had a real long timer.

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