419 Cooper Street

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Title

419 Cooper Street

Description

Contributing structure, Cooper Street Historic District.

Illustrations

1. 419 Cooper Street, photograph taken September 2010.
2. 419 Cooper Street, early twentieth century prior to 1913. (Camden County Historical Society)

Significance

419 Cooper Street is a contributing structure of the Cooper Street Historic District, which is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. The district is defined as representing broad patterns of American history, including the importance of ferry connections between Camden and Philadelphia: "By its geographic location, Cooper Street literally became South Jersey's thoroughfare to downtown Philadelphia. The fortune of Cooper Street, and of Camden as a whole, rose when people and goods moved through them to board ferries to the larger city across the Delaware River." This is amply illustrated by the history of 419 Cooper Street, which through the nineteenth century housed a series of families with livelihoods tied to business in Philadelphia. As an investment property generating income, 419 Cooper Street also represents financial strategies of widows during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The building's twentieth century history reflects the historic district's stated significance as a place of "change from residential and professional to commercial." Rutgers connections to this property extend to the 1960s, when Rutgers students were among apartment tenants in the building. Rutgers purchased the property in 2007.

Architectural style

Originally a Greek Revival rowhouse; new brick facing added after 1985, when the original facade is visible in a photograph taken that year for structures surveys by the New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services.

Date of construction

c. 1848

History

The adjoining rowhouses at 419 and 421 Cooper Street were among the first to be built on the north side of Cooper Street as Cooper family descendants began to divide and sell their inherited property during the 1840s and 1850s. A broker and volunteer firefighter living in Philadelphia, Joseph R. Paulson, and his wife Mildred K. Paulson bought these lots in 1847. At least one house existed on the property by the end of 1848, when Joseph Paulson, at the age of 36, drew up an agreement that revealed expectations of an early death: he placed the properties in trust with his mother-in-law, Hester Keen, with instructions that she collect rents to support his wife and children, a son also named Joseph (then 13 years old) and daughter Emily (then age 5).

A death notice for Joseph R. Paulson appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 29, 1849. The family invited relatives, friends, and members of the Humane Engine Company in Philadelphia to his funeral “from his late residence, Cooper Street, near Fifth, Camden, N.J.” They proceeded from there back to Philadelphia on the Arch Street ferry for his burial at Monument Cemetery. His cause of death was not made public. The property on Cooper Street, as he intended, remained a source of rental income and periodically a home for his descendants for the next 75 years.

Philadelphia Commuters

Some of the nineteenth-century tenants of 419 Cooper Street demonstrate the historic importance of Camden, and Cooper Street in particular, as a transportation corridor between South Jersey and Philadelphia. Homes on Cooper Street allowed for a short walk to the Delaware River ferries for commuting to Philadelphia. By 1862, during the Civil War, 419 Cooper Street had become home to Joseph Fearon, a wholesale grocer who had his business at 19 S. Water Street in Philadelphia. In addition to Joseph's wife, Catharine, the Fearon household included five children aged 12 and younger and two Irish-born domestic servants. Another Philadelphia-based food merchant, fruit importer Silas Warner, and his family lived at 419 Cooper for several years during the 1870s (c. 1871-73).

Family Legacy

As the original owner, Joseph Paulson, intended, the Cooper Street property supported his wife during her lifetime and upon her death conveyed to their two children. The siblings, adults by the time of their mother’s death in 1875, then divided ownership of the houses on their inherited land. Joseph Paulson's daughter, Emily, became the owner of 419 Cooper Street and a smaller house at the back of the property facing Lawrence Street. The homes continued to be rented to tenants.

Camden, Philadelphia, and the World

In 1880, Census takers encountered an unusually international family who rented 419 Cooper Street for at least two years (c. 1880-82): The head of household, widowed Matilda Evans, age 54, reported her birthplace as Germany. Her three adult sons and one daughter, all in their twenties, reported having been born in South America and that their father was from New York. The household also included a servant, Jane Laverty, who had been born in Ireland. Some Camden city directories identified the adult children as boarders, suggesting that 419 Cooper may have operated as boarding house during this period.

From c. 1883 to 1897, a Philadelphia manufacturer of silk and wool hats, Robert S. Nickerson, resided at 419 Cooper Street with his wife Elizabeth and adult daughter Jennie Gay while commuting to his business across the river at 63 N. Second Street. The move marked a significant change for Nickerson, whose business had been operating in Philadelphia since 1836. But during the 1880s, Camden was growing rapidly and houses near the Delaware River waterfront offered attractive prices and easy access to the ferries. The sometimes-frantic nature of ferry commuting is suggested by a report in the Camden Morning Post on May 26, 1888, which described Nickerson attempting to leap onto a ferry departing from Philadelphia while clutching an umbrella and bottle of pickles. He ended up in the river, still clutching his possessions when rescued.

The Nickersons, who previously lived in Philadelphia, occupied 419 Cooper longer than most other nineteenth-century occupants, almost 15 years. They typically employed one live-in domestic servant, for at least five years Annie Redgate, a daughter of Irish immigrants living elsewhere in Camden. In 1897, Jennie Gay Nickerson's wedding took place in the home. In a Society of Friends ceremony, she married Richard Albert Wills, a widowed insurance agent. Robert and Elizabeth Nickerson, then in their late 50s, moved with their daughter into Wills' home farther east in Camden, at 752 Wright Avenue, where they formed an extended family with a granddaughter born in 1899 and Wills' two older sons.

Dentistry on Cooper Street

When Cooper Hospital opened during the 1880s, medical professionals increasingly lived and practiced in homes on nearby Cooper Street. Among them, for more than thirty years Dr. Elmer E. Bower had his dental practice in the 400 block. Bower, a native of Berks County, established his practice in fast-growing Camden immediately after finishing dental school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1888. He and his wife Katherine raised a family in a series of three homes that also served as Elmer's dental office--419 Cooper Street, where they lived and worked between 1899-1908, was the second of the three (after 405 Cooper, 1889-1898, and before moving next door to 417, 1908-c.1920).

By the time the Bowers moved into 419 Cooper, their family had grown to three children: a son Chester, age 16, and daughters Helen, 12, and Sarah, 8. In the decade they spent at this address, the Bowers experienced both tragedy and joy. Much of the family's attention turned to the poor health of daughter Helen, whose particular illness is not known from public records. For the benefit of her health they relocated between 1904 and 1906 to more rural Hammonton, then well-known as the location of the Hammonton Sanitarium operated by Dr. James Peebles, a specialist in chronic illnesses. The move was to no avail, however. Helen Adaline Bower died in Hammonton on September 15, 1906, at the age of 20.

The next family milestone occurred two years later, when the Bowers' son Chester Bertalette (his mother's maiden name) married and established his home next door to his parents, at 417 Cooper Street. The elder Bowers and their daughter Sarah soon moved there as well, creating an extended two-generation family. Elmer Bower continued his dental practice at the 417 Cooper address until he retired around 1920.

A Widow's Family Home

While 419 Cooper Street housed a series of renters during the nineteenth century, it passed by inheritance to the descendants of Joseph R. Paulson. Thus it offered an available refuge when Mary A. Paulson--the widow of Joseph R. Paulson's son (also named Joseph R.)--established a new home for herself and three children following the death of her husband in 1911. The family had most recently lived in Haddonfield, but before that, from 1897 to 1907, they had resided in another Paulson family property, 421 Cooper Street. When the widowed Mary Paulson returned to Camden in 1912, she generated income for her family by renting out  the 421 property while living next door in 419 with her children Joseph Jr., then age 19; Charles, then 17; and daughter Ruth, 9.

The Paulsons' extended family at 419 Cooper also included Emily L. Paulson, the sister of Mary's late husband, who had inherited the home as well as the smaller house behind it at 424 Lawrence Street. Born c. 1841, Emily lived much of her adult life with her mother, Mildred, and then her brother. But for at least ten years, while in her 60s c. 1900-1910, Emily had lived as a patient at the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane. The nature of her mental illness is not known from public records, but at this West Philadelphia institution she would have experienced the "moral treatment" philosophy advocated by the founder of the hospital, Quaker physician Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride's philosophy advocated humane treatment in beautiful surroundings, and the institution in Philadelphia inspired many other "Kirkbride Plan" hospitals around the country. In this era, causes for admission to the institution could range from grief and anxiety to severe forms of insanity. At the time of Emily's residence, the hospital's roster of patients included wives and daughters of merchants, lawyers, and other people of prominence.

At age 70, Emily returned to Camden as a member of Mary Paulson's household, and the Paulsons remained at this address for the next two decades. The two teen-aged sons, both musically inclined, opened a music studio in the home to teach other young men how to play the mandolin or violin. Soon they faced more life-altering choices as the Great War began in Europe and especially when the United States entered the conflict in 1917. By then, the oldest son, Joseph Jr., still claimed 419 Cooper Street as his home address but had landed a job as an orchestra leader for a theater in Juneau, Alaska. He served as a musician in the U.S. Navy, 1918-19. His younger brother Charles served closer to home, in the quartermaster's office of the U.S. Army in Sea Girt, New Jersey, 1917-18. Both returned home to 419 Cooper Street: Charles by 1920, when the household consisted of his mother, age 54, aunt Emily, 77, and 17-year-old sister Ruth, who later became a teacher at Hatch Junior High School. Joseph returned home during the 1920s after a brief wartime marriage and later divorce.

The Paulson family's association with 419 Cooper Street lasted until the 1930s. Transfer of the property from Emily to Mary Paulson for $1 in 1931 suggests that Emily had died, and by 1937 the house was up for sale. In the midst of the Great Depression, the original price of $10,000 plummeted by more than half over three years until the house finally ended up listed for sheriff's sale to satisfy back taxes. Charles Paulson made his living as a salesman and shopkeeper, married, and began his own family in Camden and later Haddonfield; by 1940, Joseph Paulson worked as a musician at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Mary Paulson, meanwhile, went to live with her by-then-married daughter Ruth Soistmann in Merchantville, ending the era of 419 Cooper Street as a single-family home.

Apartments and Offices

In 1940, with new owners Richard Gebbie, who owned a radio shop, and his wife Alice, a nurse, 419 Cooper Street began its transition to multi-family housing and commercial uses. While living in the home, the Gebbies rented apartments to at least two other families. By the 1950s they moved to Moorestown but retained ownership of the building until 1960 and rented to a series of office tenants, including a doctor, an attorney, and real estate agents. Brokers Mortgage Service, a mortgage company located in the nearby Wilson Building, next held title to 419 Cooper Street while renting out apartments and offices. Among the renters in the early 1960s, Rutgers student Joan Jarema made news as a finalist for sweetheart of the Kappa Sigma Upsilon fraternity. She later married another Rutgers South Jersey student, Anthony Santerlas.

Real estate and legal offices continued to occupy 419 Cooper Street from the 1960s to the 1980s as the building passed from ownership of attorneys William Keown and Philip Daniels, who had their office in the building from 1965 to 1982, to a series of absentee investors. In the mid-1980s, Congressman James J. Florio had an office on the first floor. AKJ Investment, based in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, sold the building to Rutgers University in 2007 for $510,000.

Associated Individuals

For all known occupants of 419 Cooper Street, visit the Cooper Street Database.

Sources

Camden City Directories (Ancestry.com).
Camden County Property Records.
Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers (Newspapers.com).
National Register for Historic Places, Cooper Street Historic District Nomination, U.S. Department of Interior.
New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services Structures Surveys (1985) and Office of Environmental Protection, Historic Preservation Office, Property Reports (2007).
U.S. Census, 1850-1930; New Jersey State Census, 1885-1915; and U.S. Military Records (Ancestry.com).

Research by

Charlene Mires and Lucy Davis

Posted by

Charlene Mires
Communicate corrections to cmires@camden.rutgers.edu

Questions / needs for additional research

- Role of real estate agents in property turnover in Camden and flight to suburbs.
- Date for new brick facing on building (see change in property value during last investment owner prior to Rutgers).
- Seek interviews with Rutgers alumni who lived at this address.
- Add Rutgers uses after purchase.
- Occupation 1840s-1860s.

Collection

Citation

“419 Cooper Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed August 7, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/40.

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