CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
802 South 2nd street
Corner of South 2nd Street and Pine Street
Thomas Gordon had a saloon and stable at 801 South 2nd by the summer of 1880, when the Census was taken. His son Robert didn't initially go into the business, the 1887 through 1890-1891 city directories show him working as a printer/compositor. Eventually he and his brother Thomas became involved with the business, and Robert eventually became the owner. Robert Gordon married Emma Compton, of whom more will wrote of below.
As late as 1906 Thomas Gordon Sr. was involved, the City Directory entry for that year reads "Gordon Thomas, Stable & Liquors 801 and 807 South 2nd street", with Robert Gordon's entry reading "Gordon, Robert W., manager, home 807 South 2nd street".
The 1910 Census sheet, dated April 18, 1910 discloses the following for 801-807 South 2nd Street. Robert W. Gordon, age 45; born in Ireland; occupation: proprietor livery stable (head of household); Emma Gordon, age 37; born in New Jersey; occupation: none (wife); Thomas Gordon, age 49; born in Ireland; occupation: proprietor saloon (brother). Thomas W. Gordon died at the age of 51 on April 26, 1912.
The 1914 City Directory shows Robert W. Gordon - livery and liquors at 801 South 2nd Street, with his home at 807 South 2nd Street. Robert Gordon died on December 11, 1914.
Robert W. Gordon appears to have died by 1919. His widow Emma ran the bar through 1919, until age, changes in the neighborhood, and the onset of prohibition gave her cause to move away and lease the business. This did not turn out to be a very good idea. The 1924 Camden City Directory shows that Joseph Devine was operating under a "soft drinks" license, which meant he could sell low alcohol beer. Joseph Devine's real name was Joseph Deven. He was better known as Polack Joe Devon (newspaper accounts spell his name in various ways, Deven, Devon, Devine, etc.) and was a somewhat notorious character as a political leader and gangster in Camden's Third Ward. Emma Gordon had moved back to 807 South 2nd Street by 1924, and lived there a late as 1927. By 1929 Jerome A. Mauro had both the home at 807 South 2nd and the bar at 801, which, as Prohibition was still in force, he operated under a soft rink license.
Robert & Emma Gordon's great-great-neice Beth Crane wrote in 2008:
Emma and Robert Gordon were my great-great-aunt and uncle and I grew up (in the 1950's) hearing stories about this saloon. According to which family member you were listening to, it was either a magnificent Taj-Mahal-palace of a saloon, where all the best people in Camden hobnobbed ... or it was a filthy hellhole where all the lowlife hoodlums congregated, and Satan was the bartender. I've always wondered what was the truth about the place.
Robert Gordon was a Camden city councilman, so the saloon was first in his brother's name (Thomas Gordon) then in Emma (Compton) Gordon's name. I guess he didn't want the teetotalers in town voting against him!
Here is an interesting story about Emma Compton that I think should be preserved for posterity: Emma lent money to Rev. Carl McIntyre for him to build that church of his in Collingswood, so she held the mortgage on the church. When she died, Rev. McIntyre was horrified to learn she had left the mortgage to her nephew, Ed Compton, who owned Compton's Log Cabin, a seafood restaurant on Cuthbert Boulevard where "demon rum" was served. He was so afraid that it would become public knowledge that his church's mortgage was held by the owner of an alcohol-serving establishment that he immediately showed up at Ed's with the CASH to pay off the mortgage in full.
I heard their livery stable specialized in providing fancy horses (I'm not sure that is the correct way to put it) for funeral corteges. What I mean is, the horses would be wearing elaborate silver and black harnesses with long black feathers sticking straight up from their foreheads.
My grandmother told me that when my grandfather was just a little boy (he was born in 1897), Emma would save the corks from the champagne bottles from the saloon for him to play with. And if the saloon served champagne ... well, it couldn't have been such a den of iniquity.
The truth of the matter of palace of hell hole lies somewhere in between. When the Gordon's were operating the business, and as Robert Gordon was active politically, even serving as a city councilman at one point, the Gordon's establishment would have been a top of the line, for those times and in that neighborhood, establishment. South 2nd Street was a much more traveled road in those times. It connected the Market Street Ferry and the Kaighn Avenue Ferry, and from South Second and Kaighn Avenue one would pick up Ferry Avenue to travel southwards to Gloucester, Woodbury, and the rest of South Jersey. For all intents and purposes, every traveler who came to South Jersey over the Market Street Ferry to go southwards into New Jersey and who did not continue by rail would pass by the Gordon's business.
THEN things changed.
The introduction of the automobile and improvements to Broadway didn't help business, Thomas Gordon died in 1912 and Robert Gordon passed away in December of 1914.When Prohibition came on in 1919 and with Robert gone, the bar apparently was rented. There were A LOT of shady characters in that part of South Camden, and Polack Joe Deven (or Devon, or Devine) was one. Polack Joe was politically active in the 1920s when oftentimes you couldn't tell the gangsters from the politicians. There is no doubt that when he was running the bar, Camden's more notorious characters would have been his clientele.
The 1947 Camden City Directory shows that the house at 807 South 2nd Street was still occupied, but no mention is mad of 801 South 2nd. It is likely that the building may have not still been standing at that point in time.
Philadelphia Inquirer - May 8, 1888
|Camden Daily Telegram - April 26, 1912|
W. GORDON SUMMONED BY DEATH
For years associated with his brother Robert in the livery business, Thomas W. Gordon died this morning at his home, 807 South Second Street, after a lingering illness with dropsy. He was 51 years old, and single. Mr. Gordon was one of the best known men in the Fifth Ward, enjoyed a wide circle of friends. Arrangements for the funeral will be announced tomorrow.
|Camden Daily Telegram - December 10, 1914|
COUNCILMAN GORDON SOMEWHAT IMPROVED
Very favorable is the report that came from Councilman Robert Gordon's sick room this morning. It stated the popular official, who has been desperately ill with pneumonia, had taken a turn for the better and that those in attendance feel very hopeful of the future. For several days his condition had been such as to make the anxious members of his family feel apprehensive; and the fact that he has rallied now is a source of great gratification.
Councilman George Schneider, who was ill with typhoid fever, was reported to be in a favorable condition and his recovery is anticipated.
Another official on the sick list, Sidewalk Inspector Richard J. Richardson, is still very ill with neuralgia of the heart, and Record Clerk "Lou" Lee of the Board of Health, who has developed a very excellent case of chickenpox, is getting along very nicely..
The Bars, Taverns, and Clubs of Camden
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