Collins Hall Gets Historic Marker
On September 6, 1886, John S. Collins acquired land in Merchantville from Senator Alexander G. Cattell. Collins was a founder and developer of Miami Beach and Collins Avenue, there, bears his name. In 1887, carpenters built a lumber yard complex on this site. Fire, in 1892, destroyed the existing main structure. This large hall building with a Queen Anne façade and overtones of Germanic Victorian brickwork was erected in 1893. It was in a prominent location, where Centre Street was crossed by the tracks of the railroad. The first floor housed the building supply company owned by John S. Collins, coal and lumber merchant, Quaker developer and visionary, and his son-in-law, Thomas J. Pancoast. There was a railroad siding, south of the Hall, with auxiliary shops in the rear. On the Chestnut Avenue side, the Post Office (1900 to 1909) served residents. The developers designed the building to provide spaces for the growing cultural and social undertakings, including the handsome first public auditorium on the second floor and a third floor Masonic meeting room that served that organization from 1893 until 1965. St. Agnes Guild of Grace Episcopal Church gave the premier performance. In 1912, Collins and Pancoast became J. S. Collins & Sons and offered a complete line of lumber, hardware, paints and garden supplies. The Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission had its beginnings when a group of citizens met here to discuss the water famine of 1909. The Playcrafters found a home in the building in 1937 and remained there until 1976. Dancing classes for young girls and boys were conducted in the auditorium. The public has enjoyed eateries such as Craig’s Ice Cream Parlor (late 1970s), Tavern on the Square (opened March 1998), The Collins House (2004) and The Blue Monkey (2008). Thus, this building was an architecturally imposing commercial structure that caps the most active generation of Merchantville's growth, representing the maturing of the community as it evolved towards one that sustained the arts and was unified by various social and fraternal organizations. On February 16, 1984, it was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places.