325 Cooper Street

325 Cooper st-reduced.jpg

Title

325 Cooper Street

Description

Contributing structure, Cooper Street Historic District.

Illustrations

Photograph by Jacob Lechner

Significance

325 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 west end 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 Camden’s second female physician, Lettie Ward. Since 2016, offices in this building have included the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-Camden.

Architectural style

Greek Revival

Date of construction

c. 1852-1854

History

As Cooper family heirs sold their land for development in the 1850s, they used two adjoining lots at 325 and 327 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 325 became the west end of a row of three similar residences at the northwest corner of Fourth and Cooper Streets. The house, built between 1852 and 1854, was rented out by its first owners, who lived in Burlington County.

From Countryside to City

The first known tenants of 325 Cooper Street were members of the large and prominent Browning family, whose ancestors immigrated to the region from Holland in the early eighteenth century. Maurice Browning, who rented 325 Cooper Street beginning in 1854, grew up among a dozen siblings on his father Abraham’s farm in Stockton Township, about three and a half miles from Camden. The elder Browning, in addition to farming, also played a role in the city’s growth by establishing the Market Street Ferry, which passed to his heirs (including his son Maurice) when he died in 1836.

Maurice Browning, born in 1811, left the farm and pursued a career in pharmacy, working first in a drug store in Mount Holly, then studying pharmacy in Philadelphia, and then opening a drug store on Market Street in Camden. By the time he rented the house on Cooper Street, he had expanded his business activities to manufacturing and banking. With other family members, in 1840 he established the Aroma Mills, which extracted and sold dyes from woods. In 1855, around the time he moved to Cooper Street, Browning became a director of the newly formed Farmers’ and Mechanics Bank (later the First National Bank of Camden).

The Browning family at 325 Cooper Street in 1860 was headed by Maurice, then in his 40s, and his wife Anna, in her 30s, the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant who also owned a farm near Haddonfield. Married since 1840, their years on Cooper Street began in sadness in 1854 with the death of their oldest daughter, Ellen, who was 14 years old. The cause of her death was not publicly reported, but in the custom of the time her funeral was held at home prior to burial in Colestown Cemetery. The Brownings had earlier lost another child, a son named Maurice after his father, who died in 1850 when less than 2 years of age. These losses left the Brownings a family of five. When documented by the 1860 Census, the children were a son, Abraham, 15 years old, and two daughters, Josephine, 6, and Alice, 3. Another son, Lehman, was born the next year, in 1861. The Brownings employed two domestic servants, both Irish immigrants: Rebecca Caffrey, 36 years old, and Catherine McMullen, 17.

During the family’s years on Cooper Street, Maurice Browning joined in the enthusiasm for the new Republican Party, founded in 1854. At a mass meeting in Camden in 1856, Browning was among the local party supporters who turned out to voice support for the Republican platform and its national candidates, John C. Fremont for president and William L. Dayton for vice president. In 1862, Browning was among the original members of the Union League of Philadelphia, founded to support the Union cause during the Civil War.

Camden, Philadelphia, and the World

The Browning family left 325 Cooper Street by 1863, the year before the property’s original owners sold the home to Charles A. Sparks, a partner in a Philadelphia wholesale grocery and imports business. With his wife, Amelia, and their four children, Sparks lived at 325 Cooper Street during a decade, from 1864 to 1874, that proved pivotal in his career. Like other merchants with Camden and Philadelphia ties, his interests widened to investments that aided  Camden’s growth and the region’s reach outward in the nation and the world.

Charles Sparks had family roots in Salem County, New Jersey, but his father (a mariner), mother, and a brother had moved to Camden by 1850. Sparks began his adult working life across the river in Philadelphia as a clerk in the wholesale grocery, importing, and exporting business of Edward C. Knight, a Camden County native, and soon became a partner in the E.C. Knight Co. While remaining with the firm, Sparks chose to live in Camden after his 1852 marriage to Amelia Ross, who was born in England, the daughter of a merchant who became an extensive landholder in Stockton and Pennsauken Townships. They moved to Cooper Street from their earlier home near Third and Market Streets. By the time of the 1870 Census their household at 325 Cooper Street included four children, a son and three daughters ranging in age from 5 to 13; Charles by this time was 43 years old, and Amelia was 40. They employed at least one domestic servant, Sarah McHale, likely an Irish immigrant.

Charles Sharp’s association with the E.C. Knight Co. placed him in an extensive network of trade between Philadelphia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. Around the time that Sharp went to work for Knight, the firm expanded its trade from importing coffee from the West Indies to seagoing trade with California. As he became a partner in the company, Knight initiated imports of molasses and sugar from Cuba. At first acting as an agent for other refineries in Philadelphia, by 1870 the E.C. Knight Co. established its own refinery complex in the Southwark section of the city, with Charles Sharp in charge. Edward Knight also invested in railroads and steamship lines; in 1874, Sharp joined him as an incorporator of the Delaware River & Bound Brook Railroad Company, a 27-mile line reaching northward from Trenton that posed a challenge to the Camden & Amboy Railroad’s dominance of rail connections with New York.

Sharp’s success in business returned benefits in Camden. At home at 325 Cooper Street, he initiated interior and exterior renovations. The West Jersey Press observed in 1869 that Sharp “has made a decided and tasteful alteration, both internally and externally, in his dwelling. He has replaced the ordinary window glass with French plate, in walnut sash, giving the front a pleasing effect.” The house in 2022 retains an impressive nineteenth-century hallstand, marble fireplace, and ornately framed parlor mirror that may attest to these improvements. Sharp also invested time and funds in Camden institutions, for example serving on the board of the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank (later the First National Bank of Camden) with the previous occupant of 325 Cooper Street, Maurice Browning. He served on the building committee for the First Presbyterian Church, supported the Republican Party, and became known for a fine pair of horses that he drove in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park and while on vacation in Atlantic City.

The role of Amelia Sparks in these activities, or others independent of her husband, did not leave traces in the public record. She did, however, nurture a lasting connection with Camden. The Sparks family moved to Philadelphia in 1874 but kept 325 Cooper Street as a rental property. Many years later, after the death of Charles Sharp in 1904, Amelia Sharp returned to the house on Cooper Street. Then in her 70s, she spent another decade in her earlier home with one of her daughters, a niece, and servants to take care of the housework.

Rental Property

The Sparks family’s removal to Philadelphia in 1874 opened a period of three decades of varied tenancy at 325 Cooper Street. For most of the 1880s, the tenants were members of the Browning family who had lived at the same address two decades before—in this later era, George G. Browning, the brother of Maurice Browning and his partner in the dye industry. His household included Mary White, his mother-in-law but also mother of Dr. J. Orlando White, who lived two doors away at 329 Cooper Street.

After this return of the Brownings, the house was offered for rent or sale periodically through the economic downturn of the 1890s until it became a boarding house in 1897. For a short period until 1901, the boarding house was run by Catherine Fisler, who lived in the home with her husband, Leonard, a Philadelphia produce dealer and Civil War veteran who fought for the Union with the Pennsylvania Third Cavalry. Their household included a grown son, his wife, and a grandchild, in addition to as many as eight boarders. When recorded in the Census of 1900, the boarders reflected the coalescing population of the growing industrial city—all were born in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but their parents had birthplaces that included Delaware, Virginia, England, and Germany. The boarders held jobs ranging from unskilled laborer to railroad conductor to white-collar professions.

The last renter before Amelia Sparks returned to Cooper Street was Alfred G. McCausland, a railroad superintendent who rented the house for two years before purchasing another at 521 Cooper Street. Formerly a longtime resident of Wilmington, Delaware, McCausland and his family arrived in Camden by 1903 when the Reading Railroad transferred him from the Wilmington and Northern Railroad to the Atlantic City line. In his late 40s at the time of the move, McCausland’s household on Cooper Street included his second wife, Elizabeth (Lizzie), and two grown children from his first marriage. His son Frank also worked in railroading as a brakeman.

Business and Professional Women

The house at 325 Cooper Street remained in the ownership of the Sparks family until 1924, passing from Amelia Sparks to her daughter Emma and then to a niece, also named in Amelia Sparks. They remained in the home after the death of the elder Amelia in 1915 but also rented to other tenants—in 1920, a widowed designer of ladies’ gowns, Blanche Morse, and her family of four children, three of whom were adults working and adding to the household income. A daughter worked as a clerk in a department store, a son was a bank clerk, and another son a secretary for a leather company.

By the 1920s, Cooper Street was experiencing a transition to commercial uses caused indirectly by the construction of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge), which opened in 1926. Expecting an economic boom in Camden, boosters and real estate interests sought to remake Cooper Street into a commercial corridor. With many former residences converting into apartments and offices, it was therefore newsworthy when 325 Cooper Street sold in 1924 to an undisclosed buyer, “to remain as a residence,” the Camden Morning Post reported.

In fact, the residence became both a home and an office for its notable new owner, Dr. Lettie Ward. She was a longtime physician by the time she purchased 325 Cooper Street, but when she became a doctor in the 1890s she was only the second woman to practice medicine in the city. A Camden native, born in 1859, Ward initially followed a more common career path for unmarried, college-educated women and became a schoolteacher and principal. She was inspired, though, by Camden’s first female physician, Sophia Presley, who also had begun her career in teaching. In 1894, Ward resigned her position as principal of the Jesse Starr School and enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Graduating in 1897, she returned to Camden to practice.

Ward purchased 325 Cooper Street in 1924 after being displaced from her previous longtime home and office three blocks away, on Cooper Street near Sixth, because it stood in the path for extending a street to connect with the new Delaware River Bridge. In her new home, she had her office on the first floor, and in addition to providing health care she hosted executive board meetings of the Camden County Business and Professional Woman’s Club. For her fourteen years at this address, Ward lived upstairs from her office in a household with other unmarried women of her generation. When recorded by the 1930 Census, Ward was 70 years old and shared the living quarters with three other women, one of them her cousin Alice Hibbs, 60 years old. The other two, described in the Census as lodgers, were lifelong companions and recently retired principals of Camden schools: Laura J. Harrop, 64, and Lillie T. Osler, 63. After Ward retired and moved in 1938, Harrop and Osler also left to live with other family members and remained together for the rest of their long lives, each of them reaching 101 years of age. They were buried side-by-side in the Haddonfield Baptist Cemetery.

Rooms and Apartments

After Lettie Ward’s period of ownership, 325 Cooper Street followed a trajectory more typical of older rowhouses in North Camden, increasingly deteriorating yet becoming more densely populated with roomers and apartment dwellers. By 1940, a family of six rented the house and in turn let rooms to six additional lodgers. An ad offering an apartment in 1943 promised “refined surroundings,” but by 1949 a landlord was ordered by the city to install a shower and a toilet to bring the building up to code. In the 1950s, the house was marketed as a potential office location at a “reduced price” and later marketed for sale as a rooming and apartment house.

Tenants at 325 Cooper Street beginning in the 1940s reflected the changing demographics of Camden, especially the growing presence of Puerto Rican residents. The Campbell Soup Company had recruited Puerto Rican workers to Camden during the Second World War, at first housing them near the soup factory on the waterfront. As workers stayed, created lives and families, and started businesses and institutions, they became increasingly dominant in the population of North Camden. Tenants with Spanish surnames were common at 325 Cooper Street; three born in Puerto Rico were documented in the 1950 Census: Vincent Porrata, 37, a kitchen helper in a hotel; and Arthur Cruz, 29, and Ralph Maldonado, 24, both laborers for a metal specialty company.

Sometime prior to 1980, 325 Cooper Street became the property of Edward Teitelman, a psychiatrist by profession but also a historic preservation activist. Teitelman purchased and maintained several of Cooper Street’s most notable houses remaining from the nineteenth century, including two others in the same block, 303 and 305. He lived in 305 Cooper Street, the distinctive Queen Anne Revival residence designed by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre. By the late 1980s, however, 325 Cooper Street was appearing in legal notices for overdue back taxes.

Rutgers University acquired 325 Cooper Street from trustees for Edward and Mildred Teitelman in 2001, and renovations created offices for the New Jersey Small Business Development Center of Rutgers-Camden. The building later served as home to the Rutgers-Camden Institute for Effective Education, offices for civic engagement activities, and beginning in 2016 as co-working space for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH). Among other activities, MARCH initiated the “Learning from Cooper Street” project to recover and raise awareness of the Cooper Street Historic District and adjoining blocks occupied by Rutgers-Camden.

Associated Individuals

For a list of all known occupants of 325 Cooper Street, link to the Cooper Street Residents Database and scroll down to 325.

Sources

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.

Note on sources: A structure survey prepared by the Camden Division of Planning in 1980 identified 325 Cooper Street as the "George Bockius House." Further research in property deeds has established that George Bockius lived instead in the similar house at 329 Cooper Street.

Research by

Charlene Mires and Lucy Davis

Posted by

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

Collection

Citation

“325 Cooper Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed October 1, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/82.

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