Soupy Island Thorofare NJ ~ Generation after generation of enjoyment

Soupy Island

Sanitarium Playground

Intersection of 2nd and Center Street (Entrance)
Thorofare, NJ

Top things to see in the Philadelphia Are before you die.

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Welcome to Soupy Island

Soupy Island is a bizarre yet wonderful place surrounded by barbed wire. Nestled on the end of a dead end street and sits among quiet residential homes. I have lived in the Philadelphia vicinity all my life and can’t believe I have never heard of this place. It’s more like a local “hush hush” secret. An old grammar school friend had brought it up to me. I was immediately intrigued and had to check it out. Generation after generation has enjoyed Soupy Island over the last 100 years.

As per the bible proverb in Ecclesiastes, one generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth stays forever. Soupy Island is for sure the earth in the Philadelphia area.

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Soupy Island Entrance Sign

The Sanitarium Association was founded in 1877 by an amusement park owner, John F. Smith and other philanthropists. Including many doctors of the time.

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Soupy Island Entrance

In 1886, the Sanitarium Association moved their facility which was on an island in the Delaware River near the Ben Franklin Bridge and relocated to NJ. They had to move because they were widening the Delaware River (dredging) and the island was being wiped out. The Sanitarium Association created a hospital to treat children with tuberculosis on this land. Tuberculosis was one of the most common illnesses to die of in the late 1800s and it affected hundreds of thousands of people.

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1 of the 2 pools at Soupy Island

The plan was to give children clean country air and hot soup as well as recreational facilities to aid in their healing. Amenities as these were a luxury in those days when the majority of the population lived in crowded, filthy and small tenements coexisting with other families. Personal Hygiene was not the best at the time.

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One of the many play parks

Kids were transported via steam engine to the docks of Sanitarium Playground now known as Soupy Island.

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Closer shot of the original slide from 1907. Kids still bring their wax paper so they are able to slide down faster

The land housed a steam operated carousel and recreational facilities for the children to heal and be happy at the same time. The Sanitarium Association thought this was the best way for children to heal instead of a cold, sterile hospital as they were very common in the era.

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The infamous Soupy Island carousel

Over the next few decades, there wasn’t much use for the hospital since antibiotics, vaccinations, and better hygiene came into play. The hospital was knocked down and a swimming pool was put in it’s place.

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This sheltered picnic pavilion use to house the ORIGINAL steam engine carousel

The current main swimming pool is actually part of the foundation of the hospital.

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Main swimming pool. The Foundation of the pool was the old hospital

However, the Sanitarium Association still continued to ship kids from Philadelphia to enjoy their day at Soupy Island in the summers. Kids always got a bowl of soup, snacks, milk, and crackers.

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Covered picnic pavilion where the original steam carousel was under

This tradition still continues today in the original soup kitchen.

In The Great Depression, the soup kitchen was a sanctuary for over 8,000 local families in South Jersey.

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The original soup kitchen that has fed children, the military, and families during The Great Depression. It continues to feed children soup, crackers, and milk today.

During WW2 it was a military base. It was used as surveillance of the naval ship yard directly across the river. There were anti-aircraft missiles housed here to aid in the protection of the shipyard from outside attacks. There was also a ferry service next to the Soupy Island property that sailed across the river called the League Island Ferry. The ferry transported workers and military personnel to and fro the naval yard.

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The old league island ferry site adjacent to the property

The steam carousel stopped working during the 1930s and was replaced by a Joseph Ferrari carousel from New York. The Ferrari carousel is still operating to this day on Soupy Island. This carousel attracts collectors and carousel enthusiasts all over the world. Multiple offers have been given for this beauty over the last few decades and The Soupy Island people simply refuse to sell it.

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The Joseph Ferrari carousel sheltered and protected.

After WW2, it continued to be a recreational facility for kids in Philadelphia and in the surrounding counties. The Soupy Island ferries continued until the 70s. Now, they are primarily bussed in or travel by car.

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The second swimming pool. Notice the old water tower in the picture.

The grounds contain the original slide that was built in 1907 with kids continuing the tradition of bringing wax paper to aid in going down the slide for a faster ride. Two swimming pools, various playgrounds, a soccer field, a basketball court that was donated by Campbell’s soup in 2008. Bathroom facilities, covered picnic areas, the original soup kitchen handing out the tradition of soup, milk, and graham crackers, and best of all the Ferrari carousel.

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More recreational areas

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The house where the caretaker of the property lives. Notice the, “Monroe Smith Memorial”

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The “Monroe Smith” actually means the “Elizabeth Monroe Smith.” The Elizabeth Monroe Smith” was the name of the steamship built in 1917 that transported the children to the island.

All of these amenities are FREE to the public. Funding is from a trust that was set up over a century ago. Donations of food come from Campbell’s soup, and other organizations. This is definitely a place that is reminiscent of a century gone by with a ton of history. It’s definitely nostalgic. However, I see myself taking my son here a lot when he is older.

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Nice sitting area to keep cool in the summer

Soupy Island only asks if you have a party greater than 6 people to call and give them a heads up on your arrival. They don’t permit overcrowding and it is polite for them to be aware of how many people will be on the property.

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Cute birdhouse

Hours are generally 9-2. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays after July 4th and until the end of August.

Private Parties are available on weekends.

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Kids vegetable garden

 

Take the children to see a bit of history in our region and to be taken back in time. A true gem in our vicinity.

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Old original buildings on the property

I’d like to apologize to the readers since the photos are a bit hazy. My camera had run out of battery and had to use my backup, my phone. Normally, I take pretty photos :(

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Best of ALL THE CHILDREN having a wonderful time at Soupy Island. Another generation enjoying a neighborhood legacy.

Also, thank you to the awesome volunteers that aided me on the great information and history!

Hopefully, Soupy Island will continue to be here and be enjoyed for the next century to come.

55 thoughts on “Soupy Island Thorofare NJ ~ Generation after generation of enjoyment

    • You should go! It’s really a wonderful special place. I couldn’t believe the history of the place. I was mesmerized. It is always great to hear everyone’s memories about Soupy Island. I enjoy listening to it all since I love history and seeing how happy people get when they talk about the place. Thanks for sharing, Zina!

  1. I spent many a day at Soupy Island while growing up as I lived within walking distance, also had many school trips there at the end of each school year. As a teenager I worked there cutting the grass 15 hours a week making $1.00 an hour. My daughter had camp outs there with the Girl Scouts and our church had many picnics there as well. I also read the water meters at Soupy Island while I was employeed with the West Deptford Water Department until I retired last year. Seems like Soupy Island was a big part of my life!!!

  2. I grew up in Monmouth County, but I live out of state now. I was wondering if this park, or someplace nearby has a good view of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard across the river?

    • Hi Chuck. Has a decent view. It is only open in the summer months, but there is property next door where you can see it across the river where the ferry once was. National Park and the Westville Wildlife Refuge also have great views of the shipyard. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

      • Thanks! The USS Kennedy is there now and they are hoping someone will “adopt” it for a museum. I thought it might be a good vantage point to get some photos. The Westville Wildlife Refuge sounds like a good spot though, that way I can get some wildlife images too. Thanks!

    • Tremendous Family history, Tom! Hold onto that cup, it may be worth $$ someday! I ENJOY hearing about your father and your wedding. Not many folks can say they were married at Soupy Island!

  3. My father, Bernie Hill, was the caretaker at Soupy Island during the 1970’s. It was great living in the house on the property and growing up with so many “friends” who came to visit every day. I have wonderful memories.

  4. Thanks for such a great look into my past:) My parents were the caretakers that lived on the property when I was born in 1976. It’s great to know that so many people are still getting such fun out of Soupy Island!

  5. Do you know when it opens during the year? Seems like it may just be in July and August but I’d like to go soon. Thanks.

  6. Soupy Island is a big part of my life, I would go there for camping trips, school field trips, etc. Also, I know the current caretaker of soupy island through my aunt, so my little cousin has his birthday party there every year (so we had the whole place to ourselves) It was fun…

  7. I’m a South Jersey gal, living in Europe, and can’t believe I have never heard of this place. Definitely going to check it out next time I’m home for a visit! Thanks for the info.

  8. I started going there about 45 years ago. We lived in National park and our mom would take us for a treat. I remember standing in line for my graham crackers and milk. We always took a roll of wax paper to help us go down the big slide even faster. I didn’t like having to go thru the shower before you could get into the pool. Later in years my friends family had her family reunions there and I got to ride the carousel again. I think all of us kids from National Park and West Deptford have fond memories of this place.

  9. I grew up in National Park, NJ and my brother and I spent many hours “exploring’ along the river…only poor kids from the cities could go there when I was growing up (late 40’s and early 50’s)…so we tried to blend in with them after we snuck in under the fence…only wanted the grahmn* crackers…loved the slide…

  10. Lived in woodbury all my life. The Ferry still ran up until about 1994. A friends father worked on the Ferry. My Girlfrien was able to have her Wedding Rehersal Dinner on the Ferry. We played as kids there for years. Would Ride our BIkes Up red Bank To Soupy Island. GREAT MEMORIES!!! GREAT STORY! thank you!

  11. We visited last year but it was raining & we were alone at S.I. I had never heard about S.I. before. someone mentioned it on facebook & I had to check it out. Lived in S Jersey all my life too. I’d like to bring my gndsons there this year, without the rain. I know the days/hours are un usual so could you let me know what they are. Thanks, Lynn.

  12. Hi all i was one one those kids from philly that only knew bricks are concrete sidewalks, remember getting on this ship well i thought it was a ship to me at penn treaty park i think.
    i was about 9 -10 yrs old would be about 1958-9, i was born 2nd fl apt at 2nd & Springgarden st’s then lived in a house that had an out house bathroom LOL.
    I now live in Colonial manor NJ about 10 mins from National Park.
    I know it had to be fun but i only remember being on boat but i take my grandchildren there Thanks for the writeup.

    • I was just talking to my daughter about Soupy Island and I had heard about it through my mother-in-law when she would take her children there in the late 40’s and 50’s and from what she said it was only children and mothers at that time. I was surprised to see it still exists.

  13. Soupy Island is awesome. Thanks for the memory. I got a private tour in June 2007. I have some nice pictures from the inside of the Carousel and the soup kitchen. You are welcomed to have them, (some how)! Bob

  14. I lived in National Park all my life and Soupy Island was one of the best memerories of my life I went there all the time when I was younger and I was hoping it was still open so I can bring my grandkids please what days and times. And do they still do the soup and gram crackers and milk that was the best!

    • Donna, yes! They still do the soup and crackers. The only thing is… They’re only open to the public (unless a special private event) in only July and August. Hope you cab check them out with the kiddies next year!

  15. I as a child went to Soupy Island and when I got married and had children I took all three of my girls there too, they loved it just as I did. It’s a great place to go, and I have so many memories of it that will be with me forever.

  16. I loved going to Soupy Island as a kid. I remember spending almost every day during the summer there. When I was old enough, Mom would let me travel the mile (approx.) on my bike. Sometimes I would just walk. Sometimes I would go with a friend. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived practically next door to the park. I would usually meet some of my cousins or school friends there. I remember learning to swim well when I was there. I actually practiced diving in the deepest part of the baby pool. You had to take a test to get in the “deep end” of the big pool or to go off the diving board. I passed at age 8. I remember doing cartwheels off the dive. I also remember riding the carousel barefoot and in my wet swimsuit. Back then (if you didn’t get caught), we used to jump on and off the carousel while playing tag with friends. I also remember riding the horses backwards or no hands. It moves pretty fast too. Many scabby knees if you didn’t do it right! People didn’t sue each other back then. We were not close, but I knew Christine, the caretaker’s daughter, too. Does anyone remember the policeman’s picnic summer of 72? LOL, Good times. Wish I could take my grandkids there, but we live out of state now. Maybe someday….

  17. The Elizabeth Monroe Smith ferry was retired in the 1970s, remained berthed at the Camden Ship Repair Yard in Camden, was purchased by the Connelly family in 1984, transported to Pittsburgh, refurbished, and now is part of the Gateway Fleet of vessels cruising the three rivers in Pittsburgh.

  18. Is there a website for Soupy Island. I want to take my family, but I want to know what is actually still there. Are the pools still there or open, the carousel?

  19. Is there a way to volunteer at Soupy Island? I always loved going there for my choir picnics and Girl Scout Camporee. I was wondering if I can help out serving in the kitchen if they still do that.

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