JOSEPH BISHOP VAN SCIVER was the founder and chief executive office of the furniture manufacturing and retail business that bore his name. The Van Sciver operation at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Federal Street was world famous, shipping furniture all over the globe.
J.B. Van Sciver was born in Hainesport NJ on May 14, 1861, He grew up in Camden, where he attended the E.A. Stevens School. He founded his business in a small shop at 210 Federal Street in 1881. After moving to a four story building at directly opposite the Pennsylvania Terminal and Ferry at Delaware and Federal in 1888, his business grew so that by 1923 it occupied ten acres, new construction and buildings having been added in 1890, 1896, 1902, and 1923. He later branched out to Trenton and Allentown, Pennsylvania. J.B. Van Sciver was also involved in other businesses relating to the manufacture and sale of construction materials.
On June 9, 1892 he married Florence Groff Kelly at the First Baptist Church in Camden. There were four children, Joseph B. Jr,, Russell, Lloyd, and Ruth. The Van Scivers later made their home in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. J.B. Van Sciver remained actively involved in his businesss until about a year before his death, on June 19, 1943. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Bishop Van Sciver, Jr.
Van Sciver Family
Van Sciver Family
Anyone living in the Southern New Jersey/Philadelphia area between the years 1920 and 1970 will remember the vast J. B. Van Sciver Furniture Store in Camden, NJ. A lesser-known fact, perhaps, is that the Van Sciver family owned a 120-acre farm in Haddon Township from 1914 through the early 1960’s. As the farm’s acreage dwindled and suburban neighborhoods grew, 9 acres were portioned off for the development of the new Van Sciver Elementary School (est. 1957) in Haddon Township.
Joseph Bishop Van Sciver,
Bishop Van Sciver, Sr., founder of the Camden furniture store bearing
his name, was born May 14, 1861 in Hainesport, Burlington County, NJ. His ancestors, Richard and Margaret Haines, came to America
from England in 1683. Mr.
Van Sciver’s father was Abraham Van Sciver (b. 1823; d. 1/23/1871),
and his mother was Lydia Haines Bishop (b. 1/4/1836; d. 2/22/1902),
daughter of John Bishop, notable co-owner of the first Shot Tower in
America, built in 1808 at Carpenter and Front Streets in Philadelphia.
Abraham and Lydia had 5 children: Joseph Bishop (b. 5/14/1861; d.
6/19/1943), George Dobbins (d. 5/31/1942), Abraham D., Anna, and Mary
J. B. Van Sciver, Sr. attended the E. A. Stevens School in Camden, and founded his furniture business in a small shop at 210 Federal Street in 1881. He married Flora Groff Kelly, daughter of Samuel and Fanny Kelly, in the First Baptist Church in Camden on June 9, 1892. They had four children: Joseph Bishop, Jr. (b. 8/1/1893; d. 6/26/1981), Lloyd (b. 4/28/1896; d. 9/11/1954), Russell (b. 5/15/1898) and Ruth (b. 4/13/1906).
1896 a new seven-story building, designed by prolific Camden architect
Thomas Stephen, rose above the streets of Camden, and the J. B. Van
Sciver furniture empire grew to included carpet and drapery workrooms.
The business expanded further in 1922 with a modern seven-story concrete
building and four additional acres. At this time the phrase “Seven
Acres of Furniture” was coined. By
1923 business totaled approximately $4 million annually. In 1932 a
Trenton branch was constructed. Sometime
later the Collings Carriage Company’s buildings in Camden were
acquired to house mattress, woodworking and finishing shops.
By 1937 demand for Van Sciver furniture necessitated further
expansion into Allentown, PA.
B. Van Sciver, Sr. was involved in other enterprises beyond furniture
manufacturing. With his brother George, he developed the Hainesport Mining
& Transportation Company, and the De Frain Sand Company.
These companies eventually consolidated into the Van Sciver
Corporation. Mr. Van Sciver
was also director of the Knickerbocker Lime Company. By the 1920’s
these businesses were the premier manufacturers and distributors of
building materials in the southern New Jersey/eastern Pennsylvania area,
supplying much of the concrete making materials to create the
foundations for the new suspension bridge spanning the Delaware River
between Camden and Philadelphia (now called the Benjamin Franklin
Bridge), as well as materials used in the construction of Philadelphia
subways, banks, and office buildings.
During World War I, Van Sciver Corporation supplied sand, gravel
and concrete to build the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s shipyard on
Hog Island in the Delaware River. The Van Sciver Corporation was sold to the Warner Company in
1929, but the furniture making business remained.
resident of Chestnut Hill, PA, Mr. Van Sciver was a member of numerous
organizations, including the Union League, the Franklin Institute, and
the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and was known to have an
extensive rare orchid and grape collection on his Chestnut Hill estate.
J. B. Van Sciver, Sr. remained active in the furniture business
until about a year before his death at 82 on June 19, 1943.
He was pre-deceased by his wife in 1937.
His children, six grandchildren, and his sister, Anna Van Sciver-Jarvis,
survived him. Joseph Bishop
Van Sciver, Sr. is remembered as a charitable man of high integrity,
with a strong work ethic and modest demeanor.
A 1943 Camden Evening Courier newspaper article described
him as “the Horatio Alger hero of America’s furniture industry and
the man who made Philadelphians come to Camden to furnish their
It was Joseph Bishop Van Sciver Sr.’s sister Annie who lived on the
120-acre Haddon Township farm, along with her husband Ambrose W. Jarvis
and their son Clarence (J. B. Van Sciver, Sr. owned the property but
never lived on the farm). Annie and Ambrose were married on June 2, 1886
in Camden, NJ. Anna gave birth to Clarence in 1902 in Hainesport, NJ. Many Haddon Township residents remember the Van Sciver/Jarvis
farm and produce stand on Cuthbert Boulevard.
The property, which included farmland, woods, streams and
buildings, encompassed what is presently the grounds of the Haddon
Township High School and Middle School, the Rohrer Memorial Library, the
Haddon View Apartments, the Westmont Shopping Plaza, the woods along Mac
Arthur Boulevard up to Saddlertown, the Paul VI High School property,
and the Van Sciver Elementary School grounds.
Throughout its history, the farmhouse, a historic building dating
from the early-1800s, was the summer residence of several, prominent
Philadelphia businessmen, including Samuel V. Merrick and John Mickle
Whitall, prior to being owned by J. B. Van Sciver.
Mr. Van Sciver purchased the
property for $15,000 on March 16, 1914 (Deed Book 386, Page 325) from
Susanna H. Bodine and S. Lawrence Bodine, her husband. The farmhouse,
barn and stables stood at the crest of a hill approximately where the
SuperFresh Supermarket in the Westmont Plaza Shopping Center is now,
just behind the convent of Paul VI High School.
The photograph of the farmhouse above was taken in the mid-1960s
shortly before it was abandoned. The house was destroyed by arson in
of Camden County and Vicinity,
Franklin Survey Company, Philadelphia, PA (1935).
After J. B. Van Sciver, Sr. retired, his son Joseph Bishop Van
Sciver, Jr. assumed leadership of the furniture corporation.
During his tenure the company continued its expansion into new
markets with retail outlets in Bala Cynwyd (PA), Wilmington (DE), and
J. B. Van Sciver, Jr. graduated from
Chestnut Hill Academy and Drexel Institute (now Drexel University).
He began working for his father in 1914, working his way up to
the presidency of J. B. Van Sciver Furniture.
Mr. Van Sciver married Louise Evaland, an editorial assistant for
Antique Automobile magazine. They had one son, J. B. Van Sciver, III.
With 56 years dedicated to the Van Sciver furniture business, Mr.
Van Sciver retired in 1970.
A pilot, yachtsman, and horseman, Joseph Bishop Van Sciver, Jr.
was also recognized as one of the country’s pioneer collectors of
antique and classic cars. Mr.
Van Sciver was one of the founders of the Antique Auto Club of America,
a car collector’s club. By
1980 he had over 30 vintage cars stored in his museum and on the grounds
of his Chestnut Hill estate. Included
in his collection were Stanley Steamers, a Maxwell, a Mercedes Raceabout,
a 1902 Pierce-Arrow, a 1900
De Dion-Boutton, electric cars, and a 1909 six-cylinder Winton.
The Van Scivers used the Winton as an open touring car, and had a
Mercedes Daimler racer for tours and competitions.
Their tours in post-war America included trips to Cape May,
Atlantic City, Albany, and Detroit.
World War I top American flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker,
heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney, children’s book author Munroe
Leaf, and founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company Harvey Firestone
were antique automobile collectors, contemporaries and friends of Mr.
Van Sciver. Together with an assortment of others, they participated in
auto tours and friendly baseball games (umpired by Dale Carnegie).
Joseph Bishop Van Sciver, Jr. died
on June 26, 1981 at age 87, at “Ingleside,” his Chestnut Hill estate
formerly owned by his parents. He
was survived by 3 grandchildren, his brother (Russell), and his sister
(Ruth Van Sciver-Ketcham). Prior
to his death, Mr. Van Sciver, Russell Van Sciver, Ruth Van
Sciver-Ketcham (heirs and executors of the Joseph B. Van Sciver, Sr.
estate) and their aunt, Annie Van Sciver-Jarvis, decided to sell the Van
Sciver property in Haddon Township. A 9-acre parcel of the Haddon
Township property, bordered by Rhoads Avenue and land owned by Mary L.
and Charles S. Saddler, and running next to the border of land owned by
the West Jersey/Pennsylvania Railroad (now known as “the gully”) was
sold to the Board of Education of the Township of Haddon on April 16,
1956 for the sum of $22,500. (Deed Book 2009, Page 47). In gratitude,
the Board of Education decided to pay lasting tribute to the late Joseph
B. Van Sciver, Sr. and family by naming the school “Van
Sciver Elementary School.”
Sandra White-Grear, Co-Chairperson, Haddon Township Historical
Society, 2007, www.haddontwphistoricalsociety.org.
Sources: “Rites Tomorrow For J. B. Van Sciver,” Camden Evening Courier, June 21, 1943 (p. 1); “Joseph B. Van Sciver Jr.: expanded furniture firm,” By Burr Van Atta, Staff Writer, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 28, 1981 (p.6-c); Map of Camden County and Vicinity, Franklin Survey Company, Philadelphia, PA (1935); “Official Historical Souvenir: Philadelphia, Its Founding and Development, 1683 to 1908” by William W. Matos, Philadelphia, PA: Joseph & Sefton, 1908; South Jersey, a History 1624-1924, Alfred M. Heston, Editor, NY: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1924; CamdenPeople-JBVanSciver.htm, www.dvrbs.com/People, 2007; Hobe/Zoz Family Genealogy – Person Page 72,http://freepages.genealogy.roots.com, 2007; Unknown author, “Van Sciver Family History,”1970, Camden County Historical Society Collection; Jarvis/Van Sciver House Photograph courtesy Herta Scheidhauer, Audubon, NJ; Copy of Original Deed, April 16, 1956, Book 2009, Page 47, Camden County Register of Deeds, Camden, NJ, courtesy Haddon Township Board of Education.
1908 Advertisement From
|Click on Above Images to Enlarge|
JOSEPH BISHOP VAN SCIVER—Residence, Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill), Pennsylvania. Furniture manufacturer and dealer, of Camden, New Jersey. Born near Hainesport, New Jersey, May 14, 1861; son of Abram and Lydia H. (Bishop) Van Sciver; married, at Camden, June 9, 1892, to Flora G. Kelly, daughter of Samuel and Fanny J. (Andrews) Kelly. Children: Joseph B., Jr., born August 1, 1893; Lloyd, born April 28, 1896; Russell, born May 15, 1898; Ruth, born April 13, 1906.
Joseph B. Van Sciver is the president and guiding head of the J. B. Van Sciver Company, manufacturers and retailers of furniture, whose ten-acre plant is in Camden. Incidentally Mr. Van Sciver is the great-great-grandson of John Bishop, Philadelphia Quaker, who is said to have built the first shot tower in America and whose conscientious scruples would not permit him to operate it during the War of 1812. This was a great opportunity for large business and profits but he stood by his principles and he declined to make shot, he said, "that was to be used in killing human beings," so he disposed of the business.
Mr. Van Sciver is a descendant on the maternal side of Richard and Margaret Haines, the former having come to America from London in 1683; and on the paternal side from John Van Sciver and his wife, Charity Moris, both of whom came from Holland in Colonial times and settled in New Jersey. His father was Abraham Van Sciver and his mother was Lydia Haines Bishop, who was a member of the Society of Friends. The couple were married in New Jersey in 1836.
The seeds of the great furniture and home furnishing business that Mr. Van Sciver has built, were sown in a little twenty-foot wide store, No. 210 Federal Street, Camden, in 1881. A year previous to this, however, Mr. Van Sciver had begun to manufacture furniture. The growth of the business was phenomenal. The year 1888 found the business housed in a new four-story building erected for the purpose at Federal Street and Delaware Avenue, directly opposite the Pennsylvania Terminal and Ferry. The manufacturing facilities were enlarged, and the stocks were increased. It was a bold move to secure business from Philadelphia, and it proved a huge success. Customers from across the Delaware began to pour into the store. A new seven-story building was added in 1896, and the organization of the J. B. Van Sciver Company followed in 1898. More new buildings were added in 1902, and in 1923 a new structure comprising four additional acres was added to the great plant. Van Sciver furniture sold in every State in the Union and shipped to countries beyond the Seven Seas. The business totals approximately $4,000,000 annually.
Mr. Van Sciver, together with his brother George, developed the Hainesport Mining and Transportation Company and the De Frain Sand Company from small industries. He is vice-president of each organization. Mr. Van Sciver is a director of the Knickerbocker Lime Company. He is vice-president of the Van Sciver Corporation which includes the three organizations. These companies have become the greatest manufacturers and distributors of building materials in this section of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They supplied much of the materials used in making the huge concrete foundations of the immense bridge spanning the Delaware between Camden and Philadelphia. During the World War they supplied the Government with the greater part of the gravel, crushed stone and other concrete materials used in constructing the plants and piers for the shipbuilding industries at Hog Island, Chester, Bristol, Camden, and Philadelphia.
Joseph B. Van Sciver was brought up and educated in the city of Camden, where he attended the E. A. Stevens School. Mr. Van Sciver and his family are members of the Temple Baptist Church, and he is a member of the following clubs: Union League, the Manufacturers' Club, and the City Club, all of Philadelphia; Whitemarsh Valley Country Club; American Academy of Political and Social Science; New Jersey Society of Pennsylvania, and the Netherlands Society..
B. VAN SCIVER CO.
It is a principle, pretty generally accepted in the business world, that back of every notable commercial enterprise will be found a clean-cut, well-defined idea. Nowhere has this principle had finer illustration. than in the phenomenal growth of the great furniture house of J. B. Van Sciver Company. From the smallest of beginnings in 1881, a twenty-foot store on Federal Street, Camden, this business has developed by leaps and bounds until to-day it stands, undoubtedly, the largest exclusive retail furniture establishment in the country.
The basic idea lying behind this achievement, like all successful ideas, is extremely simple, viz.: that a store and factory inexpensively located at the Market Street Ferry, Camden, can manufacture and sell furniture of quality direct to the consumer at under market prices, and hence attract trade from the vast urban and suburban population of Philadelphia and adjacent territory
The execution of this idea involved, of course, not only an inexpensive location, but also adequate manufacturing facilities, an immense output, and economical methods. With this in mind, in 1888, just twenty years ago, the founder and present head of the Company, Mr. J. B. Van Sciver, moved his store and factory into anew four-story building, erected for the purpose at the corner of Federal Street and Delaware Avenue, directly opposite the Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal and Ferry, and opened for business.
The response of the great furniture buying public to the stimulus of best quality furniture at lower prices than ever before known, was instantaneous; and what seemed at first an uncertain experiment soon proved to be an established success. In 1890 the plant was enlarged in area and a fifth story added. In 1898 the big seven-story factory adjoining the store was erected. Today, at this Twentieth Anniversary at the Ferry, the plant, including store, warehouse, and factory, covers more than six acres of floor space, and the business extends its operations to every country on the globe, at an estimated annual saving to its customers of over $100,000.00.
A recent feature of the business that has attracted much favorable comment is the Automobile Delivery Service, which delivers goods free and fits them up in the home..
Left: In 1898, the seven story factory was built adjacent to the existing building.
Bottom Left:: The Van Sciver complex in 1908
Furniture Factory & Store
Furniture Factory & Store
Van Sciver Furniture Factory & Showroom
J.B. Van Sciver
Factory & Showroom
Click on Images to Enlarge
August 4, 1971
Philadelphia Inquirer - February 16, 1982
MOVING OUT: CAMDEN LOSES AGAIN
By William W. Sutton Jr.
Camden's last large retail business is leaving the city. Joseph B. Van Sciver 3d said that J.B. Van Sciver Co. would move its retail operation from Camden to Cherry Hill sometime in the spring.
His action, in part, is based on the same reasoning that led his grandfather, Joseph B. Van Sciver Sr., to expand his furniture stores to the suburbs during the Depression. Van Sciver Sr., who founded J.B. Van Sciver Co. more than a century ago, was following his customers. His grandson is doing the same, but Joseph B. Van Sciver 3d also is trying to cut his costs.
"This location is better suited for a warehouse than a retail operation," Van Sciver 3d, president of the company, said in an interview in his third-floor office at Delaware Avenue and Federal Street. " The cost of air conditioning, heating and lighting here is just ridiculous."
Van Sciver said the decision to relocate was in accord with the company's policy of making all its stores more energy efficient by using less space.
" I think a lot more customers will find us in Cherry Hill," he said. "Camden has remained rather static over the last 10 years, remaining at about the same ( sales) level or maybe little bit better. I think we can do better elsewhere .... The move will put us out where we belong, closer to other stores. Camden, going way, way back, was an enormous outlet. But I don't see it having much of an impact in the future."
Dozens of customers came to the seven-story store yesterday to take advantage of a relocation sale, which will continue until Van Sciver's sells most of its merchandise. The 50 parking spaces were constantly filled during
Many of the customers said they were from Cherry Hill and other suburbs. The business volume, according to Van Sciver, was much more than normal.
One customer, Marie Paley of Cherry Hill, said the move did not disturb her.
"To me, it wouldn't make any difference (whether Van Sciver's moves) ," she said as she shopped. "It's not like going to a grocery store weekly. You only go to a furniture store once in a while and, when you go, you go in your own car and don't have to be bothered with public transportation."
The last of Camden's seven department stores, Kotlikoff's, went out of business last month. The other department stores and other major retailers left the city during the last 30 years.
Van Sciver said the company expected to save" thousands of dollars" in utility costs when the retail portion moved from the Camden location to a building that had been a supermarket at Brace Road near Kresson Road in Cherry Hill.
Van Sciver said the company planned to open its new store in " three or four months" after renovations have been completed.
The Van Sciver name has been well known in this area ever since Van Sciver's grandfather established the first store in Camden in 1880 at 210 Federal St.
Only a few years later, the store was moved to its current Camden location. Since then, the company has expanded to seven stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and the Camden store always has served as the company's headquarters.
The Camden store also has served as the primary showroom since the 1950s. The company has its general administrative offices and warehouse units in the same building. Much of Van Sciver's furniture, including cabinets and mattresses, is handmade at the Camden store.
Van Sciver said the company would retain the building in Camden as a
Thanks to Harry Kyriakodis for his help in creating this page, Benedict Tisa for many of the postcard scans seen on this page, and Sandra White-Grear, for her article on the Van Scver family.
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