426 Lawrence Street

426LawrenceOct23.jpg

Title

426 Lawrence Street

Description

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

Significance

426 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. 1847-54

History

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 after 1847. The collective development of four residences stood on land purchased that year 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 at times provided shelter to his heirs for the next eight decades.

426 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 426 Lawrence Street included a man who later rose to prominence in Camden, Charles E. Derby, who rented the house between 1859 and 1861. Derby, a journeyman machinist born in Massachusetts, was a white man in his early 30s when he lived at 426 Lawrence with his wife, Susan (also white and in her early 30s), and their infant daughter Orilla. Shortly after they left Lawrence Street, in 1863, Derby co-founded the firm Derby & Weatherby (also known as the Camden Machine Works). Over the next four decades, the company grew at Delaware and Cooper Streets, where it produced machines for many of Camden’s waterfront industries. The firm specialized in building marine engines, including the engines that powered ferryboats operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. By the time Derby died in 1901, he was described as “well known to machinists throughout the country.”

By 1865, the house at 426 Lawrence Street became home to a family that stayed for three decades, longer than any other residents of the block during the nineteenth century. The location would have been ideal for a house carpenter, the occupation of the head of household, William C. Bates. At that time and into the 1870s, builders were buying lots of land north of Cooper Street and rapidly putting up houses in pairs, groups of three, and entire rows. The distinctive Linden Terrace block (Linden Street between Fourth and Fifth Street) developed in 1871, for example.  From Lawrence Street, Bates would have had a direct view, and potentially an opportunity for work, as builder Joseph Cooper constructed his unusually large, grand mansion at 406 Penn Street in 1869. Another of the city’s prominent builders, William Severns, had a carpentry shop across the street from Bates while that project was underway.

The Census of 1870 documented the Bates family as William, 54 years old, a white man; his wife Sarah, a white woman 55 years old; and their son Samuel, who was 30 years old and employed as a box maker. All were born in New Jersey. Unusual among their neighbors on working-class Lawrence Street, the Bates family employed or had a boarder who was a domestic servant, 19-year-old Maggie Johnson, for at least that one year. The family stayed on Lawrence Street until William Bates’s death in 1895, when he was 80 years old. His funeral took place from the house they had occupied for the last three decades.

Another relatively long-term tenant family occupied 426 Lawrence Street between 1896 and 1904. Like others on Lawrence Street during these years, William J. Roche and his wife, Rose, were immigrants—both had immigrated separately from Ireland during the 1870s and later married in the United States. They lived in Pennsylvania prior to moving to Camden sometime after 1888, following the birth of two children. William Roche appeared in Camden city directories as a clerk, but during the 1900 Census he identified his occupation as musician. That year while living on Lawrence Street, he was 49 years old; his wife, Rose, was 40 years old, and their two children, 13-year-old Regina and 12-year-old Gerald, were attending school. The family left Lawrence Street by 1905 and by 1910 had moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where William Roche worked as a piano polisher.

Tenants moved in and out frequently for the next two decades. Their occupations included steam fitter, printer, and molder, driver, machinist, bank watchman, and woodworker. At least one tenant family offered boarding for one or two working men. For a time during 1905, an unlicensed oleo margarine manufactory was set up at 426 Lawrence Street by an operator who sought to evade taxes by producing an unlabeled product for local stores. Inspectors hauled away 1,000 pounds of margarine as well as the machinery that produced it. The incident was an exceptional manufacturing use of the property, which otherwise remained rented to residential tenants.

By the 1920s, construction of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) prompted changes on Cooper Street as local real estate interests pushed to transform the residential street into a commercial thoroughfare. During this period, the longtime owners of 426 Lawrence Street, the Paulson family, put the house up for sale along with its companion Cooper Street-facing house (421 Cooper Street). At the time, a daughter-in-law of the original Paulson property owner, Mary Paulson, lived in 421 Cooper Street and derived income from renting out the other inherited houses. The sale of 421 Cooper and 426 Lawrence Street from Mary Paulson to the Bell-Oliver Corporation of Camden made news for the property’s lineage in Camden history. The Camden Daily Courier noted that only two families—the Paulsons and, before them, the Coopers—had owned the parcel since the time of the city’s founding.

While Cooper Street transitioned to business uses, Lawrence Street remained a row of residential rental properties. For most of the 1920s, spanning the period of the sale of the property and renovation of the Cooper Street-facing house, 426 Lawrence Street was the home of a shipyard worker, Frank Kenny, and his wife Jeannette (who had previously lived down the street at 418 Lawrence). By 1930, a machine hand at the RCA Victor radio factory, Maybel Gray, rented the house. A white female, 33 years old, Gray headed a household of two children, ages 12 and 14, who were attending school.

The continued pairing of 426 Lawrence and 421 Cooper Street as one parcel was evident through the presence and transactions of Helen C. Waters, a widow, who rented space in the remodeled 421 Cooper Street beginning in 1934. At that address, she operated her business, Helen’s Beauty Shoppe, and made a home for herself and two daughters. By 1943, after her daughters were grown, she moved to the smaller Lawrence Street house and subsequently bought the entire property, including 421 Cooper Street, in 1945. The property changed ownership again in 1947, transferring to an optometrist who ran his business in the Cooper Street-facing house but continued to rent 426 Lawrence Street to residential tenants. In 1950, Census takers recorded the occupant as Marguarite A. Graves, a 46-year-old white female working as a professional singer.

Frequently put up for rent or sale during the 1950s and 1960s, 426 Lawrence Street apparently also benefitted from a facelift to meet modern expectations. In 1953, a rental ad for the property described the house for potential tenants: “Teacher, business couple or widow looking for a modern central city home, here is a lovely tile bath, modern kitchen with dinette, one large bedroom, gas heated, living room and storage room.” The house, which had been standing for a century by the 1950s, also began to attract interest as a remnant of Camden history. One of Camden’s active preservationists, Edward Teitelman, purchased 426 Lawrence Street and its neighbor, 424 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). He owned the pair of Lawrence Street houses until 1989; by 2004 they were in the hands of a real estate broker who sold them to Rutgers University in 2005.

Associated Individuals

For a list of known residents of 426 Lawrence Street, link to the Lawrence Street Database. For earlier residents of the block (prior to house 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. At this address, research located one individual identified as a domestic servant, but she lived within the household of a tenant family.

Research by

Charlene Mires and Kaya Durkee.

Posted by

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

Collection

Citation

“426 Lawrence Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed April 24, 2024, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/95.

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