The steady push of suburban sprawl slowed just a few miles north of Franklin Township in Gloucester County, leaving long swaths of cornfields instead of housing developments, and boxy homes with bass boats in the driveways along the lake.
There’s a skating rink, and lots of firewood that’s been split, stacked, and set out for sale along the roads — and plenty of well-worn bars with pickup trucks parked outside. Franklinville, as the locals call it to differentiate the township from all the other Franklin Townships in New Jersey, has a blue-collar feel and had always voted that way, locals said.
And then came 2016.
“I voted for Donald,” Mark Yezzi, 62, said at one of those bars, the Little Ease Tavern, on Monday afternoon. “I wanted change, man. We needed a change.”
The news that special counsel Robert Mueller, after nearly two years of investigation, found no evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia was not on the lunch crowd’s mind. Many said they didn’t know what the Mueller probe was, or said they’d never voted, and a few of the business owners in town didn’t want to talk politics at all.
On a Facebook group about township politics, someone did post a “total exoneration dance” video.
The subject dominating TV news and newspaper fronts was simmering, if present at all, in Franklinville on Monday. At the VFW hall on Delsea Drive, neither the bartender nor a patron would comment on the probe, both saying they didn’t know enough about it.
No one answered the door at a home where a Trump/Pence sign still stood, spiked into a tree stump.
Yezzi, drinking a Miller Lite at the tavern, had followed the news, and said it was time to put the probe behind us.
“I don’t think it was a waste of time, but I can’t stand how they were dragging it out," the self-employed township resident said. "Let’s get to the thing. I don’t think the Democrats are ever going to let it rest.
“Can’t we just get along?”
Across the parking lot, at Cap’n Cat Clam Bar, a Democrat from Washington Township, commented on how quickly Attorney General William P. Barr had drawn conclusions from the Mueller report.
“Whatever happened with it, it seems like you’re not going to find out, right?” Rich Fliss, 65, said as he prepared to eat a plate of raw clams. “We’re never going to be able to see the whole thing.”
Up to 50 percent of Franklin voters have been registered as unaffiliated. In 2012, Barack Obama won here, but four years later, Trump took 58 percent of the vote. The town was named one of New Jersey’s “Trumpiest” in a post-election story on NJ.com.
The median income is around $81,000, above the state average. Many said those paychecks came from good-paying union jobs, construction in Philadelphia and Atlantic City or industries along the Delaware River.
Carl Mohring, a retired DuPont Co. employee who lives in town, said he voted for Trump mostly because Trump was a businessman and not a longtime politician. He said Trump started with “nothing” before amending that to “something.”
“Hard-working people don’t want to go for these people, the big money people," he said inside Villari’s Sports Bar. The Mueller report, Mohring mused, will help Trump win again in 2020. “Some of these Democrats who are running are crazy.”
Yezzi said the rural aspect of Franklin, its many lakes and wooded properties, can’t be ignored, There’s strong support for the Second Amendment, he said, as in other blue-collar communities across the country. That’s left many Democrats, like those in his family, in limbo.
“We have a lot of hunters, and they don’t want to lose their arms,” he said. "It’s like that in a lot of Gloucester County. "
The Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing in the bar as one customer announced that Villari’s was squarely in “Trump County." Many deflected questions to customers further down the bar. Others didn’t know what the Mueller report was about but remained supportive of the president.
George Farr said he didn’t approve of Trump’s behavior all the time, but, “I think he helped this country.”