311 Cooper Street
Date of construction
The double-lot home built at 311 Cooper Street in 1870 was among the most substantial on the block, similar in scale to the surviving structure on the northeast corner of Third and Cooper. In contrast to its neighbors, the three-story house described as “handsome” by the West Jersey Press set a new standard for materials with its façade of Chester County green stone, “which is just now attracting the attention of capitalists and builders.” The style of the home was Second French Empire, distinguished by a mansard roof that resembled other new houses then under construction in North Camden.
The first family to live at 311 Cooper Street moved from a rowhouse in the next block (229 Cooper Street) and remained in their new residence for more than three decades. William E. and Caroline Lafferty came to Camden from Wilmington, Delaware, where they were married in 1849. William Lafferty, 46 years old in 1870, worked as superintendent of the New Jersey Chemical Company, a Camden manufacturer of fertilizers and other chemicals. The Lafferty household included Caroline, 40, and William and Caroline’s three daughters, ranging in age from 5 to 20. (A fourth daughter had died in the 1850s at the age of 4.) The Lafferty family typically employed two domestic servants: in 1870 they were Black women who were born in Delaware; by 1880, they were Irish immigrant women.
The Lafferty daughters followed divergent paths. The oldest, Cecelia, had a developmental disability that Census takers in 1880 defined as “dementia.” While a teenager in the 1860s, she spent at least two years at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; by 1880, she was institutionalized at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. Also known as Kirkbride’s Hospital, the facility with finely landscaped grounds in West Philadelphia was regarded as the best standard of care for its time. The next daughter in age, Emily, finished high school but did not pursue a profession or trade. The youngest, Minna (Minnie), attended the Preparatory School of Swarthmore College but did not continue to college there; she later reported completing four years of college. In 1892 she married a lumber merchant, William Stroud, and followed the path of many former Camden residents by living in Merchantville and Moorestown. The Stroud household included a son and Minna’s sister Emily, who did not marry.
The Lafferty family apparently lived a quiet life on Cooper Street, unlike many of their neighbors who played leading roles in political, civic, and social organizations. William E. Lafferty was steadily a vestryman at St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church for thirty years and served as its treasurer. His service later merited a memorial window in the church.
Members of the Lafferty family lived at 311 Cooper Street until the deaths of William (in 1904) and Caroline (in 1908). During their years in the home, the environment around it changed markedly with the construction of an adjacent house at 305 Cooper Street. That house, built in 1885 for Dr. Henry Genet Taylor, filled the double lot to the west and attached to the existing houses on both sides (303 and 311). The three houses formed an unusual row of substantial houses built at different times in contrasting styles.
When advertised for sale in 1908, 311 Cooper Street was described as a “handsome stone front residence” with solid walnut interior finishing. Its next owners, from 1910 to 1919, came to Camden from the west-central Pennsylvania coal-mining town called Glen Campbell (so named for the Glenwood Coal Company and its superintendent Cornelius Campbell). The new residents of 311 Cooper Street, Samuel L. and Margaretta Clark and their children, had deep business and family ties with their hometown that they maintained throughout their years in Camden.
Samuel L. Clark, a coal merchant, was 30 years old when the family arrived on Cooper Street; Margaretta was 31, and their three sons ranged in age from 5 to 9. The family employed two domestic servants, documented in the 1910 Census as Isabella Bryson, age 18, and Florence Burley, 16, both born in Pennsylvania. A year after the family came to Camden, the Clarks had an additional child, a daughter, born in 1911. The Clarks sent their children to the private Camden Friends School, and in the case of their oldest son, David, to Penn Charter School in Philadelphia to prepare for his later entry to Princeton.
The advent of the automobile helped the Clarks maintain their connections in the Pennsylvania coal region. Shortly after buying 311 Cooper Street, they added a brick garage at the back of their property, facing Lawrence Street. They motored each summer to Glen Campbell, where Samuel Clark retained roles in businesses run by his brother, Joseph Clark, a future Pennsylvania state senator. The Clark family controlled the First National Bank of Glen Campbell and a number of companies engaged in extraction of coal, gas, oil, and other natural resources.
The Clarks lived at 311 Cooper Street until 1919, when they advertised the home for sale, stating “Reason for selling—Business in Philadelphia; have purchased a home over there.” They moved to Merion, in the fashionable Main Line suburbs west of the city; Samuel Clark later served as president of one of the Clark family companies, the Royal Oil and Gas Corp., which had offices in the Philadelphia National Bank Building.
The Clarks advertised their home for sale as a single-family residence, calling it a “most desirable home,” with 14 rooms, three baths, electric lights, and vapor heat. But in 1920 Cooper Street was on the cusp of a transition toward a commercial corridor with a greater density of residents living in apartments. The Helene Apartments, Camden’s first rental apartment building for upper class tenants, had opened in 1912 at the nearby southeast corner of Cooper and Third Streets. Although several more years would pass before the most concerted push to convert North Camden houses into apartments, in 1920 that transition came to 311 Cooper Street. Work began in December 1919, and by 1920 the new “Kinney Apartments” offered “seven complete housekeeping” units in the “best residential section, five blocks to ferry.” The tenants included white-collar professionals and businesspeople, including an insurance agent, a variety of salesmen, a physician, a clergyman, and a corset maker.
A more intensive redevelopment of Cooper Street occurred later in the 1920s, reflecting aspirations for a business boom in Camden following completion of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) in 1926. To create a larger, more modern apartment building at 311 Cooper Street, a real estate company demolished the stone façade of 1870 and replaced it with a Georgian-revival style brick front; a rear addition extended the building to the full depth of the lot. The result was a 32-apartment building with units of one, two, or three rooms, all with baths. The Segwyn Realty Company called the new building the Bloom Apartments, named for the company treasurer Hyman Bloom. Through at least 1950, the building continued to attract business and professional tenants, including a significant number of public school teachers and employees of RCA. By the 1960s, Spanish surnames among the tenants reflected the increasing presence of Puerto Ricans in North Camden during the decades following World War II.
The apartment building had a resident superintendent until at least 1959, but in later years fell into disrepair and financial difficulties. Corresponding with Camden’s post-industrial decline, the building began to appear in legal notices related to back taxes by the mid-1980s. Still, surveyors for the Camden Bureau of Planning considered the building to be a historically significant structure in 1985 as they prepared to nominate Cooper Street as a historic district. “Though this building experienced an extraordinary alteration to its front façade, it remains an integral and significant element to the streetscape,” the structure survey form noted.
The Cooper Street Historic District achieved National Register status in 1989, but conditions at 311 Cooper Street deteriorated. In 1995, the Courier-Post described the building as a “dilapidated apartment complex” when reporting on the stabbing of a homeless man in a hallway. A resident elsewhere in the 300 block of Cooper Street told the newspaper that “the apartment complex is no stranger to drunks and alcoholics who are rowdy.”
Another transformation for Cooper Street was afoot by 2000, when administrators of Rutgers-Camden saw opportunities to increase the visibility of the university by buying properties adjacent to its existing campus. The Camden campus had been created through urban renewal demolitions in the early 1960s, but Cooper Street’s buildings had been spared because of their perceived commercial value. By 2000, 311 Cooper Street, which was then on the city’s foreclosure list, became viewed as a prospect to be renovated into a graduate student dormitory. The university encountered objections from officials and residents concerned about the loss of a taxable property to a tax-exempt state institution. But ultimately Rutgers purchased the building for $100,000 and stated intentions to spend an estimated $1.5 million to restore and convert it to student housing.
By 2002, Rutgers proposed instead to demolish the apartment building, which was authorized following public hearings. Two decades later, 311 Cooper Street consisted of a fenced lawn with a modular office structure at the back of the property.
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).
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Sen. Joseph O. Clark House, Glen Campbell Borough, Pa., 2011.
New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services, Historic Sites Inventory No. 0408204 (Bloom Apartments, 311 Cooper Street), 1985.
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