418 Lawrence Street

418LawrenceOct23.jpg

Title

418 Lawrence Street

Description

Nineteenth-century working-class rental property, Cooper Street Historic District.

Significance

418 Lawrence Street forms part of a row of nineteenth-century, working-class houses that originated as rental properties erected by owners of grander homes facing Cooper Street. The row was included in the Cooper Street Historic District’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 to provide a “comprehensive view of Cooper Street’s social history” and “a clear view of the economic and social dichotomy that has continued to typify Camden.”

Date of construction

c. early 1850s

History

At the back of three Cooper Street-facing properties (413 through 417), four two-story houses were added facing Lawrence Street during the late 1840s and early 1850s. The collective development of seven residences stood on land purchased in 1845 and 1846 by Hannah Atwood, who lived at various times in one of the Cooper Street homes or in Philadelphia. When rented to others, the houses on Cooper and Lawrence Streets provided a steady income while Hannah’s husband, Jesse Atwood, pursued a career as a traveling portrait artist. He was best known for an 1847 portrait of General Zachary Taylor, the Mexican-American War hero who later became president of the United States.

418 Lawrence Street

The two-story, four-room brick house at 418 Lawrence Street likely dates to the early 1850s, when other similar houses are known to have been built in the same row. The absence of house numbering prevents identifying tenants by address prior to 1861, but city directories document people living in this block of Lawrence Street beginning in 1854. Directories during the 1860s and 1870s identify laborers and skilled tradespeople among the occupants of 418 Lawrence Street, including a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a machinist.

By 1878, 418 Lawrence Street became home to a family headed by Catharine Benbow, a widow who took in washing to earn a living. Benbow, a white woman who had immigrated from England in the late 1860s, had struggled to support herself and at least five children since arriving in Camden. The fate of her husband, Richard, is unknown; four of their children were born in England prior to 1866, and the last in New York around 1868. In Camden County by 1870, living in Stockton Township near Merchantville, Catharine at 35 years old was widowed and had just two of her children living with her: her oldest, then 10 years old, and the youngest, 2 years old. Three others, then ages 4, 6, and 8, had been placed in the Camden Home for Friendless Children, a charitable institution at Fifth and Federal Streets which had been chartered in 1865 to shelter “friendless and destitute children.” The family partially reunited by the time Catharine moved to 418 Lawrence Street. There, Benbow’s household included three of her sons, two of them retrieved from the children’s home and by then old enough (ages 16 and 18) to contribute to the family economy. Those two sons worked as laborers and another, the oldest son (21 years old), as a farmer. The Benbows further supplemented their incomes by taking in a boarder at 418 Lawrence Street. They lived at this address from 1878 until 1884, leaving around the time when Hannah Atwood’s heirs sold her Cooper and Lawrence Street properties to new owners. At their next address, a daughter who had been placed in the Home for Friendless Children also returned to the family.

For the rest of the nineteenth century, 418 Lawrence Street housed tenants who worked as laborers and in a range of skilled and semi-skilled occupations, including cabinet maker, blacksmith, and cook. At the turn of the twentieth century, Census records offer additional glimpses into family life on Lawrence Street: In 1900, William and Annie Decon (or Decou) headed a household of five, supported by William’s work as an express driver. Both born in New Jersey, William was a white man, then age 33, and Annie was 27, unable to read or write. Married for eleven years, they had three daughters aged 8 and younger, the oldest attending school.

In 1903, the house was put up for sale together with the adjoining 420 Lawrence Street. The agent advertised that the houses “will show a good investment, either for the man who is seeking a home or investment, and are real bargains.” Both houses remained rental properties, with 418 Lawrence Street occupied by the McDonald family, headed by Irish immigrants. Phillip McDonald, 50 years old, was a stonemason and his wife, Elizabeth, at 42 years of age was a pen worker, likely for the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company on Cooper Street. Their four children, ranging in age from 4 to 18, had all been born in the United States, and those of school age were attending school.

The home remained a rental property through the first half of the twentieth century, but more often occupied by married couples or smaller families. The challenges of work and child-rearing surfaced again in 1916, when this ad appeared in the “Board Wanted” column  of the Camden Morning Post: “Home wanted for 6-year-old boy; lady works all the time; will pay small board. Call evenings. 418 Lawrence Street.” Tenant occupations between 1910 and 1950 included cabinet maker, chauffeur, wrapper, ship joiner, decorator, watchman, and tool grinder. Many of the residents were New Jersey-born, but tenants during these years also included first- and second-generation Irish, one Scot, and one German.

By 1957, the house at 418 Lawrence Street had been conveyed to an investment company, and its tenant at that time took the opportunity to buy the home as well as adjacent 420 Lawrence Street. Alice Pharo, a white woman, had rented 418 Lawrence since 1950 and chose to stay despite a 1952 incident of a man breaking through the window of her kitchen. Divorced and living independently, Pharo served as secretary of the Burlington-Camden-Gloucester Society for Crippled Children and Adults. She rented out 420 Lawrence Street to tenants while living at 418 Lawrence until her death in 1977, a two-decade-long period that ranked as the longest period of residence for anyone at this address up to that time. Through the 1960s, she had a direct view of the urban renewal demolition that created a new campus for Rutgers University-Camden in the blocks  north of her house.

The next owners, Eric and Ellen Eifert, acquired both 418 and 420 Lawrence Street from Alice Pharo’s estate in 1984. In 2005, Eric Eifert successfully argued before Camden City Council that 418 Lawrence Street had historic value and should not be allowed to be taken by eminent domain for further expansion of Rutgers. In 2007, Rutgers instead purchased 418, 420, and 422 Lawrence Street from the Eiferts.

Associated Individuals

For a list of known residents of 418 Lawrence Street, link to the Lawrence Street Database. For earlier residents of the block (prior to street numbering), see Lawrence Street by Block, 1854-1860.

Sources

Camden and Philadelphia City Directories.
Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers.
Camden County Deeds.
Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1885-1950.
U.S. and New Jersey Census, 1870-1950.

Note on sources: When documented for the National Register of Historic Places, the Lawrence Street rowhouses were thought to have been occupied by servants for the homeowners on Cooper Street. This research updates and corrects the record.

Research by

Charlene Mires and Kaya Durkee

Posted by

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

Collection

Citation

“418 Lawrence Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed May 18, 2024, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/91.

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