323 Cooper Street
Date of construction
The house at 323 Cooper Street reflects transformations on Cooper Street by the 1880s, when architect-designed houses began to appear on the increasingly prestigious thoroughfare. Higher-style homes accompanied a change in the streetscape, which gained small front yards after the Camden City Council agreed to a resident’s proposal to move the curbs of Cooper Street toward the center for 12 feet on each site.
In contrast to adjacent older brick rowhouses, the stone-front 323 Cooper Street was designed by the Philadelphia firm Hazlehurst & Huckel, who were known for residential, church, and commercial architecture. One of the partners, Edward P. Hazlehurst, had worked with one of Philadelphia’s best-known architects, Frank Furness, before starting his own firm with Samuel Huckel Jr. in 1881. The partners subsequently designed another Cooper Street house (527) in similar style, and they won a competition to design the Manufacturer’s Club prominently located at Broad and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. Later, Huckel individually won a commission to remodel Grand Central Station in New York.
The lot at 323 Cooper Street was available for construction in 1886 because it had long been owned by the occupants of the house next door (321 Cooper Street), chemical manufacturer Joseph De La Cour and his family. The new house at 323 was commissioned in 1886 for De La Cour’s daughter Emily and her husband, Edward F. Nivin. By that time a family with five young children, the Nivins lived in the house briefly, but by 1890 with Joseph De La Cour in failing health, they put both houses (321 and 323 Cooper Street) up for sale.
Networks of Power for the Modern City
The first long-term owners of 323 Cooper Street, John J. and Anna Burleigh, also filled the house with young children. They had five children by the time they moved in, and three more were born during their eight years on Cooper Street – two sons and six daughters. (One other son died at some point prior to 1900.) John Burleigh, born in 1855 in Gloucester County, was the son of Irish immigrants; Anna, formerly Anna Smith, was born in Elmer, Salem County, the same year. After they married in 1874, when they were both 19 years old, they settled in Camden.
When the Burleighs moved to Camden, John Burleigh was a telegraph operator, a skill he had picked up beginning at the age of 14. He gained a position as station and telegraph operator for the West Jersey Railroad Company in Elmer, Anna’s hometown. By the time they began their family life in Camden, Burleigh had advanced to chief telegraph operator for the railroad.
It was an auspicious time to have knack for wires, electricity, and transportation. In the 1870s and early 1880s, Burleigh played a leading role in creating the infrastructure that made Camden a modern, industrial city. For the South Jersey Telephone Company, in 1879 he oversaw the laying of a cable beneath the Delaware River to connect Camden with Philadelphia by telephone. In 1881, he became a manager and electrician for the new Electric Illuminating Company of Camden – later the Camden Heating and Lighting Company – which led the city’s transition from gas to electric lighting. All the while, he maintained his position with the railroad, advancing to train master in 1884. His business activities expanded to electric streetcar lines, installed in the 1890s in Camden and between beach communities of the Jersey Shore.
The Burleighs’ purchase of one of the most stylish new homes on Cooper Street in 1890 displayed affluence also achieved in another arena: real estate finance. During the 1880s Burleigh had been elected secretary of several Camden building and loan associations. Increasingly prominent as a financier, he became secretary of the Camden Board of Trade the same year the family moved to Cooper Street. Ultimately, in 1892 Burleigh gave up his position with the West Jersey Railroad because of the press of other business. He remained an officer with the Camden Heating and Lighting Company and the various building and loan associations that were enabling home ownership for the middle class. Going a step farther, in 1889, he was among 25 incorporators of the new South Jersey Finance Company, “to buy and sell almost anything; it will make a specialty of real estate operations, negotiations of mortgages and the like and it will have power to guarantee titles,” the Camden County Courier reported. “One of the objects of the company will be the purchase, for people without means, of homes, and permitting them to pay for the same on monthly installments until they have paid sufficient to secure a loan from one of our building associations.” Another company organized a decade later sold insurance to cover the risks of defaults on mortgages.
While living at 323 Cooper Street, Burleigh’s social circles included the Camden Republican Club, then located across the street at 312 Cooper. He prevailed in euchre tournaments and joined the club on a trip to Civil War sites in Virginia. The Burleighs, a rare Roman Catholic family among the Protestants on Cooper Street, also devoted time and energy to their parish, the Church of the Immaculate Conception. John Burleigh led the project to build a Catholic lyceum (lecture hall) adjacent to the church and organized a literary society for youth. Like others of their social class, the Burleighs spent extended periods during the summer at the Jersey Shore, usually Atlantic City.
The Burleighs stayed in Camden until 1898. By that time, with John Burleigh firmly established as a financier, the family moved to the fashionable railroad suburb of Merchantville. John Burleigh’s fortunes continued to climb when the General Electric Company absorbed the Camden Heating and Lighting Company, which he still managed, in 1899. At the Burleighs’ new home in Merchantville, the U.S. Census documented the family in 1900: John and Anna had been married 26 years, and their eight children ranged in age from 4 to 24. That year they employed four domestic servants: a butler, a cook, a housemaid, and a coachman.
Civil War Veteran
John Burleigh sold his house to a contemporary and associate: George Barrett, who was a lumber dealer but also a director of the Camden Lighting and Heating Company and a fellow member of the Board of Trade and the Camden Republican Club. While Burleigh engaged in putting electricity to work in utilities and transportation, Barrett provided necessary infrastructure, like telephone poles and streetcar rail ties. He also held elective offices, culminating in a term as Camden County Sheriff between 1893 and 1896. This also placed him in Burleigh’s realm of real estate through his duties of seizing and selling properties in default of mortgages or tax payments.
Barrett, who owned 323 Cooper Street for the next two decades, was born in England in 1846 and immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 10. Raised in Pennsylvania, by 1878 he was in Camden and playing a role in the city’s then-dominant industry as co-owner of a sixteen-acre sawmill operation on the Delaware River waterfront between Penn and Pearl Streets. Barrett and his wife, Sarah, also from Pennsylvania, he lived during the 1880s and 1890s at 126 Cooper Street and raised three children there. The Barretts also acquired a cottage at the Jersey Shore, in Ocean City, where George was known for his boating and hunting skills, and Sarah hosted an annual fish dinner for other Camden women at the shore. Sarah Barrett participated in the women’s auxiliary groups of her husband’s organizations and joined the Camden Woman’s Club.
By the time the Barretts moved to 323 Cooper Street in 1899, George Barrett was devoting his greatest energy to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the patriotic and fraternal organization of veterans of the Civil War. Barrett, who fought for the Union with the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, had been among the troops in the trenches during the siege of Richmond and then occupied the city after it fell. He bore a lasting reminder of the war in the form of a limp caused by a gunshot to the knee.
In Camden, Barrett was a leader in the Thomas K. Lee Post No. 5 of the GAR, and the same year he moved to 232 Cooper Street he was elected Department Commander for the New Jersey Division. Barrett coordinated planning for the national GAR encampment in Philadelphia that year, and throughout his years on Cooper Street engaged in meticulous planning and issued orders for GAR encampments and for the commemorations and parades on Memorial Day, Appomattox Day marking the end of the War, and other occasions. He supplied a 102-foot-long white pine pole for the American flag that flew at the Post No. 5 headquarters at Fifth Street and Taylor Avenue. Beyond Camden, he served on inspection committees for the Soldiers’ Home in Vineland, and he traveled to national GAR encampments in other cities. In 1913, he boarded a special train with other Camden veterans to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg.
When the Barretts moved to 323 Cooper Street, their household consisted of George, then 52 years old; Sarah, 48, and two of their three grown children, daughter Flora, 21, and son Frank, 19, who worked as a bookkeeper. The children left home when they married, but the Barretts remained until 1923. That year, with construction of the Delaware River Bridge soon to disrupt North Camden, they moved to Moorestown.
Public Lives, Private Lives
Demolitions for the approach to the new bridge across the Delaware River displaced the next residents of 323 Cooper Street from their earlier long-time residence in the 500 block of Linden Street. Francis and Katherine Weaver lived at 323 Cooper Street for the next decade, although title to the home was held by their adult daughter and son-in-law, who lived in Salem County. When they moved to Cooper Street in 1924, Francis Weaver was an established attorney, 63 years old, and his wife was 10 years younger. Their household included Weaver’s mother, Harriet, and his sister Anna, a retired teacher who had become blind. Servants attended to the needs of the older women, who both died while the Weavers lived on Cooper Street – Harriet in 1927 and Anna in 1934.
Francis and Katherine Weaver were both public figures. In addition to his legal practice, Francis Weaver served on the New Jersey State Board of Taxation, where he presided over appeals of tax assessments. Katherine Weaver was an active club woman, devoting greatest energy to the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she was regarded as an authority on genealogical research. Her club activities extended to groups in Haddonfield and Moorestown, while in Camden she helped with the annual charity events for Cooper Hospital and hosted events for the Women’s Auxiliary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
At St. Paul’s, located a block from the Weaver’s Cooper Street home, Katherine Weaver became involved in social work as a fund-raiser and leader for the Church Mission of Help, part of a nationwide Episcopal organization that sought to combat juvenile delinquency and render aid to young women and girls in cities. Among its activities in Camden, the mission sought to address the needs of young unwed mothers by advising them of their rights to financial support from their babies’ fathers, helping them find employment, and providing clothing for the babies. Weaver was involved with the mission from its inception in Camden in 1928 and served as financial secretary by 1932.
To most outward appearances, the Weavers lived a conventional life at 323 Cooper Street, but during the 1930s they also made the news in startling ways. In 1930, their son-in-law J. William McCausland was killed in a gangland-style shooting in Salem as he carried out his duties as a paymaster for the Salem Glass Works. He was carrying $3,000 in a cash box when a car drove up and a man stepped onto the running board, aimed a revolver, and fired. McCausland fell onto the cash box, dying from the gunshot, and the robbers fled. The Weavers’ daughter, Helen, was left a widow with three children. The family made news again in 1934-35 stemming from longtime tensions within the Weavers’ marriage, centered in large part on Katherine Weaver’s frequent activities outside the home. After fighting escalated into a physical altercation, Katherine Weaver left her husband in 1934 and filed for spousal support and a divorce. The subsequent legal hearings laid bare the difficulties of the marriage, which were reported by Camden newspapers in sensational detail. Weaver lost the case, but she lived apart from her husband thereafter. Francis Weaver died at 323 Cooper Street in 1938; Katherine Weaver lived until 1962 with her daughter in Salem County.
For nearly 25 years, 323 Cooper Street next served as the rectory for nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Rev. William D. McLean, whose father was an Episcopal priest in Chicago, moved into the home by the end of 1938 with his family, including his wife, Alice (a native of Moorestown), and three children under the age of 5. They stayed until 1940, when Rev. McLean, then 33 years old, was commissioned a first lieutenant chaplain with the U.S. Army. The 1940 Census showed two other occupants of the household, a housekeeper Louisa Mitchell, 52 years old, and her husband, Joseph, 61, a watchman at the RCA radio factory.
For the remaining years of 323 Cooper Street’s service to St. Paul’s, from 1940 until 1962, the rectory was home to Rev. Percival C. Bailey, McLean’s successor. Bailey, a native of Michigan, came to Camden with 22 years of experience in the ministry, including pastorates in mining districts and industrial Detroit. He had traveled widely abroad and brought his new parishioners first-hand observations of the upheavals in Germany that accompanied Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. After the United States entered World War II, Bailey served on a committee formed by local pastors to offer counseling to conscientious objectors.
Bailey, who was unmarried, employed housekeepers during his years at 323 Cooper Street and rented excess rooms to tenants. When recorded by the 1950 U.S. Census the household included Bailey, then 58 years old; a housekeeper, Viola Darcy, 50, and three lodgers: Paul E. Kennedy, 44, a railroad conductor; John Costello, 24, a restaurant dishwasher, and Matos Costello, a deck hand. The Costellos, who roomed together, were both born in Puerto Rico, a reflection of the changing demographics of Camden in the decades following World War II.
Community Health and NutritionPercival Bailey remained at 323 Cooper Street until he retired from active ministry in 1962. From that point onward, the former residence served as an office for a series of community service organizations. The Visiting Nurses Association of Camden occupied 323 Cooper Street between 1963 and 1966 after urban renewal demolitions displaced the group from a nearby Fourth Street headquarters. From the late 1960s through the late 1980s, as Rutgers University expanded its presence on Cooper Street, various nutrition services of the New Jersey Cooperative Extension Service had a home in 323 Cooper Street. By 2002, the building housed New Jersey Health Initiatives, a grant-making program of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, and by 2022 the former residence also included the Provost’s office for Rutgers University-Camden.
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.
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