315 Cooper Street

315 Cooper St.-reduced.jpg

Title

315 Cooper Street

Description

Modern office building on former site of a c. 1855 residence.

Illustrations

Photograph by Jacob Lechner

Significance

The office building at 315 Cooper Street reflects Camden’s transitions and needs during an era of industrial decline. Built in 1966, the building first served as headquarters of the Amalgamated Food and Allied Workers Union Local 56, creating a tie between Cooper Street and Camden’s longstanding role in the food processing industry. In the 1980s, the building became home to the Camden County Juvenile Resource Center (later known as the Camden Center for Youth Development). The modern building took the place of a c. 1855 Greek Revival-style home owned by prominent Camden residents, including John W. Mickle, the namesake for Mickle Street and the former Mickle School. During a period as a rental property in 1870-71, the residence served as home to the Collegiate School of Camden, a private school. From the 1920s through the 1940s, before it was demolished for construction of the office building, the house at 315 Cooper Street was a hub of men’s club activity as headquarters for the Camden Club and later the Moose Lodge.

Architectural style

Modern

Date of construction

1966, on site of previous residence built c. 1855.

History

During the 1850s, the north side of Cooper Street began to fill with houses as Cooper family heirs sold their land for development. Among this first generation of structures in the 300 block, 315 Cooper Street ranked as one of the largest and most substantial. A double-lot, brick, Greek Revival residence, 315 Cooper Street first served as home for a retired physician from Cape May, Joseph Fifield, and his wife, Lydia. After Lydia Fifield’s death in 1858, the home was owned briefly by Albert W. Markley, a recent president of the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank in Philadelphia (who lived at other times at 218 and 420 Cooper Street).

The 315 Cooper Street house gained a notable new connection in 1861, when it was purchased by John W. Mickle, whose family roots extended to seventeenth-century settlement in the region that became South Jersey. Mickle, a retired sea captain with extensive investments in turnpikes, railroads, and ferry operations, lived a scant few months in 315 Cooper Street before his death later in 1861. But he brought with him an extended household that included widows of his brother and nephew, who remained in the home through the end of the 1860s. John W. Mickle’s memory lived on in Camden through the naming of Mickle Street and the John W. Mickle School. Mickle was honored not only for his prominence in business but for his public service in the New Jersey State Assembly and in the convention that drafted the New Jersey Constitution of 1844. His survivors also recalled his seafaring days carrying trade between the Port of Philadelphia, Europe, and South America. His distinctions included transporting Princess Charlotte of France to join her father, Joseph Bonaparte, while he lived on an estate in Bordentown, Burlington County.

Collegiate School and Boarding House

The heirs of John W. Mickle rented 315 Cooper Street to tenants beginning in 1870, although family members returned to live there intermittently when it was not otherwise occupied. For about two years beginning in 1870, the home became a girls’ boarding school. The Ladies’ Department of the Collegiate School of the City of Camden at 315 Cooper was an extension of a private day school that Reverend Martin L. Hoffer, a Presbyterian minister, had been running since 1868 in a former Odd Fellows’ Hall at Fourth and Market Streets. Hoffer, who lived in Beverly, Burlington County, had previously operated a boys’ boarding school in Beverly and a military boarding school for boys in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His Collegiate School in Camden offered instruction in classical and commercial subjects for boys and girls (in separate classrooms). Viewed by the West Jersey Press as “important step in the permanent growth and prosperity of our city,” Hofford’s school on Market Street and its boarding school extension at 315 Cooper nevertheless proved to be short-lived. By 1874 he moved to other ministerial posts. The girls’ boarding school, acquired by new teachers and with a different name, continued two years longer nearby at 312 Cooper Street. The Collegiate School on Market Street, after a brief closure, reopened on Market Street under a new principal.

After the departure of the Collegiate School, the owners of 315 Cooper Street continue to offer it for rent or for sale: “A three-story brick house ten minutes’ walk from the ferry,” read an advertisement in the Camden Morning Post in 1879. “Contains all conveniences; heated throughout; stationary wash stands in bed rooms; two water closets; two kitchens; stationary wash tubs; underdrained; dry cellar.”  For about five years, 1878 to 1883, 315 Cooper Street became a boarding house operated by Mary A. Lanning, who lived there with her husband and adult son, as many as seven boarders, and two servants. Recorded in the 1880 Census, the boarders included a lawyer, a bank teller and his wife, a sea captain and his wife, and a hardware dealer. The servants were Susan Boyer, a Black woman who was widowed, and likely her son John, age 12. Neither of the Boyers could read or write.

Family Home

The house at 315 Cooper Street became a family home once again in 1883, when a dispute among heirs of John W. Mickle led to a court-ordered sale of the property. For the next 26 years, 315 Cooper Street was owned and occupied by attorney Peter V. Voorhees, his wife Louisa Voorhees, their son James Dayton Voorhees, and usually three to four domestic servants. They previously lived several blocks away at 430 Linden Street, part of the 1870s development known as Linden Terrace.

The names of the new residents of 315 Cooper reflected the depth and breadth of their family histories. Peter V. Voorhees had a family lineage that traced to seventeenth-century Dutch settlement of Long Island, New York. Peter V., born in New Brunswick in 1852, graduated from Rutgers College in 1873 and then moved to Camden to study law with his uncle, Peter L. Voorhees. The younger Voorhees followed his uncle’s specialization in real estate law and became, among other roles, a representative of the Cooper family trust. In 1881, he married Louisa Clarke Dayton, whose family history extended to seventeenth-century English settlers of Boston. Later generations lived in Somerset County, New Jersey, and Louisa’s father, a lawyer, moved to Camden after graduating from Princeton College. Louisa’s uncle, William L. Dayton, served in the United States Senate and in 1856 was the young Republican Party’s candidate for vice president of the United States. Honoring Louisa’s family legacy, the Voorhees’s son was called by his middle name, Dayton.

Peter V. and Louisa Voorhees had been married about two years when they moved to 315 Cooper Street with one-year-old Dayton. A second child, a daughter named Elsie born in 1883, died just before her first birthday while the family vacationed at Lake Minnewaska, New York. A death notice in the Philadelphia Times stating that she died “suddenly” suggests an accident or other unexpected cause, but the details were not publicly disclosed. Thereafter, they remained a family of three as Peter prospered as a lawyer, Louisa engaged in charitable activities, and Dayton grew up at 315 Cooper Street and went on to college at Princeton.

The domestic workers in the Voorhees household included Celina (or Selina) Kammerer, who stood apart from other domestic help on Cooper Street through an unusually long term of service and her nationality. While most white domestics on Cooper Street were Irish immigrants or native-born, Kammerer was born in France. No evidence exists to explain how she came to be employed in the Voorhees household or why she stayed so long, but she was present throughout their time at 315 Cooper Street. Public records reveal only that Kammerer was born between 1850 or 1860, that her mother was French and her father either French or Prussian, and that she immigrated to the United States in 1866. Most other domestic servants who worked for the Voorhees family were Irish immigrant women, but by 1900 the family also employed a Black butler, Jesse Bailey. Born in Virginia in 1850, Bailey likely came to Camden as part of the emerging wave of Black migration out of the South to northern cities.

In addition to the large home on Cooper Street and domestic servants, the affluence of the Voorhees family enabled extended summer vacations to the Jersey Shore, Maine, the Adirondacks, and Florida. Like others of their social and economic standing, they had leisure time and resources for tourism to resorts by rail. During the 1890s, they also traveled by ocean liner to Europe and from the West Coast by sea to Japan.

At home, Peter V. Voorhees’s legal work included handling the Cooper family’s sale of their Cooper Street land between Front and Second Street for use as a public park—later known as Johnson Park. At the pinnacle of his legal career, between 1900 and 1905, he served as an appointed lay judge of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals. Like other men of his station, Voorhees maintained a network of positions on local boards of directors, including the Camden Republican Club (at 312 Cooper Street, across from his house), the Camden City Dispensary (which provided medical care to the indigent), the West Jersey Title and Guarantee Company, and the First National Bank. He served as a vestryman of St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church on Market Street. (He was not, however, connected with the 1899 creation and naming of Voorhees Township, which took its name from then-governor Foster McGowan Voorhees.)

The Voorhees family remained at 315 Cooper Street until the 1906 death of Peter V. Voorhees from multiple ailments that followed a serious bout with pneumonia the previous year, and the 1909 death of Louisa Voorhees from unspecified diseases. This ended the era of single-family ownership at this address. Dayton Voorhees, who served in World War I and then became a professor of politics at Princeton University, did not return to the family home. By 1915 it was rented out and divided between two households, one headed by James Buckelew, the superintendent of the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company, and the other headed by Lewis Larsen, a salesman. By 1920, the tenants were real estate dealer William P. Hollinger with his wife, Frances; three young children; and two domestic servants, a married Black couple James and Susan Taylor.

A Domain of Men

During the 1920s, Cooper Street experienced transition from a residential to commercial thoroughfare, largely through the efforts of real estate interests who anticipated a business boom coming with the 1926 completion of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge). While many former residences on Cooper Street became apartments or office buildings, 315 Cooper Street gained a new purpose as a club house for Camden’s professional men.

The Camden Club came into existence through the efforts of a Camden undertaker, Fithian Simmons, who lived at 319 Cooper Street, next door to the vacated Voorhees home. The club filled two voids: on a personal level, Simmons poured his energy into the club following the death of his wife, Alverta, during the influenza epidemic in 1919. For Camden’s elite, the club offered a gathering place for men following the demise of the Camden Republican Club, which had been an anchor of men’s sociability on Cooper Street for decades. Supporters of the new Camden Club contributed $1,000 each to raise the funds to transform the Voorhees “mansion,” as the Morning Post described it, into a “luxurious clubhouse.” Membership required a $100 initiation fee and the same amount each year in annual dues.

With Simmons serving as president, the Camden Club sought to be the equivalent of the leading clubhouses for men in Philadelphia. The remodeled building offered a restaurant open day and night; parlors and reception rooms; rooms for billiards, card-playing, and other games; and four bedrooms on the third floor. By all outward appearances, the club thrived during the 1920s and celebrated its tenth anniversary with a dinner at 315 Cooper Street early in 1931 with “members and guests comprising leading business, professional and political notables,” the Morning Post reported. By that time, Simmons remained involved as president emeritus.

The Camden Club’s finances were not secure enough to survive the Great Depression, however. After purchasing the building for $14,000 in 1920, the club had taken out a mortgage for $100,000 to finance its ambitious remodel. By 1938, the club had fallen into default on the mortgage and owed thousands in back taxes to the City of Camden. With numerous prominent individuals and companies implicated as bond holders for the club, the building went up for sale to settle its debts.

Another fraternal organization in similar straits benefitted from the Camden Club’s demise. The Loyal Order of the Moose, Lodge 111, founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1888, had been active in Camden since 1909. The local lodge had opened a grand new headquarters on Market Street in 1929, but it fell into default on the mortgages and receivership by 1934. Having lost ownership of its hall to banks, the Moose Lodge opted in 1939 to buy the former Camden Club at 315 Cooper Street. For the next twenty-five years, the clubhouse became the hub of social and service activity for the men’s Moose lodge and the auxiliary Women of the Moose. Sports banquets, movie nights, dances, and other events were occasionally punctuated by police attention to liquor sales on Sundays and the presence of slot machines. Like other fraternal organizations of its time, the lodge restricted its membership to white people only, a limitation not overturned by Moose International until 1973.

Union Headquarters

By the 1960s, Cooper Street stood at the edge of an urban renewal zone. Between 1962 and 1964 Rutgers University created a new Camden campus through demolition of houses in the blocks between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, between Third and Fifth Streets. Although Cooper Street was spared wholesale destruction because of its perceived commercial value, the longstanding houses at 315 and 319 Cooper Street fell to demolition. Both became the sites for new union headquarters buildings, with 315 the site of a new, modern office building built in 1966 for the Amalgamated Food and Allied Workers Union, Local 56. Next door at 319 Cooper Street stood another strikingly modern structure built in 1960 for the International Union of Electrical Workers, Local 103. Together, the buildings created ties between Cooper Street and two of Camden’s longstanding industries, food processing and sound recording.

The Amalgamated Food and Allied Workers Union Local 56 – Meat Packing Division purchased 315 Cooper Street as the previous longtime occupant, the Moose Lodge, moved to temporary new quarters farther east on Cooper Street at the Walt Whitman Hotel. Formed in 1940, by the 1960s Local 56 represented workers in fisheries, canneries, farms, grocery stores, and food processing plants throughout New Jersey and at the General Foods plant in Dover, Delaware. Its work included organizing migrant labor in South Jersey, which in 1967 prompted a visit to Cooper Street by a delegation of Vietnamese tenant farmers escorted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Later known as the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 56 remained at 315 Cooper Street until 1982, when it opted to leave Camden for a building in Pennsauken that offered more space and easier, more ample parking.

Youth Services

By the time of the union’s departure, the economic and social circumstances of Camden had produced needs for greater social services for residents experiencing poverty, homelessness, or other effects of the sharp decline of industry in the late twentieth century. Responding to the needs of youth in these conditions, a nonprofit organization, New Ventures Management, purchased 315 Cooper Street and made it the headquarters for the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC). The center, led by former Camden school board member Stella Horton since its founding in 1978, provided juvenile offenders with alternatives to incarceration, including an alternative school, counseling, and employment programs.

The JRC continued its work on Cooper Street for decades, changing its name in 2003 to the Camden Youth Development Center (CYDC) after receiving a $1.2 million grant from the William Penn Foundation to join forces with the Camden City Youth Services Commission. Surrounded by that time by buildings purchased by Rutgers University, in 2012 the CYDC also gained an executive director, Felix James, with connections to Rutgers as a graduate of the university’s law school in Camden. Continuing operations in the 2020s, the CYDC stated its mission as “embracing and using the assets of young people to meet their needs and successfully address the complex work they must do to transform their communities and neighborhoods.” Its services encompassed leadership development, tutoring, employment preparation, college preparation, and “providing emotional, social, spiritual, physical, and cultural proficiencies.” Evolving from the original JRC focus on alternatives to incarceration, the CYDC in the 2020s stressed civic engagement as a pathway to success.

Associated Individuals

For a list of all known occupants of 315 Cooper Street, visit the Cooper Street Residents Database and scroll down to 315.

Sources

Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers (Newspapers.com and Genealogy Bank).
Camden City Directories (Ancestry.com).
Camden County Property Records.
New Jersey State Census, 1885-1915, and U.S. Census, 1850-1950 (Ancestry.com).
New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services, Historic Sites Inventory No. 0408205 (315 Cooper Street), 1985.
Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: L.J. Richards & Co., 1886.

Research by

Charlene Mires and Lucy Davis

Posted by

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

Questions / needs for additional research

Papers of the Amalgamated Food and Allied Workers Union Local 56 are available for future research at Rutgers University Libraries Special Collections (New Brunswick).

Collection

Citation

“315 Cooper Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed November 29, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/87.

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