In 1681, William Cooper, a Quaker, and his family settled on 300 acres in a wooded area near the mouth of the present Coopers Creek. Cooper named his estate Pyne Point and later established one of the earliest ferries to Philadelphia. For much of the next 150 years that was Camden's identity - the shoving off point to cross the Delaware River to get to the largest and most important city in America. The main east to west streets - Cooper, Federal, Market, Mickle - were developed aslong, broad avenues leading to the ferry boats.
Camden, the name of the Earl of Camden was first attached a real estate deal in the 1773 and became official in 1828, began to establish its own identity with the establishment of the county in 1844. The town was designated the county seat. Camden's legacy as a major manufacturing center began with a humble pen nib. Cornish Quaker, Richard Esterbrook, a stationer by trade, saw in Britain a move from hand-cut quill pens to steel nibs and recruited five craftsmen from Birmingham, England to come to Camden and set up operations in 1856. The United States Steel Pen Manufacturing Company, later changed to the Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company, was the first steel pen manufacturer in the United States.
Camden's signature industry began in 1869 when Joseph Campbell and Abram Anderson began packing fancy peas and Jersey tomatoes. When an employee, chemist John T. Dorrance, developed a process for condensing soup in the 1890s. Dorrance came to work for $7.50 a week. By 1914 he was president of the company and his fortune of $117,000,000 would become one of the country's largest. The Campbell's Soup Plant was by far the largest maker of canned soups in the world. The plant totaled 42 buildings across 8 blocks. Watertanks with cans painted as replicas of the iconic red and white soup cans marked the waterfront.
All are gone now, leveled in the name of redevelopment. Camden's tentative waterfront rebirth began with an aquarium and now include concert venues, the reestablishment of a water ferry to Philadelphia, and the battleship New Jersey, the Battleship New Jersey, the country's most decorated warship, and other family-friendly attractions. More than two million people a year visit the Camden waterfront. This is where our walking tour will start as we seek out some architectural treasures that remain from the days when Camden fancied itself "The Biggest Little City in the World"...
WALK NORTH ON DELAWARE AVENUE TOWARDS THE BEN FRANKLIN BRIDGE.
Ben Franklin Bridge
The first plan for a Delaware River bridge between Philadelphia and Camden was developed in 1818, when the proposed “Farrand and Sharp’s Bridge” called for a low-level, multi-span structure with several openings to permit passage by tall ships. This early plan was followed in the 1840’s by two separate plans for suspension bridges. The desire for a bridge over the Delaware River was long held not only by Philadelphians, but also by New Jersey farmers who wished to transport their produce to Pennsylvania markets. However, none of the nineteenth-century proposals attracted serious interest. It took the introduction of the automobile to resurrect interest in the proposed Delaware River bridge. In 1913, the city of Philadelphia formed the Penn Memorial Bridge Committee to study a possible fixed crossing. Construction of the Delaware River Bridge (as it was originally known) began on January 6, 1922 and when it was completed in 1926 it boasted the longest main suspension - 1,750 feet - in the world. Ironically the bridge almost was not built due to a controversy over tolls - not how much to charge but whether to charge money to cross at all. Pennsylvania wanted a free bridge while New Jersey demanded a toll. Each side was so fiercely adamant that construction was halted and there were proposals to tear down the bridge. The conflict went into the legal system and advance to the Supreme Court. It took the revelation of corruption in Pennsylvania to lead to a compromise. The toll was set at 25 cents and was an instant success - two million vehicles crossed in the first three months of operation, twice as many as forecast.
501 North Delaware Avenue at Penn Street
When Campbell’s Field opened in May 2001 as the home of the Atlantic League Camden Riversharks it marked the first time in nearly 100 years that the city had hosted professional baseball. The first nine to take the field representing Camden was in 1883 in the Interstate Association. The last was in the Tri-State League in 1904. Neither team lasted out the season. With an assist from one of the more dramatic stadium settings in minor league baseball, the Riversharks are approaching their second decade.
WALK BACK SOUTH ONE BLOCK TO COOPER STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Cooper Street, between 2nd and Front streets
Inside the wading pool by street's edge is a cast of Peter Pan by George Frampton, a notable British sculptor and leading member of the New Sculpture movement from the last decades of the 1800s. There are seven casts of the Peter Pan statue, with the mischievous boy playing pipes in the midst of woodland animals, around the world. This is the only one in the United States.
Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts
Johnson Park, 101 Cooper Street
This gleaming Neoclassical building fronted by six Ionic columns was erected in 1919 as the Cooper Branch Library. Behind the columns is a magnificent frieze, "America Receiving the Gifts of Nations," made of over 100,000 pieces of richly colored American opalescent glass, all carefully selected with reference to their particular place in the design. The park, library, pool and statue were the gift of Eldridge R. Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Built between 1914 and 1930, the complex occupies an entire block near Camden's waterfront on the Rutgers-Camden campus. Today, the library houses the Walt Whitman Arts Center and is owned by Rutgers-Camden.
Edward Sharp House
202 Cooper Street
Edward Sharp was one of the initial schemers on bridging the Delaware River to Philadelphia. He bought up nearly 100 acres in what would become much of today's Camden in the pursuit. His plan was to use Windmill Island, a sandy island en route to Philadelphia which served as an obstruction to river traffic. The eastern end of the bridge was to be at the foot of Bridge Avenue, and although the bill authorizing its construction was approved by the state legislature in 1820, it was never built. Edward Sharp went into debt in 1821. He lost his house, built in 1812 and one of the city's best examples of Federal period architecture, was forced to abandon his bridge plans, and his land was seized by the sheriff.
218-222 Cooper Street
This multi-use residence was designed in 1925 with a touch of Spanish mission by Alfred Green and Byron Edwards, who were also involved in the Camden County Courthouse and Cape May Courthouse.
305 Cooper Street
This home was built by Dr. Henry Genet Taylor, a Brigade Surgeon in the Civil War and a founder of Camden's first hospital, the Camden Dispensary. Taylor was on the original staff of Cooper Hospital when it was founded in 1884. This house was built the following year, designed by prominent Philadelphia architect Wilson Ayre. The Taylor family remained at 305 Cooper Street in Camden as late as 1959.
Republican Party Headquarters
312 Cooper Street
The Republican Party dominated politics in Camden from the 1870s through 1935. This headquarters building was constructed in 1914; for many years after the Republicans departed in 1923 it was the home of the Camden County Red Cross.
Mitchell H. Cohen Federal Building & Courthouse
400 Cooper Street
In the 1990s the Federal Courthouse on Market Street was expanded through to Cooper Street and renamed the Mitchell H. Cohen US Courthouse in honor of Camden-born lawyer and judge Mitchell H. Cohen.
Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church
southwest corner of Cooper Street and 5th Street
The original congregation was organized in 1866, and this building of Trenton brownstone, designed by architect Frank R. Watson, was built in 1892 to replace the original chapel.
southeast corner of Cooper Street and 5th Street
The Hotel Plaza was built in 1927, and was originally called the Plaza Club Hotel. In 1947 it underwent a complete remodeling. Hotel owner S.N. Petchers of New York explained that the high cost of modernization was "justified in my belief that Camden will continue as one of the leading industrial cities in the country and entitled to the kind of top flight hotel service we provide." The Hotel Plaza closed in 1985.
538-542 Cooper Street
This trio of houses was designed for John Cheney in 1892 by Arthur Truscott. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Arthur Truscott did not receive any formal education in architecture nor were he under the tutelage of an architect. He would become a leading proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States. Truscott was involved in the design and building of several Camden buildings, including the New Jersey Safe and Trust Company in 1886, the Broadway public school at Broadway and Clinton Streets in 1886, and the Camden Post newspaper building at the northeast corner of Front and Federal Streets, which broke ground in 1887. His maternal aunt was Cheney's wife.
First Camden National Bank
southwest corner of Cooper Street and Broadway
This was Camden's first bank when it was incorporated in 1812, known as The State Bank at Camden. A century of mergers and name changes led the bank to this corner in 1928 when this Neoclassical vault was erected with a price tag of $825,000.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY.
Camden Trust Company
northeast corner of Broadway and Market Street
The Camden Insurance, Safe Deposit & Trust Company opened its doors on Federal Street in 1873 during a business panic in the United States. It persevered, however, and grew into the largest bank in South Jersey and one of the ten biggest in the state. This property was first occupied in 1892 and this Neoclassical building with strong rusticated lower floors was constructed in 1928.
Church of the Immaculate Conception
southeast corner of Broadway and Market Street
The sparse Catholic population of early Camden didn't get their own house of worship in the city until 1859, on the southeast corner of Fifth and Taylor Avenue, in 1859. It was called the Church of the Immaculate Conception but quickly found wanting. New ground was purchased here and the cornerstone for the current building laid on May 1, 1864. It was built of Trenton brownstone, with Connecticut stone trimmings and represents the English decorated Gothic style of architecture.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
City Hall and Courthouse Annex,
5th Street, between Market and Arch Streets
This light gray granite skyscraper is the tallest building in Camden and, at some 371 feet, the tallest building in the Philadelphia metro area outside the city itself. The modified Grecian design is the work of Camden architects Byron Edwards and Alfred Green, Camden architects. From the main building of five stories rises a slender 17-story tower, narrowing at the top into open work resembling the neck of a bottle. On the tower is a huge new clock in place of those that have ornamented Camden's city halls since 1876.
Smith-Austermuhl Insurance Company
431 Market Street, northwest corner of 5th Street
Andrew B.F. Smith and Charles W. Austermuhl erected this building in 1920 for their insurance business, one of the most successful in South Jersey.
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
401 Market Street
A Post Office was established in Camden in 1803 and called Cooper’s Ferry Post Office. It was located, appropriately, in the hotel at the foot of Cooper street since the first postmasters were Benjamin Cooper, 1803-1806; Charles Cooper, 1806-1810; and Richard M. Cooper, 1810-1829. In 1829 the name was changed to Camden, the post office moved to Federal Street and no more Coopers were involved in handling the mail. This hulking post office and federal building came along 100 years later as a Depression-era works project, built on the site where Ed Gondolff's Temple Bar and Hotel and the adjacent Temple Theater Building had stood. The exterior is richly decorated in symbols of government strength.
TURN LEFT ON 4TH STREET TO ITS CONCLUSION AT FEDERAL STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Central Trust Company
403 Federal Street, northeast corner of 4th Street
The Central Trust Company organized on April 9, 1891 at Read's Hall, a building which later housed the Camden Daily Courier newspaper. The enterprise was successful enough to move into this Beaux Arts vault on October 31, 1900. The Central Trust Company was absorbed by the Camden Safe Deposit & Trust Company in 1927. After the merger, the Central Trust building became the home of the Equitable Beneficial Insurance Company until 2003.
South Jersey Gas, Electric and Traction Company building
418 Federal Street
This majestic Beaux Arts building fronted by a colonnade of engaged Corinthian columns in 1904 as headquarters for the. High atop the columns are three words carved into the facade: Gas, Electric & Railway. The building was constructed on top of the old courthouse. It was a fallout shelter in the 1950s and in the mid-1980s it became the Camden Free Public Library.
TURN AND WALK DOWN FEDERAL STREET TOWARDS THE RIVER. TURN LEFT ON THIRD STREET. TURN LEFT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING BOULEVARD (MICKLE STREET).
Walt Whitman House
330 Mickle Street
Walt Whitman was born on Long Island in 1819 and spent his most productive years in Brooklyn. He came to Camden in 1873 after suffering a paralytic stroke, to live with his brother. He spent the remaining 19 years of his life in the city, buying this 1840s frame house in 1884. Internationally renowned by that time he spent his days in Camden mostly as an aging literary lion, although he continued to produce editions of his seminal work, Leaves of Grass. He died in 1892 and was buried at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden in a granite mausoleum of his choosing that cost a reported $4,000. The house was bought be the city in 1923 and serves as a museum today.
RETURN TO 3RD STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO MARKET STREET.
Security Trust Building
301 Market Street
The New Jersey Safe and Trust Company was organized in 1886 and this building, designed by Arthur Truscott , was erected the same year. The Late Victorian Eclectic architectural style tower would be copied many times across Camden in the coming years. The building housed a bank up until 1949.
The exterior of the facade consists of seven heads with crowns and two heads with inscribed names; five stars, and 20 clam shells. The words on the older man "Prudentia" is French meaning honor, virtue, duty; on the younger man "Audentia" is Italian meaning boldness and courage; the seven women with crowns symbolize the 'Seven Deadly Sins'; the Stars of David are for protection; and the clams hold the jewels that lay within.
TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET.
National State Bank
northwest corner of Market Street and 2nd Street
Tracing its history back to 1812, this Neoclassical bank building showed up on the Camden streetscape in 1926.
1 Market Street at northeast corner of Delaware Avenue
Delaware-born Eldridge Reeves Johnson was a gifted student who was discouraged by a teacher of pursuing a higher education and instead found himself in a four-year apprenticeship in a Philadelphia machine shop. In 1886 the 19-year old Johnson took a position at the Standard Machine Shop at 108 North Front Street in Camden, New Jersey. By 1894, Johnson had purchased his employer's interest in the machine shop and immediately changed the name to: Eldridge R. Johnson Manufacturing Company. In 1896 an early record player, a hand-cranked Gramophone came into his shop for repair. Johnson could see the contraption was poorly designed and he soon rigged a spring-powered motor for the Gramophone that operated at a uniform speed, was affordable and functioned quietly, making the hand-cranked sound machine obsolete. Johnson's improvements led to the commercial viability of the disc-playing Gramophone in the United States. Johnson manufactured Gramophones for a few years but after patent wars emerged in 1901 with the Victor Talking Machine Company and its record player, the Victrola. Its logo - Nipper, a small dog with its ear cocked to hear "His Master's Voice" - was already in place, having been purchased for 100 pounds British sterling. Camden became the center of the recording industry with singers and musicians from around the world coming to town to make the new phonograph records. Johnson would sell out in 1927 for $28 million and the company would soon merge with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The RCA plant in Camden would cover 10 acres on the waterfront and employ over 14,000 workers. RCA Building #17, with its Nipper Tower, is all that remains, converted into a residential complex.
CONTINUE WALKING TO THE WATERFRONT AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.