430 Lawrence Street
Date of construction
A cement-block garage, built for a Cooper Street undertaker c. 1939-50, stands on the site of two earlier rowhouses similar to others that remain standing on Lawrence Street. The earlier houses date to the period c. 1847-54, when they were built on land purchased by Jesse Townsend, a bank clerk. In 1847, Townsend acquired property extending from Cooper Street to Lawrence Street, and like several of his neighbors he added houses facing both streets. At 423 Cooper Street, Townsend and his wife, Elizabeth, raised a family that grew to include five children as Jesse Townsend rose to the position of cashier at one of Camden’s key institutions, the State Bank of Camden. The smaller rowhouses on Lawrence Street were rented to tenants. During the 1860s, the Townsends sold their house and the pair of rental properties separately to new owners. They moved to 215 Cooper Street, closer to the bank, in 1862; five years later, they sold the pair of Lawrence Street houses to investors from Cumberland County.
430 Lawrence Street
City directories document people living in the 400 block of Lawrence Street beginning in 1854, although absence of house numbering prior to the 1860s prevents identifying tenants by address in the earliest years. The earliest known tenants of 430 Lawrence Street, in 1860-61, were a family of three headed by a coach painter, Richard S. Humphreys. A former hotel operator in Mount Holly, Burlington County, Humphreys moved to Camden sometime during the 1850s. He was a white man, 53 years old in 1860, and lived at 430 Lawrence Street with his wife Evaline, a white woman 39 years old, and their 5-year-old son, Harry. Later in life, Harry Humphreys became a prominent lumber merchant in Camden, served briefly on the city council, and helped to establish parts of the city’s park system while a member of the Camden Parks Commission.
Another family of three, headed by a hatter named John Gamble, lived at 430 Lawrence Street between 1865 and 1867, when the property owner Jesse Townsend put this house and adjacent 428 Lawrence Street up for sale. Townsend had previously sold his Cooper Street-facing house (423 Cooper) and moved closer to the State Bank of Camden, where he worked. When he advertised the Lawrence Street houses for sale in the West Jersey Press, Townsend described their potential as investment properties: "Two Small Houses / For Sale Cheap / The subscriber offers for sale two small Brick Houses, No. 428 and 430 Lawrence Street, Camden, N.J. These houses contain five rooms each, are well built, have range in kitchen and hydrant water in yard, and will be sold so as to net from 10 to 12 per cent per annum clear of taxes. A portion of the purchase money may remain on mortgage.” The two houses quickly sold to a couple living in Cumberland County and remained rental properties.
Larger families resided at 430 Lawrence Street during the 1870s and 1880s. In 1870, perhaps for just one year, a 32-year-old tugboat captain named David Hallinger headed a household of seven. A white man born in Bucks County, Hallinger had come to Camden in 1864. By 1870 his household included his wife Mary (a white woman 31 years old, the daughter of a Cape May County shipbuilder), and four children ranging in age from 7 months to 11 years old. Living with them, perhaps to assist with the infant, was a domestic servant, Telitha Stiles, a 54-year-old white woman. Hallinger and his oldest son, Hiram, in later life became active in Camden real estate development. Hiram Hallinger’s projects included houses still standing in the 700 block of Washington Street, built in the 1890s as part of the new neighborhood that emerged around Camden’s City Hall at that time. By the time Hiram Hallinger died in 1935, he was regarded as one of the city’s “pioneer builders.”
Tenants of 430 Lawrence Street during the late nineteenth century included widows who worked to support themselves and their families. Althea Ogden, a white woman who rented the house for at least two years (1877-78), had been married to a Pennsylvania clothing manufacturer with substantial wealth, and they had two children by the time he died in 1863. By 1870, she had moved to Haddonfield, New Jersey, where she worked as a librarian; she was then 36 years old with a 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. The circumstances that brought her to Lawrence Street are not known, but by that time her daughter had married, and her son could contribute income from his work as a paper hanger. By 1880, she and her son moved to another house on South Fourth Street. The next tenant at 430 Lawrence Street, also a widow, headed a household of six people and took in washing to earn her living. Sarah Dorsey, a white woman 43 years old, may have lived at this address for only one year. Because her presence coincided with the 1880 Census, a record of her family economy survived: Her three oldest sons (ages 20, 18, and 14) worked in labor, coach painting, and farming. The next youngest child, a 10-year-old daughter, attended school, and the youngest child, a 4-year-old son, had not yet reached school age.
An air of the supernatural hovered in 430 Lawrence Street for several years later in the 1880s when another widow, Anita Smith, may have supported herself by fortune-telling or had a female boarder who did. Throughout 1886-88, when Smith appeared in city directories at this address, ads in local newspapers advertised the availability of a “reliable medium” at the same location. The services and clientele were best described in this classified advertisement in 1888: “Circles Sunday and Wednesday Evenings. Reliable consultations daily. Ladies only. 430 Lawrence St., bet 4th and 5th Cooper and Penn St.”
An incident in 1892 provides a rare glimpse into the contrasting circumstances between narrow Lawrence Street with its small rental rowhouses and the adjacent blocks of more prosperous Cooper Street and Penn Street. As reported in the Camden Morning Courier, a “Mrs. O’Conner” living at 430 Lawrence Street fell into dire straits because her husband—“a man of ability and education” who “held a good position in Philadelphia”—had been sentenced to jail. The privileged residents of Penn Street took notice when the woman and her two children, one of them an infant, became ill. Mrs. O’Conner “was too proud to throw herself on the charity of her neighbors,” the newspaper reported, “but a few charitable families on Penn Street learning of her sad case visited her and found her and her children suffering for the necessities of life.” The neighbors assisted and paid her doctor’s bills for a month, but the newspaper noted that the woman and her children faced a future of dependence on the Overseer of the Poor.
Occupations among the frequently-changing tenants during the early 1890s included driver, polisher, shoe cutter, and clerk. By 1894, 430 Lawrence Street became home to a news dealer, Charles W. Dreher, a son of German immigrants. Dreher and his wife, Hattie, had gained some notoriety in Camden when they married in 1891. At that time, Charles was 16 years old and swore to a minister that he was 21 in order to marry a woman nearly 10 years older. The couple rented 430 Lawrence Street between 1894 and 1898 and left Camden several years later. The groom’s mother was reported to be bitterly opposed to the marriage; in the 1900 Census, she claimed to have only one child, a 17-year-old daughter still living at home.
Like several of the other houses on Lawrence Street, during the first decade of the twentieth century 430 Lawrence became home to Black tenants. Isaac Brown, a Black man who rented the house between 1900 and 1907, worked as a railroad porter and messenger, and shared the home with his wife, Elizabeth. Discrepancies in census records and the existence of multiple individuals with the same names obscure the details of their lives, but one or both of the Browns had family connections with Black migrants from southern states. Living with them on Lawrence Street during 1900 and 1901, a Black woman named Lizzie Harris (possibly a relative or boarder) worked as an ironer. In the 1900 Census, Lizzie Harris was recorded at a different Camden address as 20 years old, born in Virginia, and unable to read or write. She was newly married to John Harris, a 24-year-old day laborer who had also been born in Virginia.
Tenants at 430 Lawrence Street reflected the fluidity of Camden’s population during the early twentieth century, as industries grew and the city attracted new residents from across the nation and abroad. While some tenants were born in New Jersey, others showed how a more mobile population led to marriages and families that would have been unlikely in earlier eras. John S. Sheidell, a bartender who rented 430 Lawrence Street between 1911 and 1920, was a white man born in Pennsylvania; his father was also born in Pennsylvania, but his mother was born in New York. Sheidell’s wife, Gertrude, was born in Colorado to a mother born in Pennsylvania and a father born in Nevada.
By the 1920s, the Cooper Street-facing house behind 428 and 430 Lawrence Street had become a funeral home and residence for the operator, Charles Hiskey. The Lawrence Street houses remained rental properties for a succession of tenants during the 1920s and 1930s, with tenants at 430 Lawrence Street who included a chauffeur for the nearby F.W. Ayer/Wilfred Fry family on Penn Street and a widow who had immigrated from Ireland in 1910. However, in 1939 Hiskey bought both of the adjoining rowhouses and built a concrete-block automobile garage in their place. The garage changed hands in concert with 423 Cooper Street through a series of owners in the later twentieth century, including a doctor who had his office in the Cooper Street building during the 1960s and 1970s. Rutgers University first gained title to the properties in 1984 and in the early 1990s, after demolishing 423 Cooper Street, entered into a partnership with a redevelopment firm. The project included renovations of 321 and 411 Cooper Street and the potential for new construction in place of 423 Cooper. However, by 1998 that project faltered. With the garage still standing on the site of the Lawrence Street rowhouses, Rutgers regained title to the property again in 2005.
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. At 430 Lawrence Street, the tenants included one individual, Thomas Whiteside, who is known to have worked as a chauffeur for the F.W. Ayer/Wilfred Fry family on nearby Penn Street. This raises the possibility that other individuals with the occupation "driver" may have worked for that household as well. This research updates and corrects the record, finding no known servants associated with Cooper Street households.
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