The Augustus Reeve Mansion at 301 State Street
Camden - January of 1928

Here is another one of those forgotten stories that were front page news back in the day- ANOTHER. story where a lesson can be learned that applies to city life today. Augustus Reeve was a brick manufacturer and a very big deal in his day. After he died, his family left Camden, sold the mansion to absentee owners who failed to secure the property, and what happened to the home and in the neighborhood then is pretty much the same as what happens today.

 I've just discovered the story, and will be adding to it as I go through the microfilmed newspapers of the era. 

Phil Cohen
May 6, 2005  

Camden Courier-Post - January 26, 1928

Marauders Declared Using Former Reeves Home on State St. as Lair
Aroused Householders Threaten to Act As Own Cops

Failure of city officials to heed repeated complaints that a deserted and dilapidated mansion at Third and State Streets is a ‘rendezvous of thieves, a haven for spooners, and a general nightmare” was blamed today by residents of that neighborhood for three robberies in one State Street block in two weeks.

Complaining residents declared today that they have appealed to officials for help without avail. They said that the former palatial residence of the late Augustus Reeve, brick manufacturer, has been a ‘den of thieves for some time. The police have been apprised of the situation, they reported, but have done nothing except “promise to investigate”.

Police have made public no reports of the three robberies that have occurred in the one block in two weeks. The victims themselves said today that city detectives told them “to keep quiet,” as release of any information might interfere with the arrest of a certain young man under suspicion in their own neighborhood.

The first robbery occurred at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George T. Moore, 313 State Street, on January 7. The Moore home is next to the broken down mansion and only a few feet away. Thieves, watching from the deserted house, whose side windows face those of the Moore residence, ransacked the dwelling after the family left that night for dinner at the home of friends. Entrance was gained by jimmying a side window, and money, jewelry, and two overcoats belonging to Mrs. Moore’s son, produce salesman, were stolen.

Rob Bonstedt Home

A second robbery occurred six days later on January 13, at the home of W.G Bonstedt,327 State Street, a few doors from the Moore home. The third was at 302 State Street, January 21. In the family’s absence, $250 and a number of silk dresses were stolen. This house is directly opposite the Reeve property.

“It was from the deserted old mansion, next door to us, that the thieves watched our movements and waited until we had left the house”, said Mrs. Moore today, “Them, when they saw we would be away for the night, they broke in and robbed us. It was the same case with the other two robberies in the block. The burglars could see when the families were leaving the house- they had a good view from their hiding place. Having no police protection, the owners of the ransacked houses were at their mercy.”

Moore said police have been told “time and again” that the abandoned mansion at the corner is a “public nuisance,” and that “it is frequented by thieves, spooners, and tramps.” He said the condition has existed since relatives of the late brick manufacturer moved out of the place five years ago, but city officials have ignored all complaints made by residents of the neighborhood. The place was sold to other parties and a “for rent” sign had been on it for a long period.

Declared a Menace

“Not only do thieves and other undesirables make their rendezvous there, but the property is used for immoral purposes” Moore asserted. “It is one of the worst menaces in the city, both from a sanitary and a moral standpoint. Women—except the class that has gone there to spoon— fear to go near the place by night, and the neighborhood in general has suffered considerably because city officials have failed to take steps to have the nui­sance eliminated. It is a disgraceful condition, and the authorities should see to it that the owners be compelled to board up the property at once. Otherwise it will continue to strike terror in the hearts of the residents of the neighborhood, many of whom express the fear that unless something is done before long, more robberies might occur, or the old building might go up in flames and perhaps damage theirs and other property nearby.”

Moore declared that increasing robberies in the neighborhood might have been averted had the police been more alert,

“Laxity of the Camden police department in giving residents of our neighborhood adequate protection was plainly evident in the three robberies in the one block in two weeks,” Moore said. “I have not seen one policeman near my home for more than a year, neither morning, noon, or night. I understand, however, that two or three members of the force live in this very neighborhood, and that one of them passes the old mansion every day. Why they, or the men assigned to this beat, have not had their superiors take some action on the corner property I cannot understand .

To Be Own Policemen

“As for myself, I will  shoot the first man to make another attempt to burglarize our home. If the police won’t help us, I suppose the best thing we can do is to be our own policemen and protect ourselves.

Similar complaints were made by other residents of the neighborhood who requested that their names be withheld, as they feared political reprisals and in one case loss of business, if it were known that they criticized any of the city officials.

In the meantime, a number of those interviews reported that plans are being made for the circulation of a petition, to be presented to the city commissioners, requesting them to take steps to have the abandoned mansion- which they termed a “nightmare” ”—locked against invasion by the thieves and other undesirables who have been making the ramshackle building their rendezvous.

The property is directly across from the James M. Cassady School, and part of its exterior d covered with theater posters.

The building to which the Cassady School pupils allude as “the haunted house,” in the time of its occupancy by the Reeves was the center of many noted social gatherings. Most of its windows have been broken by boys and other marauders have torn away the staircase and ripped the plaster from its walls.

Surviving members of the Reeve family, who had lived there, left the mansion after Mr. Reeve died; and the place has been gradually falling to ruin since. According to residents of the neighborhood, it is today not only a menace, but “one of the city’s worst eyesores”.  

Camden Courier-Post - January 28, 1928

Commissioner Rhone Tells Building Inspector, Fire Marshal to Investigate
State Street Residents Complain After Robbers Use House as Rendezvous

Termed a ‘rendezvous of thieves, a haven for spooners and a general nightmare, the deserted and broken­ down mansion at Third and State Streets, was ordered torn down by Commissioner David S. Rhone, director of public safety.

‘It’s been a it public nuisance for several years and if the owners don’t raze it after they are so notified, the city will,” Commissioner Rhone said.

Residents of the neighborhood declared yesterday that the old mansion has been a den for thieves, and that complaints to the city have gone unheeded. They said three robberies in one block in one week occurred this month because of it. The thieves, they explain watched the movements of the families from the deserted house, and robbed the dwellings after they had left for a few hours at night.

Once Palatial Home

The ramshackle building is at the northeast corner of Third and State Streets, opposite the James M. Cassady School. It was once the palatial residence of the late Augustus Reeve, brick manufacturer, but has been in a state of decay for about five years.

A “For Rent” sign has been on the property for a long period. Theater posters cover part of the exterior, its staircase has been torn away, practically all windows have been smashed by schoolboys and other marauders have removed doors, front steps and fence, and have ripped plaster from the walls.

Robberies attributed in the neighborhood to thieves, who used the dilapidated property as a “den”’ were those at 313 State Street, next door, on January 7, 327 State Street, January 13, and 302 State Street, January 21. Police made no report of the facts, explaining to the victims that any release of information would interfere with the arrest of “a young man under suspicion in your own neighborhood.”

Orders Not Revealed

Commissioner Rhone indicated he had given orders to George Johnson, building inspector, and Bernard Gallagher, fire marshal, relative to the dilapidated property.

Commissioner Rhone declined to explain what orders he had given  the building inspector and the fire marshal relative to the old property.

Johnson had said earlier in the day that he had received no orders from Commissioner Rhone. Later Johnson said he “did not know what the orders are.”

Questioned further and told that Rhone had said that he had given him orders Johnson said they pertained to “just see what the condition of the place was”.

“All the windows are out and the doors are off,” he said, reporting on an inspection he asserted he conducted. “If there is a health menace there, that comes under the health Department, not the building department.”

Asked what he would do about the place which was declared unsafe by the residents of the neighborhood, he said he did not know until he received “further orders” from Commissioner Rhone.

Gallagher, the fire marshal, could not be reached this morning.

300 Block
State Street

Aerial Photos taken about 1925

These two pictures were taken in 1925 or early 1926, prior to the opening of the Delaware River (Ben Franklin) Bridge.

In the upper left hand photo, The James M. Cassady School on State Street is seen from the south-west, with the Reeve Mansion, which had been the home of industrialist Augustus Reeve, is visible across North 3rd Street.

In the lower picture, the view is from the south-east. The Cassady school is for the most part obscured by its label. The Reeve Mansion, is clearly visible, a large 3 story house, painted in a light color, with four windows on the third floor facing State Street  

....on the Reeves house, I went to Cassady School in the mid-40's, right after the war. It was just a big vacant lot then but sticking out of the ground was parts of a wrought iron fence. That was a nice block.

John Ciafrani
May 2005