Our People of the Century
Charles K. Landis: Founder of a City, Creator of a Dream
Charles K. Landis had a dream when he carved a city from the South Jersey wilderness in 1861.
That dream lived on after his death six months into this century. “I am about to build a city, and an agricultural and fruit-growing colony around it,” Landis said on Aug. 8, 1861, as he directed the driving of a steak into the ground marking the central point for his new settlement.
He chose his ideal site between Forest Grove and Millville. A railroad ran through the site, affording easy access to the marketplace of Philadelphia.
Landis bought 20,000 acres and paid workers $1 per day to cut an avenue 100 feet-wide and about one mile long. He used the railroad as a center point. Some laughed at Landis and questioned his sanity.
When the first leg of Landis Avenue (then known as Horse Bridge Road) was finished from the Boulevard to Main Road, Landis set out to establish a post office in the still barren settlement he called Vineland.
The government laughed: Build a post office in a town with no inhabitants? Landis persisted. After a chance meeting in a Philadelphia hotel with Robert Tyler, son of John Tyler, Landis was appointed to the first postmaster of Vineland.
Landis began to advertise his settlement, and, in 1862, the first house was built on East and Landis avenues.
Direct train service was established to Vineland from Philadelphia and New York, and he would greet visitors as they exited the train.
Some locals referred to them as “victims” but by 1865 a population of roughly 5,500 had settled in Vineland.
Landis kept a strong hold over the community. He tried to ensure Vineland remain a “dry” town and worked to keep out the land speculators. He only sold land to those who promised to improve the property.
Uri Carruth, editor of the Vineland Independent, and some citizens protested, thinking Landis nothing short of a dictator.
Written assaults on Landis appeared in the newspapers frequently. When rumors questioning his wife’s sanity leaked into the Independent, Landis became enraged. He walked into the office of the newspaper and shot Carruth in the head.
Carruth later died and Landis was arrested and charged with murder. He was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity.
Landis had a hand in establishing other South Jersey communities, including Sea Isle City, which was founded in 1879. Sea Isle was his last full-scale project.
When he died on June 12, 1900, his vision for Vineland, a well-planned town surrounded by fertile farmland, had been launched.
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