INTRODUCTION

SPAN OF A CENTURY
1828-1928

100 YEARS IN THE HISTORY OF CAMDEN AS A CITY

COMPILED FROM NOTES ANDS DATA COLLECTED BY
CHARLES S. BOYER

PRESIDENT CAMDEN COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

PUBLISHED BY
CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY COMMITTEE
OF CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS AND NOTES BY PHILLIP COHEN IN 2003

The introduction below was written in 1928, and is original to the first edition of the book.

Phil Cohen, September 2003

The land upon which Camden is located has been more or less regularly settled for nearly 250 years, but the idea of forming a town of Camden seems to have first taken shape during the period of the Revolution. Philadelphia at that time was the largest city on the continent, and Camden was the outcropping of those influences which made the Quaker City what it was. The name given the town- Camden- was chosen in the spirit of patriotism and gratitude, for it was Charles Pratt, earl of Camden, and Lord Chief Justice of England, who had uniformly befriended the colonists in their struggle for independence.

Fore a long time Camden was the only passageway by which the travel of West jersey found an entrance into Philadelphia. Its growth was slow,- almost without promise- for a long period. All that comprised the place were a few houses spread across the river.

The first settlements of which there are any records were made by Richard Arnold and William Cooper, and some branch of the Cooper family has been identified with the city continuously ever since. Arnold's name quickly disappeared from the chronicles. Both Arnold and Cooper were Friends [Quakers- ed.]. Their purchases were made between 1680 and 1682. Cooper secured a tract of 3200 acres in and about "Cooper's Point".

The settlement was known as "The Ferries" or "Cooper's Ferries". A post office is known to have existed in 1803 and stage lines ran to distant points- as far as Cape May. There were as yet no churches and there was only one school.

When Camden was incorporated as a city in 1828, the area was 3.9 square miles, or 2496 acres. Its population was 1143. The city was made up of five groups or villages-  Cooper's Point was "William Cooper's Ferry"; Kaighn's Point was "Kaighntown"; "Pinchtown" was the land along the shore below Federal Street; "Dogwoodtown" was a cluster of houses out Federal Street near the creek. Camden proper was that diminutive section of this territory which extended from the river to Sixth street and from Cooper Street to about the present Arch Street [which runs between Market and Federal Streets- ed.]. This part contained more people than all the other settlements combined.

One of the reasons which is said to have influenced the incorporation of Camden was the frequent trouble caused by drunken merrymakers from across the river. They disturbed the peace so much that it was argued that a strong local government could better deal with the police problems, but as one writer expressed it, "It took thirty years before turbulence in Camden succumbed to the authority of the law".

The city government was at first provided with one recorder, and five aldermen, elected at a joint meeting of the legislature, with five common councilmen elected by the people, and with a Mayor elected in turn by the council.

Although nominally a city, Camden was still actually in tutelage. Her powers were curtailed by the superior negative of Newton Township. In 1831 this authority was removed and Camden itself was given township powers. There then ensued a period of confusion, resulting from ill-defined powers granted the city and township. It was not until 1851 that Camden really assumed local independence, such as having the power to levy taxes.

Camden County was created in 1844 and in that same year the Mayor was elected by popular vote. In 1848 the city was divided into three wards- north, middle, and south wards. Each ward was apportioned two councilmen and one chosen freeholder.

 The Dudley charter, passed in 1850, gave the City Council certain tax levying powers not theretofore enjoyed. In 1857 Council was given authority to survey and map out the city and to provide that all new streets should conform to this survey.

One supplement after another was added in 1860, in 1864, and in 1866. In 1864 the people were empowered to elect a City Treasurer, a City Surveyor, a City Solicitor, each for a term of two years. These officials had previously been elected by Council.

In 1870 the borders of the town were extended and the prerogatives of the city government were enlarged. 

The new charter approved February 14, 1871 inaugurated a new era in the city's life. This charter was credited to Alden C. Scovel, City Solicitor at the time.

Camden then had 6.5 square miles of area and a population of nearly 30,000 persons. The three old wards were about equal in population.

In the last half century [1878 to 1928- ed.] Camden's progress has been steady, if not rapid, and it has gradually taken its place in the sun as a Leader in Industry. With the opening of the great Camden Bridge spanning the Delaware, and the construction of fine highways leading into the city from every direction, Camden's future is bright with unusual promise.

Thirty Five years age [1894- ed.] an unknown writer, referring to Camden's location opposite the great city of Philadelphia, made this prophecy:

"The whole district in which Camden chances to be situated will multiply its inhabitants a hundred-fold. Connected with its situation is a destiny. By the very laws of its being it must become a great city, crystallizing the life of Southern New Jersey and offering a thousand streams of influence and succor to its giant companion an the west of the Delaware. All that these few fugitive lines can hope to do would be to fasten the impress of such a picture, to extract from the years gone the prophecy of the future"

W.H.C.

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