Mount Holly was first settled in 1677 by Walter Reeves who acquired the land by payment from local Native Americans.
The town essentially began after a dam was built on the Rancocas. This allowed water to flow into a mill race that was built connecting two loops of the meandering creek. The race initially powered a grist mill and saw mill. Edward Gaskill and his sons hand dug the mill race on their property between 1720 and 1723.No mills remain on the raceway that still flows in its original course from the Rancocas just above the dam. The land where the mills once stood is now the Mill Dam Park. After the mills were established, houses and commercial buildings were built on High, Church, White, Mill, and Pine Streets so that by 1800, over 250 dwellings had been built.
Mount Holly in the Revolutionary War
On December 17, 1776, Colonel Samuel Griffin crossed the Delaware River with 600 men — mostly untrained men and boys, and with little equipment — and marched to Mount Holly, where he set up a few “3-pounder” artillery pieces on Iron Works Hill. Hessian commanders von Block and Carl von Donop, were told that there were 3,000 American troops at Mount Holly.
By December 23, 1776, 2,000 Hessians were moved from Bordentown and positioned at The Mount in Mount Holly, where they engaged in a three day-long artillery battle with the Americans on Iron Works Hill. The Americans slipped away that night.
After George Washington crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, the fact that thousands of Hessian troops had been drawn to Mount Holly aided in the Continental Army’s success in the Battle of Trenton the next day, a surprising American victory that helped turn the Army’s fading morale after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington just weeks before and the ignominious retreat through New Jersey.
The 1793 state legislature approved the relocation of the Burlington County seat from Burlington City to Mount Holly. Several important municipal buildings were constructed including the courthouse built in 1796 and the County prison (now a museum) built circa 1819. The prison was designed by nationally known architect Robert Mills. There remains an abundance of 18th and 19th century buildings in town, most of which are included in the Mount Holly Historic District that is listed in the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. Commercial buildings were constructed primarily along High Street. In 1849, the Burlington and Mount Holly Railroad was established and twenty years later, the Camden and Mount Holly Railroad had constructed a station near the intersection of Washington and King Streets.
Mount Holly in the 20th century
A trolley station was built in 1904 for the passengers making connections to Burlington City and Moorestown. New municipal buildings were constructed during the 20th century including the town hall on Washington Street (1930) and the U.S. Post Office building located across the street (1935).
In the late 1950s, Mount Holly began experiencing economic difficulties stemming from the loss of its industrial base. In the post-World War II period, Mount Holly saw a large number of blue collar, family wage jobs disappear as the community’s traditional employers, mills and dye factories, were shut down. Initially the impact of the loss of jobs was masked by increased employment with Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, especially during the period of the Vietnam War. In 1970, the residential vacancy rate in Mount Holly was 4.3%. By 1980, the vacancy rate had climbed to 8.7% as a result of the nearby military installations’ downsizing after the end of the Vietnam War. During this same period, 1970–1980, shopping malls proliferated in the Philadelphia area and retail business in Mount Holly suffered. Mount Holly received Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) status in 1995, which has considerably helped the local economy by providing tax incentives and other assistance programs to local businesses, including lowering the sales tax rate to 3½, half of the prevailing rate charges statewide.