“A pioneer charity of the country”: NJ’s “Soupy Island” Sanitarium

Sanitarium Playground, better known in the hearts of thousands of Philadelphians and South Jerseyans as Soupy Island, appeared at the end of Red Bank Ave. with its mirth subdued by barbed wire. The compound’s shabbiness belied its significance to scores of young Philadelphians whose lives were spent in the stifling airlessness of Philadelphia’s red brick canyons. Founded in 1877 by an organization called the Sanitarium Association of Philadelphia, the compound is a specimen of the late nineteenth century social hygeine movement bound up in well-meaning upper/middle class paternalism. Though the social philosophy that gave rise to Soupy Island implied that poor immigrants were constitutionally unable to care for their own health, by all accounts Soupy Island was — and continues to be — a much needed outlet for the region’s kids.

Soupy Island

With the support of Philadelphia type-founder John F. Smith, the Sanitarium Association of Philadelphia began ferrying Philadelphia kids to spend an afternoon on the now-defunct Windmill Island in the Delaware in 1877, the efforts of the organization garnered the accolades of public health experts. By 1886, the Sanitarium Association purchased 15 acres on the then-bucolic eastern shore of the Delaware river in West Deptford, New Jersey. As William Hale Beckford put it in his The Children’s Crusade of 1916, the free service was “a pioneer charity of the country”:

The same year that the Sanitorium Association began its retreats across the Delaware, the Reverend Willard Parsons of Sherman, Pennsylvania opened the homes of his congregation to New York tenement children, now known as the Fresh Air Fund. To nineteenth century Americans, lung diseases were a paralyzing threat. Prior to Dr. Robert Koch’s identification that tuberculosis spread by the bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which so happened to thrive in dark apartments with several families, the curious causal scientific wisdom of the day suggested that the disease was innate to poor, immigrant populations in urban areas. But public health reformers did not see that tenement conditions were just sufficient and not necessary for the propagation of the disease. American health leaders of the late 19th century (many of whom were also religious leaders) attributed the spread of disease to a combination of moral corruptness and ignorance which kept immigrants in conditions of squalor. It was not entertained that conditions of poverty tended to determine whether immigrants lived in habitations where the photophobic bug thrived. For health reformers interested in offering “uplift” or instruction in social hygeine, some were motivated by altruism while others feared that sickness, absenteeism, and social disorder posed a grave threat to American industrialized society.



So from the discovery of the bacillus in 1882 to the discovery of streptomycin in 1946, the main mode of treatment was the sanitarium approach: a combination of “taking the air” and labor. But unlike the typical adult sanitarium, the youth sanitarium on the Delaware was designed to be carefree and fun. A carousel designed by Frederick Heinz was installed in 1901 and six years later a slide was added. Today, two pools and a wading pool help kids from Philly and Camden cool off during the summer. Soup seems to have always been a constant, and during the Depression it seems that strictness slackened and consumption was not a precondition for getting a cup of soup. Ferries would leave daily from Penn Treaty Park for the six mile trip down the Delaware.



In 2004, Soupy Island went through 70 cases of soup a season and survives on an endowment. Though it is unclear whether nearby Campbell’s Soup has had any affiliation with the facility, a team from the Camden company came out last May to fix up a couple ballfields. The caretaker of the facility lives in a 12-room dormitory that once housed the doctors and the nurses who for years treated Philadelphia’s consumptive children.



76 thoughts on ““A pioneer charity of the country”: NJ’s “Soupy Island” Sanitarium

      1. Soupy Island is actually located in National Park, NJ. It is a town named National Park, not an actual national park.

  1. Elementary schools took annual field trips there in the spring in the 60’s – invariably someone would go down the world’s best sliding board on a piece of wax paper and the next few kids would FLY. It was the highlight of our April and usually the first time it was warm enough to wear shorts. Had no idea it was still open! The carousel must be worth a small fortune – cannot believe it is still running!

  2. soupy island is still open. my sis in law and her grands along w/ me and my kids went this past summer and it was great. i have lived in glouc. county my whole life and never knew about it. we’ll go every year now.

  3. In 1953-54 my 2nd and 3rd grade classes from what was then Thorofare #3 school had year end picnics at Soupy Island. I remember the soup house where you could peer through windows and see the large boiling pots where soup was made. There were two hand built “slides” that were very unique in construction. Sadly, only one survives (last visit 1988). The carousel was a masterpiece and should I re-visit south Jersey again, (now living in California) an afternoon at Soupy Island would be mandetory. It has served so many people so well, I hope it is on an historicl places list and continues to be preserved.

  4. During the 1950’s and early 1960’s Oakview Elementary School also took it’s year end school picnic at Soupy Island. I remember waiting in line to go up the stairs of the covered “slides” and to get on the Carousel. We would have orangeaide from Heritages Dairy to drink and we all brought our own sack lunch. After lunch there would be relay races and then back to the slides. It was the highlight of every school year. I also hope Soupy Island can be preserved. It’s one of those memories of growing up in the South Jersey area that I’ll never forget; along with Riverview Beach Park and Clementon Amusement Park.

    1. Oakview School took year end trips in the 80’s also. the PTA supplied freeexe pops and cupcakes and each child brought lunch. toward the end of the 80’s the trips became family affairs and were held in the evening.

    2. WOW!
      I also went to Oakview elm school and remember going to Soupy Isle. The sldes and the carousel. This was back in 1975. Clementon park was also a great memory for me. My dad grew up in the house that we lived.in. We lived 450 Francis ave .He also went to oakview and West Deptford high and so did my mom.
      Thank God they had enough guts to leave everything and everyone they grew up with to follow their dreams, and moved to Florida. Gulf of Mexico was and still is my back yard. Except for the Lake I live on. There’s nothing like walking 10 feet out your back door, to your private dock and with just a couple cast with a fake worm catch 10 pound basa all day long, ALL YEAR LONG! Not counting the world’s most beautiful beaches less then 6 miles away. Sidney Burr is my fathers name. We moved here on a bet my parents had. 1980 if the phillies won the world series and my dad bought home tickets to every home game my mom agreed to move. Now I live about 20 minutes from the spring training field. And I still have my ticket stub from one of the wnning 1980 world series games I thank God they won that series all the tme. Also got to go to wnning Flyers stanly cup.
      Now its all about the Lightning, the Rays, and the Buccaneers. Literally and physically. LOL

  5. I would like to know information on the 2008 season as Regina posted. I can remember as a child the Carousel and having picnics at Soupy Island. I would love to see those memories again as an adult.

  6. Hi, use to live in Paulsboro. I remember going as a child. My question now is. Do adult come. I have a ministry in Camden City at
    Fellowship House and I have a women’s group I would love to bring the ladies to soupy island. I cannot find a contact number for you.

  7. I also used to go as a child. My family is from Paulsboro. I would also like to find a contact number and I am curious if anyone knows if it is available for rent?? Maybe like family reunions or parties?? Does anyone have any information?I have wonderful memories of Soupy Island and would love to take my children there. Is it open to the public?

    1. Yes they do rent it out for party’s my family has been having our Family Reunion there for 40 years now the number is 8568452430

  8. Well I went today to see where it was and there is a number
    856-845-2430. When I called it, states that this is the correct number for soupy and that I could leave a message. The sign says the hours are Tues and Wednesday 9-3 Thursday 9-4 but I went around 5PM on Saturday and there was not a soul to be found, maybe due to pooor weather earlier in the day? I heard they were open 2 weekends ago but, noo weekend hours posted.

  9. I was just there this past weekend with a local church from West Deptford and we had a blast..yes it is open and you have to call and ask for specific times…i am from West Deptfordand I grew up going there and now my childrens’ day care attends every summer…great place to go even to have your own picnic


  11. My father, Bernard Hill, was the caretaker at Soupy Island in the 1970’s, and we lived in the house right there in the park. It’s great that the park is still operational – from the slides to the merry-go-round! I remember playing all day in the park while the kids came over on “The Good Ship Lollipop” from North Philly, and hanging out on the weekends when the park was rented out to different employers and organizations for their picnics.

  12. Soupy Island is awsome I’ve been going here since I was 2 and I’m now 13. Everybody should check out this place it is awsome and the milk,gramh crackers and the soup is awsome!

  13. Soupy Island is only open on Tuesday,Wendesday,and Thursday. And you can have private party’s on Saturdays. It is about $4.00 a person for the private party.

  14. I’ve been going to Soupy Island has long has I can remember. When I got older I would take my son,nieces,and nephews,and whoever I was watching at the time. They looked forward to it. Where can you go 3 days a week for 6 to 7 weeks, free soup, snacks,swim, and play all day. Don,t forget the giant slide and carousel! I even worked there 1 summer in the kiddie pool, my mom and sister work there. We been having our family picnics there for about 18 years. So if you would like a fun day with the kids just come to SOUPY ISLAND!!

  15. I was just at soupy island for a family reunion on Saturday, July 19th. I have no idea how my mom’s cousin organized the whole thing, but she asked that we all give her $3.00 per person except for my 2 year old and my 9 month old which were free. We were given our own pavilion to use. Does anyone know if and how much they charge per person on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays? My kids want to go back really bad and we don’t want to wait for next year’s family reunion. We love the 2 pools!

  16. What is the real number for Soupy Island NJ? please respond to me somebody because I’ve searched everywhere and i can’t find the number to this place.Thank you

    1. I see that a comment was made in July of 2008 inquiring about the number for Soupy Island. Ive been searching as well for the number. Is there a web site or something I can view for this information. Please respond. I would like to plan a trip for the summer and with no information of contact…I cant proceed.

  17. it’s hard to find cause you have to look for the sanitarium

    from philly (google map):

    Driving directions to 1718 Front St, Thorofare, NJ 08086
    13.9 mi – about 23 mins

    N Broad St & Spring Garden StPhiladelphia, PA

    1. Head southeast on Spring Garden St toward N 13th St 0.7 mi
    2. Turn right at N 6th St 0.4 mi
    3. Merge onto Benjamin Franklin Bridge/I-676 E/US-30 E via the ramp on the left to I-95
    Continue to follow I-676 E
    Entering New Jersey 5.7 mi
    4. Merge onto I-76 E 1.9 mi
    5. Take exit 1A to merge onto I-295 S toward Delaware/Del. Mem. Br. 3.5 mi
    6. Take exit 22 toward Red Bank 0.2 mi
    7. Merge onto Red Bank Ave 1.4 mi
    8. Turn left at Front St 85 ft

    Sanitarium Playgrounds of Nj
    1718 Front St, Thorofare, NJ 08086

    1718 Front St
    Thorofare, NJ 08086

    Get Directions
    (856) 845-2430

  18. As a young child I remember my Mom telling me how much Soupy Island meant to her, and her siblings. Mom always told great stories about her childhood, yet the ones about Soupy still stand out in my mind.

  19. As a resident of Rhode Island and an avid ship historian , I would like to
    inform interested parties of Soupy Island that the former steamship
    Elizabeth Monroe Smith served Block Island, RI until 1983 as the M/V
    Quonset. Built in 1915 for the Sanitarium, the S/S Elizabeth Monroe Smith
    was eventually sold to New York interest and was renamed the S/S Bojangles and provide service between Manhatten and Coney Island. During the mid 1950’s she was sold to Interstate Navigation Co. of New London,Conn. Renamed Quonset, the ship was completely rebuilt from the main deck. Her old wooden superstructure was removed, her steam machinery and boiler were removed. The original pilot house was kept ,however and was placed ontop of her new steel superstructure which had no resemblence at all of the original design. At this time she was also dieselized with two Cummins engines. She was designed to carry 12 vehicles and 500 passengers. Her service to Block Island began in 1957 and ended in 1984. She was used for a couple charters and was eventually sold to Haitian interest and was taken south. Unfortunately, I do not have any more knowledge of where she is or if she still exists.

  20. I went to soupy island ans a kid in the early 1950’s, as did every kid I knew and what a ball we had! I can’t remember ever having that much fun anywhere else. We didn’t have much back in the 50’s but NOBODY had anything more than anyone else, if they did they didn’t flaunt it .I just remember getting so excited when my mom said we were going.If you just mention the name to anyone from the 50’s or more you’ll be sure to get a SMILE !! I love this memory… Carol

  21. I went to soupy island as a kid in the early 1950’s, as did every kid I knew and what a ball we had! I can’t remember ever having that much fun anywhere else. We didn’t have much back in the 50’s but NOBODY had anything more than anyone else, if they did they didn’t flaunt it .I just remember getting so excited when my mom said we were going.If you just mention the name to anyone from the 50’s or more you’ll be sure to get a SMILE !! I love this memory… Carol

  22. As a Philly kid we didn’t have much, no car, my parents didn’t even drive, but when my older brother got his license, he took all of kids to a BBQ on Soupy! I think you must have been allowed to have company parties there. We had a great time and I always wondered if this place really existed. I would love to go there to look around, does anyone have a 2009 schedule?

    1. it’s still open my wife takes the kids there on thursdays. its free kids 12 and under tuesdays 7 & under… they give out soup and juices and snacks all say long, my kids really like it. its not a fancy place but the pools are nice and they have a new play ground and a really nice staff as well.

  23. i used to go there when i was in elementary school. Does any one know if its open to the public now> or how you are able to go in?

  24. it’s still open my wife takes the kids there on thursdays. its free kids 12 and under tuesdays 7 & under… they give out soup and juices and snacks all say long, my kids really like it. its not a fancy place but the pools are nice and they have a new play ground and a really nice staff as well.

  25. I remember going there many times as a kid in the 50’s. I was a kid from the Kensington area of Philadelphia at the time. I remember taking a boat from Penn Treaty’s Pier. It was a day for the kids from the city to get a day playing at the park. We also got free soup and milk there. But, just for info. I’m now retired from the Navy living in Florida.

    1. I too grew up in Kensington in the ’50’s. In the summer a group of us would run all the way to the pier to get on the boat to Soupy Island. We always had a great time and would come home dirty and exhausted.

  26. I went there last year for the first time. Its still has its old school charm. You can still go play on the carousel, slide, play on playground, swim in the pool and enjoy a hot cup of soup, donated by campbell soup. Becareful planning a day trip soupy island is only open current days. It hard to contact anyone with the hours, you might need to take a ride there to get the hours and days they are open.


    1. I use to go to Soupy Island as a child and I would love to take my children. I always tell them stories of it. We use to have so much fun…until one summer something happened terrible to a friend. We never went back after that. However, all of my experiences were good other than that one and I am an adult with my own family and would like my children to share in an experience that I so frequently speak about. We use to go to Delaware Ave and catch a boat over. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THE EXPERIENCE AND WOULD LIKE TO SHARE IT WITH MY CHILDREN. PLEASE, If anyone has information on contact info. with SOUPY ISLAND. I would greatly appreciate it.

  28. I”ve searched the internet for operational hours of the pools and the park itself with no luck….if anyone knows the hours please respond. Thanks so much!

    1. Nicole, I was there last month for my daughter’s school picnic and asked for the hours. They open the week after July 4th and are open for seven weeks.
      Tues 9am – 2pm (children up to 8 years old)
      Wed 9am – 2pm (children up to 12 years old)
      Thurs 10am – 3pm. (children up to 12 years old)
      Pool opens at 10am.
      I hope you enjoy the summer at the park.

    1. Ive been searching for contact info. for Soupy Island and Ive had no such luck. I would like my children to experience the wonderful times as I did as a child going to Soupy Island. Please forward any info. that would help me.
      Thanks in advance

      1. Just show up on the days above. Families that just show are free! Groups have to make reservations.

  29. Can anyone tell me where I can get a picture of the big white boat that use to leave Penn Treaty Park and take kids to soupy island during the 1950s. It had no engine and was pulled by a tugboat


    1. The steam ship was The Elizabeth Monroe Smith. If you do a Google images search you can find some, hopefully something like what you are looking for.

  30. I went to Soupy Island in elementary school just like my parents and my grandparents did at the end of the school year as a Fun Day. Today I went with my 3rd grade class and still had a blast and my children now go there for their fun day too. It is peaceful and fun for all. The Carousel is 110 years old and the double slide is 104 years old. They have added many more pavilions, play areas and its super clean.

    1. I had never been there as a child but have been several times within these past 2 yrs. My kids have also been with their summer camps and loved it. I was just wondering how do you arrange a gathering there and when does it open up for the summer

  31. My older brother just took my mom and uncle, to Soupy Island on 6/14/11.My mom is from Kensington, and is now 71, grew up on Willdie street. Its been many yrs since she has been there, and never drove, just took the steam boat there. So my brother pulled up to the location, and stopped the car. They said where are we, then he pulled up to the sighn, and they realizes where they were, and simply cried, Of course with many great memories. I must say, great job to my brother, they loved going back to see a great memory of there child hood, and they always appreciate where they ended up in life, to where they they started from, which was nothing.

  32. I am about to take my 3 year old daughter to soupy island in 2 weeks thank you everyone for all the helpful infor i just hope its the right info lol, i want my daughter to experience the history behind this playgroud!

  33. Well they open to the public July 5th 2011 thats a tuesday. thursday is 8 and under, wednesday is 12 and under. if you are going as a family its free to get in. and the number that someone posted above is the correct number 856-845-2430 and someone answer the phone for me on a Sunday at 4:43pm.

  34. i would like to know if the park is available for rent for my granddaughters birthday party in september it would be a great place for our family and friends to bring their children for a fun afternoon

  35. I too went to soupy island as a kid. I remember being taken there on a large white boat tied to a tug boat that. Does anyone have a picture of that boat.


  36. I am one of ten brothers and sisters. We lived in National Park. Soupy Island was several blocks from our house. My siblings and I have many good memories of Soupy Island. I remember getting hot soup along with gram crackers and milk. There was something about life being simple then. The huge slide and the carousel with all the pretty painted horses going up and down. It was a great way to spend a summer day!!

  37. Absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this Place!!! This is our 8th year of Celebrating our Daughter’s Birthday here at Soupy Island, and I cannot imagine having her party anywhere else!! Best well maintained and KEPT Secret! 🙂

  38. Christine, Hi, I’m the Yummygal with that link you have above. Volunteers told me Tuesdays are for the younger kids usually under 8 years old. There is a kiddie pool onsite. They just want the child to be potty trained (no diapers and they are free to go in and swim). The kiddie pool is 1 1/2 feet deep. Wednesdays and thursdays are more fore the older kids. It’s never packed and thoroughly enjoyable.

    I’ve noticed if you go in person you get more information because like you said hard to get them on the phone.

    It is a “secret”. I think because they don’t want to over stretch their budget since it’s free to the public.

    There are bathroom facilities there as well. They do private functions and I’m sure they’d work with your boy scout group.

  39. It’s surprising that all these responses never mentioned Allegheny Pier which was in Port Richmond by the old Reading Railroad yards, This was the first stop for the “ole Soupy Island Boat”. Everyone tried to get there early as they only took so many passengers from there, before going to Penn Treaty Park to fill up the boat. Once they took their quota, everyone else was turned away. We went in the 30’s and 40’s and the Elizabeth Monroe Smith was still operating and didn’t need a tug. The smell of that engineroom was quite an Occasion. We would get a cup of milk and a graham cracker, AND of course a tin cup of soup. Some families actually took a jar for soup to be taken home for their fathers. Interestingly, the Navy Yard ferry was right next to the dock and the workers could go right across the river to the Navy Yard. Since the Navy Yard closed, the ferry is not there any more, but Soupy Island is still there. I was too young, so I never got into the pool. AAAh, the old days!

    1. Yep! Spent many of hot summer days at Soupy. Lived in Nat’l. Park 1958-1963 on Simpson Ave. All of us kids would ride bikes there and have a ball all day. Graham crackers and milk and NO POOL for thirty minutes after eating.Ha. The merry-go-round was the greatest.nice memories.

  40. I just listened to a tape my father recorded in which he talked about Soupy Island. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure there really was a place with this name or if it was just what the little kids called it. He was born in 1916 in South Philly (one of 10 children). He said that he and some of his brothers used to get on the Liz Smith ferry around South Street and traveled “miles and miles” to Soupy Island. This must have been in the late 1920’s/early 30’s, during the Depression. Of course he mentioned the wonderful soup they received and what a great time they had. He said you could go every day if you wanted to. I’m planning on visiting this place that must have meant so much to my sweet and wonderful father. Thanks for all your info.

  41. I realize I’m coming to this more than a bit late, but may I offer a correction? The carousel maker’s name is Heyn, not Heinz. This carousel also has the distinction of being the last numbered PTC carousel. PTC numbered all carousels they worked on — both those they built themselves and those they refurbished, of which this is one. It carries the designator #93R, with the R meaning refurbished.

    I have not visited this carousel yet but hope to someday.

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