432 Lawrence Street
432 Lawrence Street originated as part of a row of nineteenth-century, working-class 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.” 432 Lawrence is notable as an early childhood home of Lettie Allen Ward, who in later life was the second female physician to practice in Camden. Its tenants also included a veteran of the Civil War and veterans of World War I.
Date of construction
In 1846, a Camden County public official named Isaac Porter purchased an undeveloped lot extending from Cooper Street to Lawrence Street and thereafter added three structures: A three-story house, 425 Cooper Street, and two smaller rowhouses at the back of the property at 432 and 434 Lawrence Street. Porter, also an officer of the West Jersey Ferry Company, lived in the Cooper Street house with his family while renting the two smaller houses to tenants until his death in 1867. His surviving sons later divided the property so that one would own the Cooper Street house and another the pair of rental houses. The Lawrence Street houses continued to be treated as properties separate from the Cooper Street house as they conveyed to subsequent owners outside the Porter family from the 1880s through the early twenty-first century.
432 Lawrence Street
The 400 block of Lawrence Street had residents listed in city directories beginning in 1854, although the absence of house numbering prevents associating them with specific addresses prior to the 1960s. Isaac Porter’s two rowhouses on Lawrence Street are known to have existed by 1855, when they were cited in a building contract as models for similar houses to be built elsewhere in Camden.
The earliest known tenants at 432 Lawrence Street connect this house with experiences of the Civil War and the rapid growth of Camden during the late nineteenth century. Aaron Ward, who worked as a carpenter, rented the house between 1861 and 1863. It was, therefore, the home where Ward’s wife, Anna, lived with their toddler daughter and infant son while he went to war with the 24th Infantry New Jersey Regiment in September 1862. This regiment of men from Camden, Gloucester, and Cumberland counties deployed to Virginia. During the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, Ward charged with his comrades across open ground into Confederate fire and became one of the many wounded in that engagement. He took a bullet through his left lung, an injury that affected his health for the rest of his life. He returned to Camden with the sword and scabbard that he carried that day and displayed it in his home for many years thereafter.
Ward, a white man, was about 27 years old when he moved his young family to Lawrence Street in 1861. Born in Newton Township, Camden County, he attended the Westtown School—a Quaker boarding school in Chester County, Pennsylvania. At that time, the school admitted only Quaker students, so Ward would have set aside pacifist principles when he went to war. Prior to 1859, Ward married Anna, a white woman born in New Jersey, and their first child Letty (Lettie) was born that year. A son, Franklin, followed in 1861. Ward’s work as a carpenter while on Lawrence Street signaled the start of a long career in construction contracting for the growing city of Camden. He oversaw construction of sewer systems, bridges, and the concrete pier at Cooper Street wharf, among other projects. The Wards’ oldest child, Lettie Allen Ward, achieved prominence in later life as a public school teacher and principal who changed careers by enrolling at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She became the second female physician to practice in Camden. (In her later years, she owned nearby 325 Cooper Street.)
Tenants who worked in the building trades continued to be among the occupants of 432 Lawrence Street. William M. Rutter, a ship joiner, helped to build boats and buildings for ferry services on the Delaware River, perhaps suggesting an acquaintance with his landlords in the Porter family. He and his family lived at 432 Lawrence Street for at least two years, in 1869-70, and possibly longer. Rutter, a white man born in New Jersey, was recorded as 48 years old in the 1870 Census; his household also included his wife, Sarah, also 48 years old and born in New Jersey, and their 14-year-old daughter, also named Sarah, who was born in Pennsylvania. The Census taker classified Mrs. Rutter as “insane,” but following enumeration instructions did not further specify a condition or disability. Her circumstances may explain the presence of another adult female in the house, 43-year-old Elizabeth Hewitt, who was described as the housekeeper. Also living with the family was an adult male laborer, Lorenzo F. Jones, 21 years old, who could have been another family member or a boarder.
Other occupations at this address during the late nineteenth century included factory workers, a janitor, a coachman, and a hostler. For most of the 1890s, 432 Lawrence Street became home to German immigrants and their American-born daughters. Jacob and Marie Schuldtheis (spelled variously in different records), in their 60s, had immigrated from Germany in 1866 and lived in Philadelphia except for their residence on Lawrence Street between 1892 and 1900. Jacob worked as a baker and as a watchman in Philadelphia, even after moving to Camden. Their adult daughters did factory work, one as a box maker and the other as a millhand. They all moved back to Philadelphia by 1900, after one of the daughters married and established a new extended family household there.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, tenants at 432 Lawrence Street included a dressmaker, a blacksmith, a chandelier maker, a leather worker, and laborers. The dressmaker, Rose Jolly, was living apart from her husband and raising three children under the age of 7. The chandelier maker, Theodore Dreher, and his wife, Julie, immigrated from Germany during the 1880s. Tenants during this period seldom stayed longer than one year, and some advertised their need for employment. In 1903 “a young man, in delicate health” sought work he could do at home. In 1904 a man sought work as a team driver, and a16-year-old boy sought “work of any kind, can fire small boiler; knows all about Camden and Philadelphia.” In 1905, a German woman—possibly Julie Dreher, the chandelier maker’s wife—sought washing and ironing to do at home.
The house at 432 Lawrence Street gained a longer-term occupant beginning in 1908, when a dressmaker named Amanda Allen began a tenancy that lasted into the 1920s. These were eventful years in which Amanda held a viewing for her deceased mother at the Lawrence Street house (1908), divorced her longtime first husband (1910), cohabited with and then married a retired Camden police officer (1917), saw her adult son enlist to fight in France during the First World War (1918-19), and held another funeral, for her second husband (1920). Allen, a white woman who was 56 years old when documented on Lawrence Street by the 1910 Census, had been born in Philadelphia, where her father worked as a blacksmith. By the time she moved to Camden around 1905, she had been married for more than thirty years to a house painter, William Allen, and their three children had reached adulthood. By 1908, however, she lived apart from her husband and moved into 432 Lawrence Street with one of her two sons, also named William, who was 21 years and working as a machinist at the Victor Talking Machine Company (where Amanda Allen’s widowed sister, Mary Gibson, also worked--see 424 Lawrence Street). Adding to the household income, the Allens took in a boarder, initially Albert Barton, who worked in a cloth factory.
Legal notices in Camden newspapers confirm Amanda Allen’s divorce from her first husband in 1910 without disclosing details. Her second husband, George W. Horner, began to appear in city directories at the 432 Lawrence Street address in 1913, which could indicate he initially entered the household as a boarder. Horner, who was 10 to 12 years older than Amanda, was retired from the Camden police force and had been a member of the city’s first paid fire department in the 1870s. He continued to work as a private watchman, contributing to a feeling of security for the neighborhood on and around Cooper Street. By 1917, Horner and Allen obtained a marriage license and were wed on December 11, at the nearby First Presbyterian Church at Fifth and Penn Streets.
The Horner-Allen wedding took place just as the United States broke its neutrality and entered the Great War on the side of the Allies. The following May (1918), Amanda’s son William enlisted as a private with Company I, 316th Infantry, of the 79th Division of the U.S. Army. Listing his mother at 432 Lawrence Street as his next of kin, William embarked from Hoboken on a steamship carrying American Expeditionary Forces to France. His unit participated in one of the attacks that ended the war, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive September 26-November 11, 1918. The massive operation by more than one million troops resulted in thousands of soldiers killed and wounded, but William survived. He was honorably discharged from the Army on June 9, 1919. Returning home, he would have found his mother still working at dressmaking and living at 432 Lawrence Street, where she remained until 1923, several years beyond the death of her second husband in 1920. His funeral took place in the Lawrence Street home.
Another veteran of the Great War, William Walton, rented 432 Lawrence Street for the next six years, 1924-1931, and lived there with his wife, Ida. A white man in his 40s, born in Philadelphia, Walton worked for part of that period as a construction foreman. His projects included the Stanley Theater at Broad and Market Streets. He earlier served in the Camden Fire Department and worked at the Victor Talking Machine Company; his later employment included being a foreman for the Highway Department and an engineer with a newspaper company. Ida Watson, a white woman also in her 40s when they lived at this address, was born in New Jersey and did not work outside the home.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the environment around 432 Lawrence Street changed in ways that left it a single home standing between two automobile garages. Sometime in 1939 or during the 1940s, two houses to the west (428 and 430) were replaced by a garage to serve a funeral home facing Cooper Street. During the 1940s, the adjacent rowhouse at 434 Lawrence Street was purchased by the homeowner of nearby 211 N. Fifth Street and adapted into a garage. Nevertheless, the house sandwiched between two garages remained a rental property, by this time owned as an investment by a man in the elevator construction business who lived in Barrington, New Jersey. His tenants during the early 1940s included a family of five headed by Paul Pagano, who worked as a timekeeper for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. Pagano, a white man born in Pennsylvania, was 30 years old in 1940, and shared the home with his wife Esther (25 years old, a white woman born in New Jersey) and their two sons and one daughter ages 3, 5, and 8 months. They were followed at 432 Lawrence Street by a household that apparently moved to this address from another house in the row, 420 Lawrence Street. The next tenants included Earl Nelson, an immigrant from Norway who worked as a railroad machinist, and lodgers Paul and Catherine Rube and their three children. Paul Rube, who immigrated from Sweden, by 1943 worked as an icer for fruit growers; his wife Catherine, a white woman born in Pennsylvania, did not work outside the home. The Nelson/Rube household remained until at least 1947.
The tenants of 432 Lawrence Street are unknown for the 1950s through the 1970s, but for at least some of that period the house may have had a resident homeowner for the first time in its history. Ruth E. Darling, a nurse, sold the house in 1973 but also appeared at this address in voter registration records the following year. A series of subsequent owners included investors not living in Camden as well as sellers who listed 432 Lawrence Street as their home addresses. In 2007, owner Quan Pham of Cherry Hill sold the property to Rutgers University.
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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