424 Lawrence Street
Date of construction
At the back of two Cooper Street-facing properties (419 and 421), two smaller houses with a small alley between them were added facing Lawrence Street sometime between 1847 and 1854. The collective development of four residences stood on land purchased in 1847 by Joseph R. Paulson, a Philadelphia merchant active in that city’s volunteer fire companies. Although just 35 years old when he bought the lots, Paulson apparently anticipated a need to assure future financial security for his family by 1848, when he placed the land and its ‘premises” in trust with his mother-in-law so that rents could be collected to support his wife and two young children. Paulson died in 1849 from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage while living in one of the Cooper Street-facing houses, and true to his wishes the four structures on his land generated income and the Cooper Street-facing houses at times provided shelter to his heirs for the next eight decades.
424 Lawrence Street
The 400 block of Lawrence Street had residents beginning in 1854, according to city directories. The earliest tenants who can be identified at 424 Lawrence Street were a family of five headed by a journeyman tailor, Charles Lewis, who lived in this house from 1858 until 1869. Lewis, a white man who was 38 years old in 1860, headed a family that included his wife, Sarah, age 32, and three children ranging in age from 2 years old to 11 (the older two attending school). The parents and their oldest child were all born in Pennsylvania; the two younger children were both born in New Jersey, indicating a move across the river in the early 1850s. While living at 424 Lawrence Street, by 1868 Charles Lewis changed his occupation or added a second position as collector of water rents for the Camden Water Works. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to a different home on Eighth Street.
During the last decades of the nineteenth century, tenants at 424 Lawrence included a barber, machinists, a boot and shoe maker, a sawyer, and a laborer. One of the longest-residing tenants during this period was a widow, Mary Davis, who earned her living as a dress trimmer while living at this address between 1881 and 1888. Davis, a white woman in her 30s, had previously boarded in another family’s home with her two children, so the move to a rented house on Lawrence Street may have been a step forward for the family. For most of the 1890s and into the first year of the new century, the tenants at 424 Lawrence were an extended family including Irish immigrants and their second- and third-generation children and grandchildren. Most consistently through this period, a laborer named William Thompson and his wife, Mary—a daughter of Irish immigrants—headed the household. By 1897, they shared the home with Mary Thompson’s Irish parents, John and Mary Reilly (or Riley), who moved in around the time Mary gave birth to the couple’s third child. The need for additional adults in the home may have been related to Mary’s health; she died in 1900 at the age of 33 from causes not publicly disclosed, leaving behind three children then aged 2 to 15. As the family circumstances changed, William Thompson’s occupation advanced from laborer to policeman, with the family economy also supported by John Reilly’s work as a carpenter and Mary Reilly’s work as a tailor. They left 424 Lawrence Street in 1901.
Additional nationalities were represented among tenants at this address in the early decades of the twentieth century, reflecting the diversity of Camden’s immigrant population. During 1904 and 1905, the residents were a Dutch family headed by John Vendengenten, a coachman who was 48 years old in 1905. He and his wife, Elizabeth, age 42, and their older son Johann, 19, had immigrated from Holland nine years before; a younger son, 7-year-old Rudolph, was born after they arrived in New York. While at 424 Lawrence Street, Elizabeth Vendengenten placed a newspaper advertisement offering her labor to do washing or cleaning. By 1910, the residents at this address included a woman born in French-speaking Canada, Corrine Barkley, whose Pennsylvania-born husband William worked in a livery stable and later as a driver. Both of their children had been born in New Jersey. From 1915 to 1923, a second-generation couple whose parents had been German immigrants, Gilbert and Emma Hicks, occupied the home. Gilbert worked as a carpet-layer and department store clerk, and his wife apparently did not work outside the home. And in 1930, another second-generation couple whose parents had been born in Ireland lived at this address.
The house at 424 Lawrence Street also had a connection with Camden’s emergence as an industrial center through the life experience of Mary Gibson, a tenant during the 1920s who worked at the Victor Talking Machine Company. In her 70s by the time she lived on Lawrence Street, Gibson had been a widow since 1895, when her husband, Joshua, died from pulmonary consumption at the age of 37; their only son, Howard Sands Gibson, died in 1905 at the age of 19 from tuberculosis. Dependent on her own labor for support, Gibson went to work at the Victor Talking Machine Company by 1905, within a few years of the company’s founding. She remained in the Victor workforce as an inspector, assembler, and record maker for more than two decades as the company grew to one of Camden’s major industries. She was still making records at Victor when she moved to 424 Lawrence Street. Previously she had lived as a boarder or roomer with other families; at Lawrence Street she shared the house with her brother William Sands, an artist, until 1928. She died one year later, at age 74, then living in Audubon, New Jersey.
The long history of 424 Lawrence Street as an income generator for the original owners, the Paulson family, came to an end during the late 1930s. Mary Paulson, a daughter-in-law of the first Paulson owner, had lived in one of the property’s Cooper Street-facing houses (419 Cooper) since 1912 while renting out the other houses. By 1938, however, she had gone to live with a daughter in Merchantville and put 419 Cooper Street and 424 Lawrence Street up for sale (the adjacent 421 Cooper and 426 Lawrence houses were sold earlier, during the 1920s). Coinciding with the Great Depression, the offer of the two houses, by then close to 90 years old, failed to find a buyer despite steady reductions in the asking price. After several appearances in legal notices for taxes and sheriff’s sales, Paulson turned the property over to the First Camden National Bank and Trust Company in 1940.
Under new owners in the 1940s and 1950s, 424 Lawrence Street remained a rental property with tenants who included employees of RCA (which acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1929). By 1969, the house and others in the 400 block became subjects of interest for their historical value. One of Camden’s active preservationists, Edward Teitelman, purchased 424 Lawrence Street and its neighbor, 426 Lawrence, in 1969. Teitelman, a psychologist by profession, saved other properties on Cooper Street and nearby during this period, including the distinctive 305 Cooper Street designed by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre (later the Rutgers-Camden Writers House). Teitelman’s tenants on Lawrence Street included students from Rutgers-Camden, who were believed to be responsible for marijuana plants found growing behind 424 Lawrence Street in 1972. The students also became targets for crime, including a 1973 incident of armed robbery at 424 Lawrence Street that netted stereo equipment and more than $3,000 in cash. After two more transfers of ownership during the 1990s and early 2000s, Rutgers University purchased 424 Lawrence Street in 2005. The building later housed the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Food Pantry.
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.
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