CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
THE ROLES FAMILY
The Roles family's impact on Camden is primarily through one member, William John Roles, built, owned, managed and lived in the Roles Court Apartments on North 34th Street in East Camden for several decades.
William John Roles was born on February 2, 1881 in Haddonfield, New Jersey to John R. and Louisa Roles.
John R. Roles Sr. was born in November of 1849 in Buckland, Somerset, England and lived there through at least 1861. He came to the United States in 1870 through the port of New York. On April 5, 1872 he married Louisa Belbin Thomas in Camden. Louisa was reportedly born in January of 1858 in Portsea, Hampshire, England and had come to the United States in 1863, also through New York. It is likely that she was born a year or two earlier. The Roles lived for a time in Delaware Township, and then in Haddonfield, where they were living at the time of the 1880 census enumeration. There were three Roles daughters at home in 1880, Emma, Lillie, Bertha and Ella. Other children would follow, William J. in February of 1881, John R. Jr., Louise, and Rebecca. John R. Roles Sr. was a plasterer by trade, and by 1900 he had moved to 509 Newton Avenue in Camden.
William J. Roles married Eva Elizabeth Griffee around 1902. She was the daughter of James E. Griffee, who had a paint business at 2509-2511 Federal Street at the time.
The Griffee family was quite well known in Camden at this time. Two brothers, John Griffee and Thomas Griffee, came to what is now Camden in 1849 and 1852 respectively and and were in the coal, wood and charcoal business for many years thereafter. Both had large families, and specifically, both had sons named James. Thomas' son James Griffee in particular had a great impact on what is now East Camden and Cramer Hill, engaging in the real estate business as the partner of Alfred Cramer, for whom Cramer Hill is named. The mansion he built at 3303 Federal Street later became a funeral home, but was lost after a fire around 1990s. The other James, James E. Griffee, son of John Griffee, was in the paint and painting business in what is now East Camden for many years after moving there in the early 1880s.
The 1902 Camden City Directory shows William J. and Eva E. Roles at 332 Mickle Street. He was then working as a painter. The 1903 and 1904 editions show William and Eva boarding at 519 Newton Avenue, the home of John R. and Louisa Roles. By 1905 they had moved to 711 Blaine Street, and they stayed there through the compilation of the 1909 Directory.
During these years the Roles started their family. A daughter, Ruth L., was born in 1903, followed by son Earl W. in 1905. The youngest, daughter Eva Mae, was born in 1907.
The 1910 Directory shows that the William J. Roles family had moved to 524 North 6th Street in North Camden where they stayed through 1913. William J. Roles had worked as a painter prior to moving to North Camden. The move to North 6th Street was to engage in a paints and hardware business. This venture, unfortunately did not do well, and William J. Roles declared bankruptcy on January 30, 1913. Given that his liabilities were only $1859.45 and that his assets were $870.47 it is conceivable that this move may have had more to do with liquidating that paint and hardware business than anything else. In any event, he was back in business as a contractor and builder in short order.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 7, 1915 reported that William J. Roles had purchased land on 34th Street north of Chestnut Avenue, which was the name at that time of Rosedale Avenue from George W. Rogers for $325. It was here that William J. Roles would later build the Roles Court Apartments, which over time would grow to of 28 units at 100, 104, 108, 112, and 116 North 34th Street. The Roles family moved to a newly built house at 108 North 34th prior to the compilation of the 1915-1916 City Directory.
After closing his retail venture, William J. Roles went into contracting, and eventually went into property management. Between 1928 and 1947 William J. Roles built the Roles Court Apartments on North 34th Street. The first two building, eight units each at 108 and 112 opened shortly after the 1928 City Directory was compiled. A four unit building at 116 opened in the early 1940s, most probably in 1940 or 1941. A six unit building at 104 and a four unit building at 100 which were not open in 1943 were occupied when the 1947 City Directory was compiled. 1946 over a roughly 20 year period. Except for the time when 108 North 34th was being built, William J. Roles, his wife Eva and family lived at that address. They owned, lived at, and managed the Roles Court properties for many years, which passed to their daughter, Ruth Roles Reeves and her husband, George Reeves after they died. The apartments were abandoned in the mid-1980s and destroyed by fire in 1987. William J. Roles passed away in 1954. His wife survived him for many years.
Louisa Thomas Roles died of carcinoma and was buried at New Camden Cemetery in 1919. John R. Roles Sr., last a resident of 655 Berkley Street in Camden, died on May 2, 1937 and was buried next to his wife.
Of William J. Roles' children, Ruth Roles married George Reeves in the mid-1920s. They had two daughters by 1940, Elizabeth M. and Ruth M. Reeves, and were living on Beideman Avenue in the Westfield Acres public housing apartments. Earl W. Roles became a physician. He lived in East Orange, New Jersey from the mid-1930s through at least 1940. By 1949 he had moved to Louisville, Kentucky. He passed away in Kentucky in 1996.
Eva Mae Roles married Milton E. Kelly in the early 1920s. The Milton Kelly family was relatively new to Camden, but traced its roots back to the 1600s and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Kellys had three children, sons Milton W. Kelly and William Roles Kelly, and daughter Doreen Kelly.
TWO JAMES GRIFFEES IN CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
James Griffee married Anna Eliza Ogborn January 21, 1864 at the Third Street Methodist Church in Camden, New Jersey. Anna was also known as Annie or sometimes Leiza. James and Anna's first child was born sometime in September 1866. This was to be the only child born to James and Anna.
By 1896 James Griffee had built a stately home at 3303 Federal Street in what was then the town of Stockton. In those times Camden's city limits ended at the Cooper River, and what today is known as East Camden and Cramer Hill lay within the town of Stockton. Stockton was annexed by Camden in the spring of 1899.
James Griffee and his neighbor Joseph Cramer, who resided next door at 3311 Federal Street entered into a partnership and went into the real estate business. Joseph Cramer's older brother Alfred Cramer had previously gone into this line and had been quite successful, so successful, in fact, that by 1897 he had sold over 5000 building lots in Stockton (present-day East Camden and Cramer Hill, the actual hill having its peak at North 30th and Saunders Streets). James Griffee and Joseph Cramer also purchased land and sold lots, in what was then called North Cramer Hill, land lying above what is now North 27th Street, and in the South Rosedale neighborhood, in the vicinity of where they had built their homes. Merriell Avenue, which is a short walk from the site of the former Griffee and Cramer homes, was named after Joseph Cramer's in-laws.
The partners, as Alfred Cramer had done, purchased the land, laid out building lots for homes, churches, and businesses, got the necessary approvals, and set off to sell all the plots planned. In the original plans all the streets were named and addresses given. Many of the streets were given names of past presidents. In the spring of 1899 the town of Stockton was annexed by the City of Camden, and not long after that event the city renamed all but seven of the east-west streets numerically. What was originally Griffee Avenue became 29th Street. By 1910 this area had already become known as North Cramer Hill. While there was a street named Cramer Street, the name Griffee disappeared from the street signs to become 29th Street.
James Griffee passed away in 1917, and his wife Anna in 1916. They are both interned in Camden cemeteries.
James and Anna's daughter Joanna married the son of a sea captain. The son's name was William S. Grumley. Joanna and her husband lived on and off for many years at the home of their parents. When Joanna's father and mother passed away the house was left to Joanna and her husband and they resided in the house at 3303 Federal Street until 1930 when they sold it, and the new owners broke it up into several apartments which they rented out.
Joanna and her husband had eight children, five girls and three boys. All three boys were struck down during the influenza epidemic brought on after World War I. The Grumleys remained on in the house on Federal Street into the 1930s. By the time the Census was taken in 1940, they had moved to 6029 Wodruff Avenue in Pennsauken, New Jersey.
James Powell's grandmother, Sarah Lavinia Griffee Alloway (whose father was William C. Griffee - brother of James Griffee) remembers going to visit them as a little girl, and would tell many stories of riding out to the country to visit her uncle and aunt at the "grand house" which was three short blocks away from the park at Dudley Grange.
Another branch of the Griffee family was also present in Stockton and East Camden for many years. James Griffee's first cousin, James E. Griffee, was a house painter who moved to Stockton in the 1880s. He married Annie L. Harden in 1876, and moved with his father John to Stockton in the early 1880s, to a home on Federal Street above 24th, where they stayed until around 1891 when they moved to a building on Westfield Avenue near 26th Street. By 1892 the Griffees had moved to 2509-2511 Federal Street, where James E. Griffee had a paint store. James and Annie Griffee moved to 12 North 25th Street during the 1900s, and were living at that address into the 1930s. Annie Griffee passed in 1932, James E. Griffee in the early 1940s.
James E. and Anna L. Griffee had three children. Their son Charles was born in 1877 and sadly passed on June 3, 1881. A daughter Eva Elizabeth Griffee was born in 1883. The Griffees adopted Laura Smith, approximately eight months old in December of 1906, and renamed her Edith Harriet Wright Griffee. Eva Elizabeth Griffee married William Roles, a contractor who built, owned, managed and lived in the Roles Court Apartments on North 34th Street above Rosedale Avenue in East Camden for many years. Edith H.W. Griffee graduated from Camden High School with the Class of 1923, and lived with them through at least 1927.
A FAMILY HISTORY
by William Roles Kelly
MY MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS
My Maternal Grandparents: Eva and William J. Roles
Self-employed as the owners of Roles Court Apartments on No. 34th St. in Camden, for many years.
Eva came from a Camden family of some money and social position. Wanting the same at least for their daughter Eva, they did not approve of her marriage to ‘Will’ since he was not, to their thinking, of the same station or prospects. He was Mr. Average Guy. Hard working and durable English stock, whose station in life would be determined by what he would accomplish with his back and hands.
I remember him with much affection, as ‘Dad’ who was always good for a dime. He didn’t laugh aloud a great deal, but smiled readily enough when around friends and family, particularly around the holidays.
He was a skilled craftsman with woodwork and cabinetry. Prior to owning the apartments he made a living as a contractor and hardware store owner in North Camden. He worked in many homes of the gentry on what was known as ‘the Main Line’ in Philadelphia- an area noted for its wealth and family names.
liked the ladies, but I believe from a safe distance. He seemed to
enjoy us as children, permitting us to do little chores around the
apartments-minor painting, fetching, etc. for which he would never
On Christmas Eve, he would go outside, climb up on the roof and jingle bells in the chimney so that we children would hear and believe Santa had arrived and was preparing to dispense his goodies. He died in ’54 not long after Kevin* was born, but not before he got the chance to hold him.
Eva wore the pants in the family. She was a quick, determined woman. She moved quickly everywhere. Her heels on the floor or sidewalk gave off the staccato sound of a low weighted metronome. Eva was the keeper of the money- and slow to part with it. She ran the apartments with a firm hand and was not reluctant to tell a tenant that they were making too much noise.
When Will died, she did a turnaround in life style. Joined the ‘Eastern Star’, bought all the necessary gowns, fur coat and a new car. Then to the dismay of her children, enjoyed being escorted everywhere by men much her junior. She didn’t care-she was having a blast. Not sure when she died- probably late 60’s- but I’ll wager she was smiling!
*Kevin Kelly, son of William Roles Kelly
|Philadelphia Inquirer - December 17, 1906|
Glen Stackhouse - Charles Van Dyke Joline - James Griffee
Laura Smith - Edith Harriet Wright Griffee
|Camden Courier-Post * October 7, 1937|
|Miss Dorothy Pancoast - Mrs. Edith Louise Schaeffer Eichel - Mrs. Eva Mae Roles Kelly|
Milton W. Kelly
Leave Before Going Overseas
Left: William R. Kelly
Roles Court Apartments
|Private Milton W. Kelly|
|Private Milton W. Kelly & Eva E. Roles|
Milton W. Kelly
Lillian Jane "Jane" Engel
R. Kelly - Doreen Kelly - Eva Mae Kelly - Milton W. Kelly - Jane Engel
Virginia Brennan - Louis G. Engel Jr. - Catherine McKenna - Mildred McKenna - Eva E. Roles - William J. Roles
|Left to right, top row: Jane Kelly, Bill Petris
- Betty Reeves Petris - Ruthie Reeves
Bottom row: Doreen Kelly holding Carol Kelly - Richard Reeves.
|Roles Court Apartments - 100 Block of North 34th Street - 1952|
|Carol Kelly - Eva Mae Roles Kelly - Brian D. Kelly|
|Roles Court Apartments - 100 Block of North 34th Street - 1952|
|Carol Kelly - Brian Kelly - Jane Kelly|
|Roles Court Apartments - Summer - 1954|
Carol Kelly - Unknown Neighbor Child - Brian Kelly - Jane Engel Kelly
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