327 Cooper Street
327 Cooper Street is a contributing structure of the Cooper Street Historic District, which is listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. The middle of a row of three houses built in the early 1850s, it supports the district’s significance as a collection of residences representing the nineteenth-century history of Camden. Its past residents include a Civil War soldier who became an officer of the U.S. Colored Troops, a prominent physician, and a journalist who became a United States Congressman. Since 2018, this building combined with the adjacent 329 Cooper Street has housed the Rutgers-Camden Department of Childhood Studies.
Date of construction
As Cooper family heirs sold their land for development in the 1850s, they used two adjoining lots at 327 and 325 Cooper Street to set an aesthetic for the future. The deeds for both properties, executed in 1852, specified that “three story brick buildings only shall be erected upon Cooper Street.” This ruled out wood-frame structures and assured houses of a size and scale that would only be affordable to similarly substantial owners. The lot later numbered 327 became the middle house of a row of three similar residences at the northwest corner of Fourth and Cooper Streets. The house, built between 1852 and 1855, was rented out by its first owners, who lived in Burlington County.
Civil War Family
The earliest tenants of 327 Cooper Street who can be documented are the Trimble family, who moved to this address by 1858. The Trimbles lived in Philadelphia before moving to Camden, but they had roots that extended to Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, where family members went into the shipping and mercantile business. The head of the household on Cooper Street, Joseph Trimble, descended from those Baltimore merchants. He joined his father and grandfather’s business, and he and his wife Sarah, who married in 1840, started their family in Baltimore. By 1847, however, they moved to Philadelphia, and by 1852 they were in Camden.
The Trimbles filled their rented home at 327 Cooper Street with as many as 13 residents. The 1860 Census recorded Joseph, 45 years old, as an importer of soda ash (sodium carbonate), a chemical that would have been useful to South Jersey’s glassmaking industry. Sarah, 43 years old, by this time had borne ten children, seven of whom lived with the family, ranging in age from 2 to 18. Joseph’s brother James and his wife, Jane, both age 40, also lived at 327 Cooper Street, and the extended family employed two domestic servants: a Black woman, Asha Bocha, age 60, who was born in Maryland, and a white woman, Mary Murphy, an Irish immigrant 45 years old.
While the Trimbles lived at 327 Cooper Street, the Civil War rocked Camden and the family. Joseph Trimble, an early adherent of the Republican Party, plunged immediately into home front support for the Union. He joined the Camden Relief Society to collect and distribute funds to support the families of men who enlisted as soldiers; in 1862 he served as its president and hosted at least one meeting at his home. Trimble also served as a lieutenant in Camden’s regiment of the Home Guard, formed to defend New Jersey from aggression. Sarah Trimble, meanwhile, became a leader of the Ladies’ Soldiers Aid Society, which collected old clothing to be remade into bandages and other items for sick and wounded soldiers. She invited donations to be sent to her home. Joseph Trimble’s brother James did commissary work for the Union army.
The Trimble family also had a son of military age, their oldest, Armon, who was 19 years old when southern forces attacked the federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Armon soon enlisted for three months’ service as a private with the New Jersey Third Infantry Militia, which deployed to Washington and guarded trains carrying provisions to Union troops. He re-enlisted in 1862 as a second lieutenant with the Third Cavalry of the U.S. Army, a regiment then fighting Confederates as well as Native Americans in New Mexico. Armon joined the unit there, but it soon moved east to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and from there to St. Louis and Memphis, where he received notice in February 1863 that his services were no longer needed. Apparently not content to be idle during wartime, Armon next joined the Thirty-Third Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry Militia, for emergency service during Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, serving from June 26 to August 4, 1863, a period that spanned the Battle of Gettysburg.
In his final act of Civil War service, Armon Trimble applied to become one of the white officers being placed in command of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). After appearing before a board of examiners in Washington, at 22 years of age he gained appointment as a first lieutenant of the Twenty-Eighth Infantry Regiment USCT. His unit suffered heavy losses in the campaign at Petersburg, Virginia, and was among the Union forces to enter Richmond after the city fell. The regiment took charge of prisoners in Richmond, and thereafter redeployed to Texas, where Trimble and the rest of his troops mustered out in 1865.
While Armon Trimble was away in service, the rest of the Trimble family moved back to Philadelphia. It had made such a mark in Camden that a testimonial dinner held at the West Jersey Hotel in 1863 saluted Joseph Trimble as “a public man and a politician in the cause of justice, right, and humanity.”
The Lure of Science
After the departure of the Trimbles, 327 Cooper Street ceased to be a rental property. In 1864, the earlier owners from Burlington County sold the house to Sarah S. Moody, the daughter of a Philadelphia tailor who had been married for ten years to Edward F. Moody, a bank clerk and cashier. Sarah Moody’s family had local roots that extended to the American Revolution, when a direct ancestor fought at the Battle of Red Bank; her husband’s were similarly deep but in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born. Edward Moody and his father, Paul, relocated to Philadelphia by the late 1840s. While Edward Moody held a series of clerk and cashier positions with Philadelphia banks, he and his father moved to Camden. They lived in the 200 block of Federal Street, close to the most direct ferry crossing to Philadelphia, when Edward and Sarah married in 1854.
By the time they bought the Cooper Street house, the Moodys had one son, 5-year-old Edward Jr., and another, Nicholas, was born after the move. Edward’s banking career progressed to his election as cashier of the New Republic Bank in Philadelphia in 1869 and of the Fourth National Bank of Philadelphia in 1871. The luxuries of the Moody household included a gold watch and a piano, and by 1870 the family employed a domestic servant, a Black woman who was born in Delaware, Louisa Wiggins, who was 20 years old. That year the Census recorded Edward as 39 years old, a bank agent; Sarah Moody, 35 years old, keeping house; and the boys Edward Jr., 11, and Nicholas, 3.
Edward Moody was also known locally as “Professor Moody” for his vocational devotion to science. He had been attending meetings at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute since at least 1862, and he frequented the amateur scientific societies that formed in Camden in the late nineteenth century. This may account for his brief service as chief engineer of the Camden Water Works during 1872-73. But he was better known for his lectures and demonstrations of experiments in settings that included the Franklin Institute, the Wagner Free Institute of Science, and the Camden Microscopical Society. Promoting one of his talks on chemistry in 1874, the New Republic newspaper in Camden commented, “what has rendered his discourses so entertaining are his experiments, which are not only invariably successful, but so clearly and distinctly explained that even those who have a very limited knowledge of the science can understand and appreciate them.”
In 1873, after his stint with the Water Works, Edward Moody went to work for the newly founded Camden Safe Deposit Company. He remained with the company for the rest of his career, but in 1883 the Moodys sold their Cooper Street house and moved to Philadelphia. They continued to maintain ties in both cities, however, and returned to Camden in the 1890s.
City of Medicine
The growth of Camden in the decades after the Civil War drew increasing numbers of physicians to the city, among them the owner of 327 Cooper Street for the next 13 years, Dr. Alexander M. Mecray. His path to Camden followed a common pattern of an aspiring physician from a rural county who trained at a Philadelphia medical school and then found Camden to be a promising setting to begin practice. The opening of the new Cooper Hospital in 1887 encouraged the trend.
Alexander Mecray was born in 1839 in Cape May County, New Jersey, where his father was a river pilot and proprietor of the Delaware House hotel. The younger Mecray’s path to medical practice took him first to study in Camden with his brother-in-law, Dr. Alexander Marcy, and from there to the University of Pennsylvania medical school. During the Civil War, he worked as a medic at Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia. After his service concluded, he married a woman with similar family ties to the region’s maritime activity, Lydia Etris, the daughter of a Philadelphia ship joiner.
Alexander and Lydia Mecray moved to Camden when he started his practice by purchasing a drug store at Fourth and Pine Streets in 1865. He became active in the Camden city and county medical societies and served on the board of managers for the Camden Dispensary, which provided medical services to the indigent. She bore three children and engaged in charitable activities, including raising funds for the dispensary and for the Women’s Park Association for Children. Mecrays were, therefore, well established in their professional, civic, and family life by the time they moved to Cooper Street in 1883.
Cooper Street was becoming an increasingly prestigious address during the 1880s, spurred by a more attractive streetscape accomplished by moving curbs on both sides of the street 12 feet toward the center. This created space for small front lawns and gardens for the length of the thoroughfare, which benefitted the older rowhouses built in the 1850s as well as the newer, architect-designed homes that began to appear in the 1880s. Among the Mecrays’ neighbors on Cooper Street were longtime associates in the medical community, J. Orlando and Elizabeth White, who lived in the house next door (329 Cooper) and Henry Genet and Helen Taylor, who had been their neighbors on Market Street and a few years later built a new home at 305 Cooper.
The Mecray household when they moved into 327 Cooper Street included Alexander, then 43 years old; Lydia, 35; a 17-year-old son, James, and two daughters, 13-year-old Julia, and 4-year-old Anna. When documented in the 1880 Census at their previous home on Market Street, the Mecrays employed a Black woman as a domestic servant: Emma Savage, who was 25 years old, illiterate, and born in Virginia. Her presence reflects the increasing population of African Americans moving to Camden and Philadelphia in the decades following the Civil War. There is no record of whether she worked for the family after they moved to Cooper Street, but the Mecrays continued to employ domestic servants throughout the years in their new home. They had others in their household as well: for a time, a widow and two daughters who may have been relatives; a German roomer who advertised private lessons in German, classics, and mechanical drawing; and Alexander Mecray’s father, James.
When Cooper Hospital opened in 1887, Alexander Mecray was among the first physicians appointed to its staff. The Mecray family continued to live at 325 Cooper Street through the 1890s, but they also acquired a farm in Maple Shade, Burlington County. In 1899 they put 327 Cooper Street up for sale and moved to the country.
Publishing and Politics
The next transfer of 327 Cooper Street made it the eventual home of a United States Congressman. Francis (Frank) F. Patterson Jr., 32 years old in 1900, was firmly entrenched in Camden circles of newspaper publishing and Republican politics. The son of a newspaperman, he had been around journalism since he was a boy in Woodbury doing odd jobs for printers and selling papers. After his father bought the Camden Courier, he became a typesetter at the age of 15 and city editor at 18. Moving in and out of jobs as a reporter and editor in Camden, Philadelphia, and Baltimore during his 20s, he found his way into politics as a protégé of Camden’s Republican power broker, David Baird. He edited the paper that Baird and other Republican organization leaders bought in 1894, the Camden Evening Telegram, and gained a share of ownership. In 1899 he joined with his brother Theodore and two other partners to merge the Telegram with another Camden paper, the Post, to create the Post-Telegram—which they sold to a syndicate headed by Baird.
By the time Patterson, his wife Isabel, and two-year-old son (also named Frank) moved into 327 Cooper Street, the newspaperman had taken his first explicit step into politics by serving one term in the New Jersey Assembly. Next, in 1900, his loyalty to the Republican Party was rewarded by an uncontested nomination to serve as Camden County Clerk, a position he held for the next two decades while he and Isabel raised their family on Cooper Street. Three additional children were born at home by 1910. That year, the U.S. Census recorded the household as Frank Jr., age 41; Isabel, age 37; and the children Frank 3d, age 12; Robert, 9; Isabel, 6; and Mary, 5. The Pattersons also employed domestic servants, in 1910 two Black women, both 29 years old: Addie Trader, who was born in Maryland, and Laura Anderson, born in Delaware. In addition to the servants, the Pattersons’ affluence gave them the ability to send their children to private Quaker schools (the boys to Penn Charter in Philadelphia).
While serving as County Clerk, Patterson remained publisher of the Post-Telegram and in 1911 served a one-year term as president of the Camden Republican Club across the street from his house, at 312 Cooper Street. His influence widened to banking circles as he became president of the Pyne Point Building and Loan Association and the West Jersey Trust Company. Isabel Patterson joined other Camden women in raising funds for charitable causes such as hospitals and the Red Cross. The era of the First World War touched the Patterson family as Frank Jr. served on the local draft board and his oldest son enlisted in the Army. Frank 3d served in the Quartermaster Corps in Newark during 1917-18, but he encountered his greatest risk during the global influenza pandemic that reached Camden in 1918. The first of the Patterson family to contract the illness was his mother, Isabel, then Frank 3d also contracted the disease while home on leave. Both survived.
Patterson’s next reward as a Republican loyalist came in 1920, when he was elected to the United States Congress from the First District following the death of the incumbent, his North Camden neighbor William J. Browning. Although dividing his time between Camden and Washington, Patterson remained deeply engaged in local matters, for example urging that the envisioned location for the new Delaware River Bridge be shifted northward so that it would not cut through the lumberyard of his longtime political patron, David Baird. His habits of attention to local politics soon played a role in his political demise. He easily gained re-election to Congress in 1922, but by 1924 he had a challenger who called attention to his minimal impact on the national stage. He lost his seat in Congress in 1926 to that challenger, Charles A. Wolverton, a former prosecutor and state assemblyman who ultimately served sixteen terms representing the First District.
By the time Patterson’s tenure of Congress ended, the Pattersons also departed the house at 327 Cooper Street. Like other many affluent Camden residents during the 1920s, in 1925 they moved to Merchantville, thus ending the era of 327 Cooper Street as a single-family home.
Cooper Street during the 1920s experienced transition brought on indirectly by construction of the Delaware River Bridge. Anticipating an economic boom for Camden, boosters and real estate interests sought to redevelop Cooper Street as a commercial corridor, akin to New York’s Fifth Avenue. Many nineteenth-century rowhouses underwent conversions into offices or apartments, while others slipped into a period as rental properties. This was the case of 327 Cooper Street, which for more than two decades provided financial support for a rooming house operator, Lillian Hertlein (often Anglicized as Hertline).
Hertlein, a single woman in her late 30s, had been living across the street in an apartment at 408 Cooper Street when she saw the opportunity to rent the former Patterson home. She paid $85 a month rent, placed ads in the newspapers, and by 1930 had filled the house with lodgers and one person who also paid for meals in addition to a room. The residents recorded in the 1930 Census reflected an array of working-class employment in Camden: factory workers, construction contractors, and a store manager. Two were employed at the enormous RCA-Victor complex at the foot of Cooper Street, one as an assembler of “talking machines” and the other as an electrician for radios. The mix was similar by 1940, although her roomers then included a family of three, including a seven-month-old infant. By 1940, Hertlein owned the home.
At some point in the 1940s, a man who came to live in Hertlein’s rooming house also became her husband. John F. Britt was a veteran of the First World War who had served with the 110th Machine Gun Battalion in France, earning a Purple Heart medal. When he filled out his draft registration card for World War II in 1943, he listed 327 Cooper Street as his address and Hertlein as a friend who would serve as his emergency contact.
Britt and Hertlein were married by 1947, when the Camden Courier-Post noted that “Mr. and Mrs. John F. Britt, of 327 Cooper Street…are at their summer home at Beach Haven Crest.” Like the earlier owner of their house, the new couple shared an interest in Republican politics, and both served as members of the local Republican Party committee. They became leaders in the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and its auxiliary, and they formed a club to collect and repair toys to give to children in county shelters at Christmastime. John Britt worked as a machinist for the Scott Paper Company, a job he held for twenty-eight years.
The Britts lived on the first floor of 327 Cooper Street and rented out apartments on the second and third floors. They owned the building until at least 1954, and in their later years lived close by near Fourth and Market Streets. Reflecting the changing character of Cooper Street, an ad offering 327 for sale in 1953 described it as an “income property” with eight apartments. For sale again in 1958, it was described as vacant and “available for conversion to offices.”
Puerto Rican Neighborhood
When a new landlord advertised apartments at 327 Cooper Street in 1959, the ad promised renovated, three-room units and called attention to their location in a “Puerto Rican neighborhood.” The tenants with Spanish surnames who lived at this address in the late 1950s and early 1960s represented the Puerto Rican presence in North Camden that had been growing since the Second World War. During the war, the Campbell Soup Company had recruited workers from the island to keep its factory in operation. Housed at first near the plant on the Delaware River waterfront, the new Puerto Rican residents of Camden subsequently found apartments in nearby neighborhoods, started businesses and community institutions, and raised families. The ad for apartments at 327 Cooper Street documents one landlord’s recognition of the likely tenants for a building on Cooper Street in 1959.
The owners of 327 Cooper Street during this period were Saul and Frances Artis, a dentist and his wife who also bought the adjoining rowhouse at the northwest corner of Fourth and Cooper Streets (329). Saul Artis was among many other professionals during the 1950s and 1960s who made their living in Camden but chose not to live there – a common pattern in the decades following World War II. Saul, a graduate of Camden High School and the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, had served in the Army Dental Corps in the Panama Canal Zone. Following the war, he established his dental practice in Camden, but after marrying Frances they and their three children lived in Haddon Township.
The Artis's Cooper Street buildings served as Saul’s office as well as rental apartments. While other buildings in North Camden suffered from the neglect of absentee landlords, the Artises participated in the Cooper Street Association, which carried out beautification and maintenance projects. In 1960, they remodeled the house adjacent to 327 Cooper Street, 329, into modernized offices and apartments.
While the Artises invested and remodeled, in the nearby blocks to the north Rutgers University carried out an urban renewal plan that replaced the adjacent rowhouse neighborhood to the north with a campus of new buildings. Appreciating the growth of the university in their backyard, by 1981 the Artises donated their buildings to Rutgers; 327 Cooper Street served as a home for the Rutgers-Camden Department of Social Work, the campus’s first Hispanic Affairs Office, and the Bursar’s office. Since 2018 the building, joined with 329 Cooper Street and named the Artis Building after the donors, has housed the Rutgers-Camden Department of Childhood Studies.
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.
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