Atsion as it is known today was established by Charles Read in 1765 when he constructed an iron forge on the bank of the nearby river. The iron industry at Atsion, first with forge then with furnace, would last eighty years. Atsion’s first era of prosperity came during the ownership of Abel James, Henry Drinker, and Lawrence Saltar. It was on their watch that an iron furnace was constructed at Atsion, making the works self sufficient. It first went into blast in April of 1774 and produced goods such as salt pans, water pipe, and stoves. A fire in October of 1794 destroyed the works. Atsion’s second era of prosperity would come during the ownership of Samuel Richards. Samuel Richards, son of Bastso’s William, originally purchased shares in the property in 1819, but it wasn’t until 1824, when he successfully reestablished the iron furnace, that Atsion would have its heyday. It was during this era that the village would consist of a grist mill, three sawmills, a church, a school, a company store, various workers homes and the mansion.
The Atsion Mansion would serve as the Richards family’s summer home, their primary home was in Philadelphia. The mansion was constructed in the Greek Revival Style and is oriented so that the windows, on the north and south sides, are in position to catch the sunlight throughout the course of the day. The completion date, 1826, is visible on the downspouts, and the porch columns are believed to be water pipe from Weymouth Furnace, another of Samuel Richards’ properties. The home contains fourteen rooms on three floors plus a cellar. The kitchen was located in the cellar with an open hearth fireplace and bread oven, plus various rooms for food preparation and storage. The first floor contains a warming kitchen, a dining room, and two connected parlors. All the rooms are off of the main hall, which was the north-south axis through the home. The bed rooms on the second floor, accessible by way of the main staircase, were used by family and visiting guests. Two of the rooms, connected by way of a common closet; are believed to be the bedchambers of Samuel Richards and his wife Anna Maria Richards. The rooms on the third floor were used by the servants and were accessible by way of a back staircase originating in the secondary kitchen.
Through the years of various owners, the home was not modernized. Electricity and plumbing were never introduced and fireplaces were used for heat. A rudimentary central heating system was planned, though it is unknown if it was successfully implemented. To see the home today is to see it as it was the day it was constructed.
Samuel Richards passed away on January 4, 1842. His lands, one hundred and twenty eight thousand acres, including Atsion, were left to his two children from Anna Maria, son William Henry received the south half and daughter Maria Lawrence received the north half, where the mansion and iron works were located. On June 14, 1849 Maria Lawrence Richards married William Walton Fleming, who, in attempting to revive the local economy, built a paper mill on the site of the iron furnace, in 1852. This was unsuccessful, and by 1854 Fleming was in such debt that he fled to Brussels to escape creditors. In 1859, to satisfy her husband’s debts, Maria Lawrence Richards, daughter of Samuel, offered her shares of Atsion for sale.
From 1861 until 1954, Atsion had a variety of owners with a wide variety of ideas for its development. Among them was Colonel William Patterson who envisioned a planned agricultural community. He began the Fruitland Improvement Company, renamed Fruitland. His plan was to sell plots for both farms and homes; however this was unsuccessful, so to satisfy the mounting debts his holdings were offered for sale. Maurice Raleigh purchased those interests and changed the name of the town back to Atsion. He also converted the paper mill to a cotton mill. This industry had moderate success. When Raleigh passed away, his heirs, hoping to benefit from the recently added rail line that bisected the area, formed Raleigh Land and Improvement Company and renamed the town Raleigh. Though it was a well conceived plan, it was only successful on paper and as it was not a profitable venture, and was ultimately scrapped. In 1892 the lands were sold to Joseph Wharton and would become part of his ninety six thousand acre South Jersey tract. The Atsion lands, as they were once again known, were where many of Wharton’s agricultural endeavors, such as peanuts and cranberries, were centered. When Joseph Wharton passed away in 1909 the lands were part of the estate left to his wife Anna, and later to their three daughters, Joanna, Mary, ad Anna. The Atsion lands, part of the Wharton Tract, were purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1954. The reason for this purchase is the same now as it was then, the protection and preservation of the natural and historic resources.