Byron, Burns, & Milton Streets East of North 2nd Street

The three blocks of houses that came to be known as Poet's Row first appear in the Camden City Directory of 1890-1891. Named for famous figures of English literature, the streets ran east and west from North 2nd Street, north of Erie Street. The first street north of Erie was Byron Street, followed by Burns Street and Milton Streets. Only a few homes are noted in the 1890-1891 directory on Milton Street, at either end of the block, and only the 200 block is listed. This would indicate that Byron Street was built first, from the ends in, then Burns Street, and lastly Milton Street. A 300 block of Byron Street was built later, and also a 500 block of Byron Street.

North Camden in the 1890s offered many employment opportunities. Camden's industries were booming, and entrepreneurs came to Camden to set up shop. The new houses were snapped up mostly by tradesmen and skilled workers, with more than a few taking advantage of the short walks to the Vine Street and Shackamaxon ferries to commute back and forth to Philadelphia. The builder also made provisions for corner stores so the residents could shop conveniently. The sidewalks, like many of that era, were brick, and the streets were paved with cobblestone.

The Poet's Row neighborhood remained a vibrant place for decades, until, of course, after World War II, when the jobs began to leave North Camden. Perhaps it was poetic, with no pun intended, that the disaster that destroyed Poet's Row occurred when a recently closed factory building caught fire; the fire spreading to the homes, and in one hellish night destroying Milton Street, Burns Street, and the north side of Byron Street, where only two homes at the east end of the block, 241 and 243 Byron Street, were saved. 

Fire started in the former John R. Evans Co. leather factory, a block long factory building at North 2nd and Erie Streets in North Camden on a hot summer night, August 23, 1972. Inadequate water pressure, combined with a stiff breeze from the south indicated that there was trouble ahead. The first responding Fire Company, Engine Company 6, sounded the Second Alarm upon arrival. 

"I was on that job with Engine 6. I saw block after block catch fire, it jumped across streets. Some of the sad stuff was some dogs chained up in the yards could not get loose. When all was done we had hoses under a foot or two of bricks, and the paint on several pieces of equipment were blistered. it all looked like a bomb hit. We were on the job for several days."                                                                                                                   William Huelas
                                                                                                                                      November 18, 2019

This photograph, taken from the 3rd Street end of Milton Street, shows the houses on the 2nd Street end already ablaze. 

Pandemonium in Poets Row as residents attempt to hurriedly evacuate homes of furnishings as the conflagration took off. High winds and flying embers, combined with the intense radiant heat created fire storm conditions. The Fire Companies arriving on the scene in response to the Greater Alarms entered the Poets Row streets to find everything burning- buildings, trees, fences, parked cars, and telephone poles. Live electrical wires were down and arcing everywhere. 

The 200 Block of Burns Street, as seen form North 3rd Street. The photos of Engine Company 3 doing everything it could with its deck pipe and hand-held hose to cutoff the rapidly spreading fire. In the early stages of the fire Engine Companies often found themselves alone on an entire block, desperately trying to make a stand while awaiting reinforcements. Several units, driven back by the intense fire, would disconnect from the fire hydrants, fall back to the next hydrant further down the street, only to be driven back once again as the fire continued to spread. Engine Company 3 operated by itself for nearly one half-hour until assisted by a subsequent mutual aid fire company. 

Ruins of original fire building and surrounding neighborhood at Poets Row, North Camden, in the aftermath of the worst conflagration in the history of the Camden Fire Department. 

Looking East on the 200 block of Burns Street on the day after the fire. 

Engine Company 3 stands in stark contrast with the devastation surrounding an area of four square city blocks. Ten alarms with aid from fire departments outside of Camden and over two hundred firefighters worked for eight hours before bringing the fire under control. Forty-two homes and the original John R. Evans factory building, where the fire started, completely collapsed, and an additional thirty houses were severely damaged. Hundreds of Poets Row residents lost everything. Although there were scores of injuries to both firefighters and civilians, miraculously all were minor in nature. 

POET'S ROW - The 200 Block of Byron Street - July 5, 2004
Looking East
North 2nd & Byron Street

Click on Image to Enlarge

214, 212, 210 Byron Street

Click on Image to Enlarge

Remaining homes on the
South Side
200 Block of Byron Street

Click on Image to Enlarge

Looking West
North 3rd & Byron Street

Click on Image to Enlarge