305 Cooper Street
Date of construction
The exuberant townhouse at 305 Cooper Street created a stir in Camden when it appeared in 1885-86. Unlike any previous house in the city, and surpassing most built thereafter, the building reflected a highly individualized embrace of Queen Anne style that discarded the staidness and symmetry of its neighbors on Cooper Street.
“This structure will mark an entirely new departure in Camden architecture, being of an entirely new ornate character,” the Camden County Courier forecast as construction began in June 1885. At least some of the locals were not pleased. The new residence was “the subject of considerable criticism from architects and others,” the Morning Post noted as the house neared completion the following January. The spectrum of opinion hinted in the local press ranged from a tempered mention of the “unique residence on Cooper Street [that] attracts so much attention” (Morning Post, January 16, 1886) to a more barbed referenced to the “costly and peculiarly constructed residence (Daily Courier, November 4, 1886).”
The Philadelphia architect who designed the home, Wilson Eyre, was then early in his career but on his way to becoming one of the most sought-after residential architects on the East Coast. Known for individuality, creativity, and attention to detail, his work included mansions for prominent people in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, and he later designed the fountain for Logan Square on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The Path to Cooper Street
Henry Genet Taylor, 50 years old when he moved his family into the new house on Cooper Street, came from a family with deep ties in the medical community of Philadelphia and Camden. His father, Dr. Othniel Taylor, had gained prominence in Philadelphia for his role in combatting the cholera epidemic of 1832; moving to Camden in 1844, when Henry Genet and his two brothers were boys, the elder Dr. Taylor was among the organizers of the Camden County and city medical societies. Henry Genet Taylor’s mother, Evelina, descended from English Quaker settlers of West Jersey and reflected family heritage in the naming of her sons. Her lineage included an indirect line to Edmond-Charles Genet, also known as “Citizen” Genet, the first ambassador from France to the United States during the 1790s. Thus Henry was known throughout his life as “Genet,” his given middle name. An older, named Othniel for his father, had the middle name Gazzam from his mother’s side of the family. A younger son had an unusual first name, Marmaduke, and his mother’s maiden name, Burroughs, in the middle.
Henry Genet Taylor remained in his boyhood home in the 300 block of Market Street as he largely followed his father’s path to the University of Pennsylvania medical school and leadership positions with the medical societies and St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church across the street from their house. His life took a more dramatic turn, however, with the outbreak of the Civil War. Newly graduated from medical school and appointed assistant surgeon for the Eighth Regiment of New Jersey Volunteers, he deployed deep into Virginia to treat the wounded and recover the dead. In four vivid letters published in the West Jersey Press during 1862, he recounted his experiences, including the Battle of Williamsburg and an encounter with General Stonewall Jackson while on a pass behind Confederate lines to retrieve wounded Union soldiers. Taylor continued his service later in the war with the Third Army Corps, which placed him at the Battle of Gettysburg. He mustered out of the Army in 1864, but military service remained a fixture of his life through the National Guard and medical examinations for the Board of Pensions.
After the Civil War, while launching his private practice, Henry Genet Taylor joined with his father, brother Othniel, and other prominent Camden residents to establish the Camden Dispensary, which became another lifelong position of service. Founded in 1867 with funds left over from bounties raised to hire substitute soldiers for the Union Army, the dispensary provided medical care to indigent patients. The dispensary operated in a former fire house on Third Street south of Market with the younger Othniel Taylor, a pharmacist, in charge of day-to-day operations.
Only after the death of both of his parents (his father in 1870 and his mother in 1878) did Henry Genet Taylor take steps to establish his own household and family. In 1879 when he was 42 years old, he married Helen Cooper, who was 10 years younger. Their union set a course toward the home later built at 305 Cooper Street because the new Mrs. Taylor was a descendant of Camden’s founding family, which had extensive land holdings north of that thoroughfare. She had grown up amid an extended family of aunts and uncles in the “Cooper Mansion” between Second and Front Streets, the later site of Johnson Park. The Cooper heirs sold most of their property for development from the 1840s through the 1870s. But in 1885 the 305 Cooper Street double lot—the only undeveloped parcel remaining on the block—came back into the family through a mortgage foreclosure and sheriff’s sale. Helen Cooper Taylor’s aunt, Elizabeth, gained title to the land.
How and why the Taylors commissioned Wilson Eyre to design their new home is unknown. But Cooper Street in the early 1880s was becoming a setting for homes grander than the three-story brick rowhouses built a generation before. Enormous mansions anchored the area around Sixth and Cooper, and houses for the length of the thoroughfare gained new front yard space in the early 1880s when the City Council agreed to move the curbs of Cooper Street toward the center by twelve feet on each side. The more pastoral setting prompted a wave of architect-designed houses, with 305 Cooper Street among the trend setters.
Physician’s Home and Office
Among its many other unusual qualities, the house at 305 Cooper Street was purpose-built to serve as both a home and office. Such a dual use was common among physicians, were becoming plentiful on Cooper Street during the 1880s in anticipation of the opening of nearby Cooper Hospital. But this house was designed from the start to serve both purposes, not adapted. The front entrance enabled visitors to proceed in either of two directions, into the office or the family quarters. A separate unusual front entrance descended from ground level to enable deliveries and servants to reach the back of the house through a passageway, out of sight of both patients and family.
The Taylors—a family that had grown to include two young sons—settled into the new house at the end of the summer of 1886, after their customary annual sojourn in Cape May. The next year, Taylor was among the physicians appointed to a staff position with the newly opened Cooper Hospital, which became another of his lifelong affiliations. The family’s prosperity was tempered by loss, however. Shortly before the move to Cooper Street, Genet’s older brother Othniel, the mainstay of the Camden Dispensary, died from heart disease at the age of 52. Then, less than a year after the move, an infant daughter born to Helen and Genet died at four months of causes that were not publicly disclosed. In the custom of the time, the funeral for the child, Helen Elizabeth Taylor, was held at home. More funerals followed in 1890 for Genet’s younger brother Marmaduke, a lawyer, who died from acute peritonitis at age 54, and seven months later for Marmaduke’s widow Agnes, who had cancer. These deaths added to the Taylor household their minor niece, Annie.
Despite such sad beginnings, the Taylors and their descendants remained at 305 Cooper Street for a remarkable seventy-five years, longer than most owners in the neighborhood. The Taylors raised two sons to adulthood, Henry G. Taylor Jr., who was known as Harry, and Richard Cooper Taylor. Domestic servants were also a constant presence, typically Irish or German immigrants who lived in rooms on the third floor.
During summers the Taylors, like many other wealthy families in Camden, left the city for extended weeks or months in resort areas. The Taylors customarily spent their summers at Cape May, but during the 1890s extended their travels to more distant resorts. In this era of railroad tourism by those who could afford it, the Taylors at first sought out the health benefits of areas with mineral springs. Both Genet and Helen endured chronic health challenges, for his part rheumatism and gout, and for her the aftereffects of surviving typhoid fever. Their summer journeys took them to White Sulphur Springs and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and Hot Springs, Virginia. While not abandoning Cape May, over the next decade, they widened their travels into a circuit that also included resorts in Lake Placid, New York, and St. Catherines in Ontario, Canada. The benefits were noticeable to Dr. Taylor’s neighbors in Camden, for example prompting the Morning Post to note in 1895, “Dr. H. Genet Taylor is home again after two months of recreation looking well, and to quote the genial doctor, feeling chipper and young again.”
Henry Genet Taylor headed the household at 305 Cooper Street until he died in 1916 from “ailments incident to old age,” including recent bouts with pneumonia and influenza. At 79, his lifespan had far exceeded his brothers, and the accolades that followed his death pointed to his lifelong devotion to health care, including his service during the Civil War. Cooper Hospital installed a memorial tablet in the main corridor. The Cooper Street house passed to his widow, Helen, who lived until 1936, and then to their sons.
A new generation of Taylors at 305 Cooper Street began in the 1920s, after Henry Genet Taylor Jr. married Maude Denney, the daughter of a local banker. Their two children carried on the names that had become common: another Henry Genet Taylor (III), born in 1925, and another Helen Cooper Taylor (named for her grandmother but known as “Tottie,” born in 1927). The younger Helen Cooper Taylor carried on the family tradition in medicine by enlisting in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps during the Second World War, when she was 17 years old.
Continuity and Change
Throughout the continuity of the Taylors’ ownership, North Camden was changing around them. Construction of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge), completed in 1926, prompted civic boosters in Camden to envision Cooper Street as a commercial thoroughfare. Real estate interests fueled speculative buying, selling, and converting of former residences into offices and apartment buildings. The Taylors eventually joined this trend, in part. While they remained in the home, after Helen Cooper Taylor’s death in 1936 her son Henry Genet Jr. converted the upper floors into apartments of one to two rooms with tile baths, showers, and Pullman kitchens. By the time of the 1940 Census, the occupants included not only the Taylor nuclear family but also tenants who represented a spectrum of working life in Camden: Arthur Beckman, age 21, a draftsman at the New York Shipbuilding Co.; Mary Lord, 23, a social worker for the YWCA who had been born in Hawaii; Margaret Miller, 30, a public school teacher, and her roommate, Jeanette Bloombaum, 40, a bookkeeper for the Works Progress Administration; Mildred Patton, 23, a restaurant dietician, and her husband Paul, 22, a piler for a transportation company; and Beatrice Watson, 43, a saleswoman in a department store. For about 10 years between 1940 and 1950, the tenants included Agnes Draper, a longtime teacher who had been the first principal of Camden High School.
The neighborhood around Third and Cooper Streets became considerably more dense with apartment dwellers, including young children who were products of the baby boom that followed the Second World War. They attended the Cooper School on Third Street north of Linden, which placed them at risk from traffic to and from the factories on Camden’s waterfront. In 1952 one of the Taylors’ tenants, Jennie Seavers, mobilized the Cooper School PTA to call attention to the danger. Seavers and other women from the PTA joined hands to form human chains across the intersections of Third Street with Cooper and Linden Streets to block drivers for six minutes while their children passed and to demand that the city install traffic signals. Two months later, without acknowledging the role of the protest, the city complied.
By the time Henry Genet Taylor Jr. died in 1961, his son had moved to Florida and his daughter had married and lived in the suburbs. North of Cooper Street, rowhouses built during the 1860s and 1870s had deteriorated from intense use and neglect by absentee landlords, and redlining imposed in the 1930s discouraged investment. Rutgers University had announced a plan to demolish houses between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to create an expanded campus through urban renewal. Like other longtime residences in the area, 305 Cooper Street was offered for sale as an apartment house, not a home. “Close to Rutgers College,” said the advertisement. “Attractive stone building in excellent condition, six apartments plus entire first floor which can be made into three additional apartments. Never a vacancy. A good investment. Asking $35,000.”
By the late 1960s, 305 Cooper Street and other nineteenth-century buildings in Camden found a protector in Edward J. Teitelman, a psychiatrist by profession with a keen appreciation for historic architecture. He purchased 305 Cooper Street, where he lived with his wife, Mildred, and two sons; 303 Cooper Street next door, where he opened a mental health clinic; and other properties on Cooper and Lawrence Streets. As a member of the Newton Friends Meeting on Cooper Street between Seventh and Eighth, in 1966 he argued for its protection from a state highway project then threatening the building. “If Camden is ever going to revive,” he said, “these places ought to be here. There should be some evidence of what was.”
Teitelman, who later became chairman of the Camden Historical Review Committee, turned scholarly attention on his home at 305 Cooper Street. With cooperation from the Taylor family, he documented the details of the structure and advocated for its significance in American architectural history. In 1970, while serving as preservation officer for Camden County, he successfully nominated his house for listing on the National Register for Historic Places. It was, he stated, “one of the most distinguished extent attached townhouses of the American Queen Anne Revival style in the nation, and probably was one of the best of the early urban works of its architect, Wilson Eyre.” In 1980 Teitelman published a comprehensive article about the house in Winterthur Portfolio, a prestigious journal of decorative arts and material culture, and in 1983 it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey. These acknowledgements of the significance of 305 Cooper Street set a precedent for designation of the Cooper Street Historic District, approved for the National Register in 1989. Teitelman’s advocacy for Cooper Street buildings extended into the late 1980s, when he opposed demolishing houses in the historic district to create a site for a federal courthouse annex but lost the fight. In 1999, he argued against running the New Jersey Transit Riverline through the historic district.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, 305 Cooper Street was among properties owned by Teitelman that appeared in legal notices related to back taxes. Finally, in 2001 a trustee for Edward and Mildred Teitelman sold 305 Cooper Street as well as the house next door (303) to Rutgers University. The house built for Henry Genet and Helen Taylor sat in deteriorating condition for a decade, until Rutgers approved $7 million to rehabilitate it and a house across the street (312) for use by the university. The result at 305 Cooper Street, a grandly restored Writers House for the Department of English, in 2016 received a Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Restoration by SMP Architects.
Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers (Newspapers.com and Genealogy Bank).
Camden City Directories (Camden County Historical Society and Ancestry.com).
Camden County Property Records.
New Jersey State Census, 1885-1915, and U.S. Census, 1850-1950 (Ancestry.com).
Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: L.J. Richards & Co., 1886.
Teitelman, Edward. “Wilson Eyre in Camden: The Henry Genet Taylor House and Office.” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol 15, No 3 (Autumn 1980): 229-55.
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