In Lawnside, it's impossible to escape the Bryant name.

It's on road signs and the local community center, evidence of the family's long political history, which dates to at least the 1920s.

There was Horace Bryant, the state Assembly's first black calendar clerk, and then Horace Jr., the former commissioner of banking and insurance and New Jersey's first black cabinet member.

And then there was Isaac Rutledge Bryant, who ran the local school board.

And of course, his sons Wayne, the former state senator now serving a prison sentence for corruption, and Mark, the current mayor. The list goes on.

But Mark Bryant will step down next month after 20 years in the office, marking what seems to be the end of the family's long run.

"It's the end of an era. There will not be a Bryant officially involved in the leadership of the community," said the Rev. Douglas Goldsborough, pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Lawnside, where members of the Bryant family are parishioners.

In Lawnside, a small, predominantly African American town that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, no other family has the cachet of the Bryants. The affluent and politically influential family's departure from the town's political scene is being met with a mix of nostalgia and relief.

For some, they were the town's blessed sons, who used their education and name to bring money and attention to a borough of 2,800 people. For others, they were a power-mongering clique, and you were either in or out. Critics were not surprised when Wayne Bryant was indicted in 2007 on charges that he illegally steered money to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

"Hopefully, this is the end," said Willa Coletrane, a member of the town council who frequently clashed with the mayor. "When we ran for office, they said, don't even bother because you can't beat the Bryants. I still think it was a fluke."

Fresh blood

The official explanation for Mark Bryant's leaving office is that after more than 30 years - he joined the Borough Council shortly after graduating from Rutgers - it was time for some fresh blood for the town and a long desired break for himself. But this year's election would have been his first since his brother's legal troubles arose.

And Mark Bryant, who runs the government-funded community health-care center CAMcare, acknowledged his brother's indictment, which he continues to argue was racially motivated, had an impact on his decision.

"He was the one who always encouraged me to run. He was part of my kitchen cabinet of advisers," the mayor said this week. "It's probably affected how all of us [in the family] feel about serving in public life. I don't think you'll see anyone in this next generation getting involved."

The end of the Bryants' political run comes more than 200 years after Lawnside was established as a haven for freed slaves on land donated by a Quaker farmer. Known originally as Snow Hill and then Free Haven, the Borough of Lawnside was formally incorporated in 1926 as a town intended for and run by African Americans.

During the civil rights movement, as the country watched the South boil in scenes of cafeteria sit-ins and riotous protests, Lawnside's position as a black town was a point of pride for residents.

"If you look at the history of the town, there's no other place like it," said Clarence Still, a member of one of Lawnside's historic families. "Living here, it gives the people a lot of perspective, to respect the struggle."

Political royalty

To this day, Lawnside retains a small-town appeal that is distinctly African American. People who gather in the post office to trade gossip do so underneath a poster of Malcolm X.

And, for many, the Bryant family was the town's version of political royalty.

Through their elected offices, the Bryants brought state money to Lawnside it would have been unlikely to see otherwise, enabling in recent years the purchase of a new fire truck or the expansion of the community center. While those deals might have drawn criticism in Trenton, to many Lawnside residents they were simply the Bryants delivering for their hometown.

"When we go off to college, we often don't come back home. But the Bryants did," Goldsborough said. "Leadership was one of things that was in the family. And the people here, they're going to miss that."

But recently there have been problems for the Bryants.

Rising property taxes and an attempt to bring an upscale housing development to the town through a failed eminent domain fight rubbed some residents the wrong way.

And Wayne Bryant remains in prison, even as he faces bribery charges in another case.

But Mark Bryant predicted that in the end that event would be "a pimple" on the larger story of his family's political service to the town.

"It's like that old P.T. Barnum saying. You can fool some of the people all the time or all the people some of the time. But you can't fool all the people all the time," he said. "People in Lawnside know who we are and what we stand for."

Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.