434 Lawrence Street
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.
434 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 1860s. 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. An early tenant at 434 Lawrence Street may have been Daniel Bodine, a steamboat captain, who lived on “Lawrence below Fifth” between 1854 and 1860. His occupation may indicate an acquaintance with the property owner Isaac Porter, who served as an officer of the West Jersey Ferry Company. Census records of 1860 identify Daniel Bodine as a white man 33 years old, living with his wife Elizabeth, a white woman aged 32.
Tenants at 434 Lawrence Street during the last decades of the nineteenth century included a cabinet maker, a police officer, a packer, a machinist, a brick layer, and a paper box maker. In 1870, the tenants were cabinet maker Alexander Haines, who had lived at this address since 1863. A white man who was born in New Jersey, Haines was 52 years old in 1870 and shared the home with his wife, Elizabeth, a white woman 46 years old, also born in New Jersey, and their two daughters. Daughters Anna, 15, and Ella, 11, both attended school. Work for a cabinet maker would have been plentiful in this neighborhood during these years as blocks north of Cooper Street filled with new houses, including the surviving mansion at 406 Penn Street built c. 1869. Behind that mansion and across the street from the Lawrence Street rowhouses, builder William Severns had a carpentry shop at 425 Lawrence that could have afforded employment to Haines and others. Severns, whose rising prominence in Camden led him to later service on the Board of Freeholders, developed a reputation as one of the city’s pioneer builders during the late nineteenth century.
Unusually, 434 Lawrence Street had one tenant who stayed for more than twenty years, from the early 1880s until 1913. Rebecca S. Lawrence, a white woman who was around 30 years old when she moved Lawrence Street, had grown up in South Camden with at least four siblings in a family headed by a laborer. Born in 1853, her childhood included her father’s service in the Civil War. By age 18, she went to work in a paper box factory and continued in that occupation throughout her years on Lawrence Street. Having married during the 1870s, she first appeared on Lawrence Street as Rebecca S. Currie (and may have first lived in adjacent 432 Lawrence Street). By 1884, however, she had reverted to her birth name; by 1900 Census records identified her as divorced. It would have been unusual for woman to occupy a home by herself, but if Rebecca Armstrong had lodgers or relatives with her at 434 Lawrence Street, they do not appear in public records. The only exception came in 1905, when New Jersey Census takers recorded the presence of one other occupant, a widow named Mary Lake. By the time Armstrong left Lawrence Street, she was in her late 50s. She spent her later years living in Philadelphia with one of her sisters, a widow who worked as a saleslady at the John Wanamaker department store. When she and her sister returned to New Jersey in the 1930s, they lived in Burlington County.
At 434 Lawrence Street, Armstrong was followed in 1914 by another household headed by women, a mother and daughter who were both widowed (Martha Delaney and Margaret Wheaton), and the daughter’s 13-year-old son. They moved on when Margaret Wheaton remarried in 1915, creating a vacancy filled by the family of August Sonntag, a woodworker at the Victor Talking Machine Company, for the decade between 1916 and 1926. Sonntag and his wife Jane (also known as Jennie), both white and born in Pennsylvania, represented converging ethnic identities—his parents had been born in Germany, and hers in Ireland. Prior to Lawrence Street, they lived at 301 Point Street, closer to the Victor manufacturing complex. While there, they suffered the death of their oldest daughter, Theresa, who succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 13. On Lawrence Street, they raised their surviving two daughters and one son to young adulthood.
Tenants continued to live at 434 Lawrence Street through the 1930s and most of the 1940s, but the character of the street was changing. Lawrence Street began to function as a service alley for automobiles, and garages replaced several of the rowhouses (see 416, 428, and 430 Lawrence Street). This was the fate of 434 Lawrence Street, which was purchased in 1946 by the owner of an adjacent house facing Fifth Street (211 N. Fifth). That owner, Dr. Charles Kutner, renovated the Fifth Street house into a home and office and eliminated its deteriorated third floor in the process. Similarly, 434 Lawrence Street was reduced to one story and converted into an automobile garage, with a new concrete-block structure faced in brick joining the two structures in the back. The enlarged 211 N. Fifth Street, incorporating the former 434 Lawrence Street rowhouse, conveyed to Rutgers University as part of a multiple-property transaction with a real estate investor 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. This research updates and corrects the record.
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