Early Settlement

Initial European activity in the vicinity of present day Camden occurred along the banks of the Delaware River where the Dutch and the Swedish vied for control of the local fur trade. Fort Nassau, built by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, was the first European attempt at settlement in the area. Located within the present boundaries of Glouscester City, the fort served as a trading center and storehouse until 1651 at which time it was dismantled. English expeditions occurred as early as 1620, but the monarchy, consumed with domestic and European wars, did not have the power to enforce their claims against the Dutch or the Swedes.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, King Charles II granted all the lands between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers to his brother, the Duke of York. In turn, the Duke of York gave a portion of these lands between the Hudson and Delaware River (New Jersey) to two loyal courtiers, Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley. Soon after, Berkeley was beset by financial problems and in 1673 sold his half of New Jersey to Quakers John Fenwick and Edward Byllynge. Fenwick took modern Cumberland and Salem Counties as is share, but Byllynge had to sell his share due to financial difficulties. Rescued by a group of Quaker trustees, (William Penn among them), Byllynge’s lands were divided into 90 shares of 20,000 acres each and offered at 150 a share to men interested in creating a Quaker colony. A document entitled “The Concession”, which promised religious freedom, representative government and fair taxation, was created to attract the Quakers who had long suffered persecution in England. In order to further facilitate settlement, the land was divided into tenths. The Third tenth, often referred to as the Irish tenth due to early settlements of Irish Quakers, comprises modern day Camden County.

By 1700, Quaker colonists had begun to reshape the West Jersey environment. Indians and settlers coexisted peacefully, but the European presence altered Indian life drastically. The native inhabitants, the Lenni Lenape, were peaceful hunters and gatherers who resided along streams in wigwams or long houses. English encroachment upon their woods and streams, and the use of other natural resources taxed the Indians’ survival. The introduction of alcohol and the exposure of the Indians to infectious, diseases to which they had no inherent immunity further dwindled Indian populations. A half-century after settlement, virtually no Indians remained in the Third Tenth.

Europeans continued to settle in the improve the area. Much of the growth directly resulted from the success of another Quaker colony across the Delaware River. Philadelphia, founded in 1682, soon had enough population to attract a brisk trade from West Jersey. To accommodate the trade across the river, a string of ferries began operation.

The Ferry Industry

The earliest record of a license granted for a ferry service was to William Royden in 1688. This ferry presumably located on Cooper Street, was later abandoned by Royden but continued in 1695 by Daniel Cooper and was to remain in the Cooper family for 150 year. Ferry systems were also established by William Cooper (Daniel’s father) at Coopers Point (established c. 1689); on Market Street in 1800 by Abraham Browning, (later called the West Jersey Ferry); another on Market Street by Randall Sparks (c.1820); Federal Street Ferry (est. 1764) by another Daniel Cooper; Wrights Ferry, also on Federal Street, established by Joseph Wright in 1786; and Kaighns Point Ferry on Ferry Street by Joseph Kaighn in 1809.

The extensive ferry system at these various points along the eastern shore of the Delaware River was the original impetus which resulted in the growth of a few small settlements which would later consolidate into the city known as Camden.

The earliest structures which were built within the bounds of modern Camden relate directly to the ferry industry. Taverns, hotels and pleasure gardens were established at or nearby ferry sites around the turn of the century. The majority of the building which relate to the ferry industry are no longer extant. Infill westward along the Delaware River has extended the shoreline to its present configuration. Industries utilizing the proximity to the river for shipping purposes have located at the former ferry site, demolishing many historic buildings related to the ferry industries.

The “Coopers Point Hotel” or “Archers Hotel” which stood on State Street near Delaware Avenue was built by Samuel Cooper in 1770 and was the second ferry house erected at Cooper’s Point. It was torn down in 1896. When Samuel Cooper moved from the ferry house to his farm, (known as Pleasant View Farm) he erected, in 1793, the two and a half story brick house still standing on Twenty-Second Street in East Camden. Cooper died in this house in 1812.

At the Middle Ferry, the Daniel Cooper House, (1764) on the northeast corner of Front and Federal Street, became a tavern after his death in 1776. The house, also known as Parson Hotel was torn down in 1883. Also at Middle Ferry, the old “Ferry House” was on the north side of Cooper Street between Front and Point Streets. Erected 1794, it was used as the first post office in Camden. The house was later purchased by the city and demolished.

At South Ferry, a house formerly stood at the southeast corner of Kaighns Avenue and Front Street known as the “Ferry House” or “South Ferry Hotel.” It was built about 1770 by Joseph Kaighn, a grandson of the first settler in that area, and occupied by him until his death in 1797, when his son Joseph move into it. Having established a ferry at Kaighns Point, Joseph built a new house on Kaighns Avenue and turned the old homestead into a ferry hotel. The hotel is no longer standing.

One of the most significant remaining ferry-related properties in the city is that of the Benjamin Cooper House, at the intersection of Point and Erie Streets in North Camden. The two and-a-half story Dutch Colonial stone house is one of the earliest buildings and also the only remaining ferry tavern in Camden. The Cooper’s Point property was conveyed to Benjamin Cooper by his father, the first Joseph Cooper, along with the right to operate the ferry in 1728. Benjamin Cooper built the house in 1734. Upon his death, it became the residence of his eldest son, Joseph, by whom it was occupied at the beginning of the Revolution. During the British occupation of Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, the house served as the headquarters of British Lieutenant Colonel Abercrombie. In later years, the house was used as a saloon and called “The Old Stone Jug”. It is presently used as a business office for the Camden Ship Repair Company. The Benjamin Cooper House represents the Cooper family’s interest in the ferry business for over 150 years, as well as being representative of an architectural type prevalent in the Camden area during the first part of the eighteenth century.

The Joseph Cooper House situated at the head of 7th Street, consists of two portions, a one story Dutch Colonial style stone home and a two and a half story brick addition built prior to 1785. Joseph Cooper, who built the original portion c.1709, was the son of William Cooper, who established the Cooper Point Ferry at this location. The City of Camden purchased this property in 1913 and the house with the surrounding land was converted into Pyne Point Park. The building, the oldest known extant structure in Camden, was vandalized in 1980 during the initial phrase of its restoration, and remains in a ruinous condition with only exterior walls standing.

Initial Townsites

Early settlement of the City of Camden is interwoven with the acquisition and transfer of land. A number of families who owned land located between Newton and Cooper Creeks built homes and established residency. Out of these early settlers, the families of William Cooper, John Kaighn, and Archibald Mickle made substantial improvements and through their descendants, retained ownership of their lands for centuries. Lands belonging to these three families would later be subdivided to form a large piece of the future City of Camden.

William Cooper (1632-1710), progenitor of the Cooper family in America, was the earliest settler to effect improvements upon his land and to retain ownership through his descendants. In 1681, Cooper 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.

Jacob Cooper, Williams Cooper’s great grandson, took his first step toward the development of a townsite on Cooper lands. Having acquired 100 acres of land in 1764 from his father, William Cooper (1694-1767), Jacob, in 1773, laid out 40 acres of his tract into streets and lots. He named his town after the Earl of Camden, Charles Pratt, a British friend of the American colonies.

Camden’s northern boundary was an old bridle path, which Jacob named Cooper Street. The south line of the plat was located midway between Market Street and Plum Street (currently Arch Street). Streets were laid out from Cooper Street and the river eastward as follows: King (Front), Queen (Second), White Hall (Third), Cherry (Fourth), Cedar (Fifth), and Pine (Sixth). The location by this townsite in relation to modern day Camden is illustrated in Figure 6. By 1781, Jacob Cooper had sold 123 of the 167 platted lots. The remaining portion of his lands he sold to his nephew, William Cooper, son of his brother Daniel.

The next addition to the town of Camden extended further south to Federal Street. In 1893, Daniel Cooper’s brother Joshua platted a tract which extended from the southerly line of his uncle Jacob Cooper’s tract. Joshua laid out Plum Street (Arch Street) from the river to Sixth Street and platted a total of 53 lots on both the north and south side of Plum. This southern extension was commonly known as Cooper Village.

In 1820, extending further south, Edward Sharp, having purchased 98 acres from Joshua Cooper, laid out a portion of these lands into streets and lots and named it Camden Village. Sharp named the main thoroughfare Bridge Avenue, as he projected the construction of a bridge across the Delaware River to 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. Sharp’s lots, located between Federal Street and a point 150 feet south of Bridge Avenue, were purchased by several people who afterwards took an active role in community affairs in Camden. Among the purchasers of these lots were prominent figures such as Samuel Lanning, the first mayor of Camden; John D. Wessell, the owner of the ferry at Federal Street; and Reuben Ludlam, the first City treasurer.

Sharp had an impressive home built c. 1812 on 200 Cooper Street, Lot #42, in Jacob Cooper’s original townsite. Gideon V. Stivers, prominent builder and mayor of Camden (1830-1838), built Sharp’s house in accordance with the then popular Federal style. Edward Sharp went into debt in 1821. He lost his house, was forced to abandon his bridge plans, and his land was seized by the sheriff. During the 170-year lifespan of the Sharp house, there have been but five owners to date. One of the best local examples of the Federal style, the house has been preserved through its continuous occupation. It is presently listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

These three town plats, as laid out by Jacob Cooper, Joshua Cooper, and Edward Sharp formed the initial basis for the City of Camden.

Consolidation of Three Settlements

The first three decades of the nineteenth century saw the development of the three settlements around the ferry sites at Coopers Point, Camden and Kaighton, into a city with industries and varied industries and a varied economic base.

Description of the city during this period can be found in the writings of two prominent authors. Ornithologist and artist, John James Audubon and local author, Isaac Mickle, in their respective works, describe Camden as a collection of villages, each separated by a half mile of woods or farmlands.

Expansion into some of these lands, which separated the villages, began to occur. Camden businessman and public servant, Richard Fetters (1791-1863) purchased land from the Kaighn family to establish Fettersville in 1833. Lots originally laid out by Fetters, measured 30×200 feet and in 1835 were assessed at $50 each. These low rates attracted many buyers of modest mean, a large portion of them South Jersey and Philadelphia blacks. The town of Fettersville, bounded by the Delaware River, and modern Line Street on the north, Cherry Street to the south, and Third Street on the east, grew rapidly. By 1835, Fetters bought additional lands from the Kaighn family, east of his initial purchase and south to monder Mt. Vernon Street. He platted these lands into lots and sold them for $125 for a lot 40X100 feet. Fetter’s plan placed the fronts on the streets running east and west in consideration of his design for a ferry to be located at the foot of Spruce Street.

Development was also occurring in the vicinity of Kaighns Point, where the Kaighn family had extensive interests, which included the ferry. The settlement, known as Kaighnsborough or Kaighton, existed as early as 1801. The town was officially surveyed by Joseph Kaighn as one of the commissioners appointed to divide the real estate of Jame Kaighn. The plan was filed in the county clerk’s office by 1812. Kaighnsville, another black settlement to the southeast of Fettersville began to grow in the 1840’s. A fired destroyed the community in 1854 but it was rapidly rebuilt.

Another early development named Centreville, was laid out in building lots by the Kaighns Point Land Company on land formerly belonging to prominent Camden physician Isaac Mulford and the Mickle family. Extended eastward to Evergreen Cemetery in 1851, Centreville was eventually renamed Stockton. Lots were sold on easy terms and sales were rapid until the burning of the ferryboat New Jersey in 1856. Sixty passengers perished in the mishap which proved to the deterrent to the inflow of homeseekers from the western shores of the Delaware. By 1871, Stockton was annexed to the City of Camden.

In 1842, the Cooper Lands known as Coopers Hill, east and south of the original townsite area, were laid out into 100 lots and offered for sale by William D. Cooper. These lots sold rapidly and at good prices due to their location on high ground which deemed them highly desirable for residential properties. This area, the present site of the Cooper Medical Center and its immediate surrounding neighborhood, consists of three story brick rowhouses which now remain as some of the earliest rowhousing in the city. The remainder of the Cooper Lands north of Birch and Main, previously restricted to agricultural uses, were laid out with streets and lots and offered for public sale by 1852.

In 1812, the first state bank south of Trenton was approved by the New Jersey State Legislature and by 1821 the town could boast a weekly newspaper, the American Star. The post office, established at Cooper’s Ferry in 1803, changed the official name of the town to Camden in 1829, following the City’s incorporation the year prior. The City had grown southward to Newton Creek and eastward to Broadway.

By 1840, the population of Camden had grown to 3,371. Camden, then located in the upper half of Gloucester County, appealed to the state legislature for better representation. This resulted in the creation of Camden County in 1844. Bitter political struggle ensued between Long-A-Coming (Berlin) and Camden for location of the new county seat. Finally, in 1848, Camden was voted the county seat.


The location of Camden, situated between two water ways, the Delaware and Cooper Rivers, combined with its proximity to Philadelphia contributed to the early rise of industry within that area. The system of ferries and the stage service, which linked Camden to all the important towns of South Jersey, helped Camden attract some early business enterprises in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. These businesses included lumber dealers, manufacturers of wooden shingles, pork sausage manufacturers, candle factories, coachmaker shops that manufactured carriages and wagons, tanneries, blacksmiths and harness makers. In South Camden, Capewell Glass Works founded in 1841 produced quality flint glass.

The latter half of the Nineteenth Century was the most significant period in the developmental history of the City of Camden. Industrial expansion, urban growth, and new immigration radically transformed the City. Richard Esterbrook’s steel pen factory, which employed only fifteen workers when it was founded at the foot of Cooper Street in 1858, was now a thriving company. John W. Starr’s twenty-five-year-old Camden Iron Works on Cooper’s Creek was well on its way to becoming one of the largest manufacturing enterprises in South Jersey. Camden City’s lumber firms, oil cloth factories, woolen mills, chemical plants, and carriage factories generally showed growth as well.

More remarkable were the new industries in the city. Where census takers in 1860 had counted eighty manufactories in Camden City, there were 125 in the same area in 1870. Some of them were already major enterprises. The John H. Dialogue Shipyard at Kaighns Point, later called Wood, Dialogue and Company profited by government contracts during and after the Civil War. Though a relatively small firm in comparison to the shipyards on the western bank of the Delaware, it was now engaged in a large repair and iron shipbuilding business. Joseph Wharton’s Camden Metal Works, later known as the American Nickel Works, began production in 1862 in a plant on Cooper’s Creek near Tenth Street. Its importance was insured since it was the only nickel refinery in the country and served as the major supplier of nickel to the United States Mint for manufacture of coins. Other successful new firms included Henry Bottomley’s Camden Woolen Mills on State Street near Cooper’s Creek, Charles F. Hollingshed’s Cooper’s Point Iron Works and the modest canning factory which Joseph Campbell and Archibald Anderson built on North Second Street in 1869.

Great improvements in transportation systems set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. The railroad was the single most important determinant of industrial growth in late Nineteenth Century Camden. The Camden and Amboy Transportation Service established the first railroad service between Camden and Amboy in 1835. Its direct effect on the City of Camden was negligible, but the railroad’s great success served as an inspiration to potential railroaders throughout New Jersey.

In contrast the Camden and Atlantic Railroad, while never a financial success had considerably more effect on the growth of South Jersey. Organized in 1852, the line originated in Camden, traveled through the Pine Barrens and terminated at a town to be named Atlantic City. Heavy passenger traffic, which developed as the sleepy resort grew into a boomtown, brought new business to Camden’s ferries.

Following the success of these two railroads, no fewer than six railroad companies were constructed by the year 1881 linking Camden to Philadelphia, Trenton, New York, the Atlantic seashore and points west.

The development of the railroads also created some of America’s earliest and most powerful monopolies. The monopolistic practices of the railroads occurred as early as 1840 in Camden when the Camden and Amboy Railroad, owners of the Camden and Philadelphia Steamboat Ferry Company, began to buy out their competitors in an effort to exert complete control over riverfront lands. Isaac Mickle in his diary refers to the same railroad as the “Odious Monopoly”.

During the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Pennsylvania Railroad consolidated control over much of Camden’s rail transportation and exerted its influence over the political and economic affairs of the City. Camden Republican political leaders who served as state and national officials had investments in major railroads companies as well as interests vested in utilities and banking organizations. Civil War hero, William Joyce Sewell (1835-1901) who served as both state and United States Senator had charge of the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company, West Jersey Railroad, and the Camden and Atlantic Railroad Companies. Entrepreneur John J. Burleigh served as treasurer, secretary or director of the various electric, water, trolley and railroad companies in which he had extensive investments.

By 1896, the Pennsylvania Railroad had consolidated most local lines under the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company, thereby exerting a dominant force over shore and inland traffic. The railroad owned ferry companies and riverfront lands in Camden determined rights of way, re-routed streets and selected locations of factories. The Pennsylvania Railroad, with nothing short of a monopoly over the internal affairs of Camden during the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, was primarily responsible for the development and expansion of the City of Camden. The only Nineteenth Century structure remaining in Camden representative of the railroad industry is the Brown Station Signal House (c. 1880) in South Camden.

The electric trolley system also radically transformed the City of Camden. The Camden Horse Railroad Company, chartered in 1866 and constructed in 1871, began as an attempt to connect various points of the City with the ferryboats. The trolley lines were greatly expanded in the 1870’s. In 1889, a syndicate composed a political leader such as W.J. Sewell and E. A. Armstrong, and real estate promoters such as Edward C. Knight and Edward N. Cohn, purchased the Camden Horse Railroad Company and converted the entire line to electricity. A year later, they extended the electric trolley line along Federal Street to Wrightville, providing a major step towards the development of the agricultural area of Stockton.

Improved suburban trolley transportation was largely the result of a bitter legal debate between the Camden Horse Railroad Company and the West Jersey Traction Company, organized in 1893 to connect Camden with the surrounding towns. Three years later, the dispute over trolley routes was resolved by a merger of the two companies in opposition forming the Camden Suburban Railway Company. In 1904, the Camden Suburban Railway Company was absorbed by the South Jersey Gas and Traction Company (1900) and, by 1910, was under control of the Public Service Railroad Company.

The new expanded trolley lines connected Camden with neighboring communities and further stimulated both urban and rural development. Vacant riverfront land and downtown property brought top prices as sites for factories and rowhouses. New population concentrations occurred along trolley routes as developers built rowhouses in areas, which were now readily accessible.

The trolley which ran down Haddon Avenue around the turn of the century was an impetus for construction of blocks of rowhousing and on the Avenue. 419-501 Haddon Avenue, now part of the Cooper Plaza Historic District and Haddon Avenue Historic District were built along the trolley route. The development of the Parkside neighborhood by the Smith-Austermuhl Company in 1915 was also aided by the trolley. (Park Boulevard at Haddon Avenue).

The Newton Avenue Car Barn on Newton Avenue and Border Street is the only remaining building representative of the role in which the trolley network had in the development of Camden. The Car Barn, with stepped gables and monitor roofs is also noteworthy as a transit storage and repair facility designed in a popular architectural mode for industrial buildings of that era. Broadway and Jefferson. The four story brick factory building is significant for its Italianate industrial architecture as well as an intact representation of the importance of the woolen and worsted mill industry in Camden. In 1886 at least eight other mills of this nature were in operation.

Other good industrial buildings in South Camden include the American Cigar Factory (c.1900) at 1300 S. Sixth Street and the Eavenson and Levering Factory (c.1920) at 301 Jackson Street. The American Cigar Company, housed in a large five story brick building, was one of at least six cigar companies operating in Camden at that time. Eavenson and Levering Factory consisted of a huge facility used primarily for the manufacture of wool scouring soaps.

Blocks of rowhousing in the vicinity provided homes for factory employees. Among these were “Factory Row Streetscape” as 1701-1827 S. Fourth Street and the 1900 block of Fillmore Street. Both consist of three story brick houses.

East Camden, largely agricultural and residential, did not have as many industrial sites as did other areas of Camden. Most of the industry was located along the Cooper River. The J.L. Cragin Soap Factory at the southwest corner of Seventeenth and Federal Streets was established in 1879. J.L. Cragin manufactured “Dobbin Electric Soap” and “Bradfords Fig Soap” for woolen and worsted manufacturers. Other factories formerly located along the east side of Cooper River included the Overbrook Wool and Worsted Mills established in 1879 at the corner of Seventeenth and Stevens Streets, and at Sixteenth and Stevens Streets, the Atlantic Dye and Finishing Work erected 1882.

Development of Neighborhoods

A sudden influx of the population of Camden occurred in conjunction with the rise of industry during the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century. The population Growth Chart illustrates the population trends in Camden from 1830, shortly following the incorporation of the city, to the 1980. The left hand column indicates Camden’s population in thousands. The most dynamic growth period occurred between the years 1870 and 1920, rising from 20,000 to 116,000 people. Similar trends occurred throughout industrializing cities of the Eastern Seaboard, when rural populations and new immigration migrated to these cities which had ample employment opportunities.

The ethnic character of Camden changed radically between these decades. By the turn of the century, German, British and Irish immigrants dominated, while by 1920, Italian and Eastern European immigrants were the majority. These ethnic groups formed their individual insular communities within Camden with a church or synagogue as the center of social life.

The Polish community developed in the area surrounding St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Mechanic and Tenth Street in 1913. The dominating force of the church in this Polish-American community is reflected by the strong Baroque architecture of the church which includes a five story bell tower, a visual landmark for that community. A row of houses on Tenth Street leading to the transept of the Church are constructed of similar to that employed on the church facade, forming one of the best streetscapes in the city.

The Jewish community located in the Parkside area formed the Congregation Sons of Israel, the first Orthodox synagogue in South Jersey. This synagogue no longer remains and the congregation has long since removed to Cherry Hill. The only remaining vestige of the Jewish population in Camden is the Moorish-inspired Temple Beth El designed by architects Edwards and Green at Park Boulevard and Belleview St.

The Italian neighborhood grew in the Bergen-Lanning area. Through the church and numerous social organizations, the Italian population of Camden had great influence on political and economic affairs of the city. Antonio Mecca’s White House at the corner of Fourth and Division Streets is the best remaining example of the former character of this neighborhood. The White House, a two story Mediterranean Villa built in 1908 for realtor and mortician Antonio Mecca, is situated close proximity to two Roman Catholic churches, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 832 South 4th Street, and the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Spruce and St. John Streets. The Italian Baptist Mission at 252 Line Street is another historic remnant of the Italian community.