Tom Bergbauer's Columns


TOM BERGBAUER work for 37 years at the Courier-Post, and after retiring, continued to contribute by writing a column called "Tracking History" for the Courier that dealt with local events, places, and people. I am honored to be able to reprint some of his work here, and in some cases, be able to add pictures and hyperlinks to other web-pages so that you can explore the various subjects in greater depth.

Perhaps the best way to introduce you to Tom is to make the first article here the story of his days in journalism, in his own words. 

***** TABLE OF CONTENT *****


By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor

It was in 1961 when I found a career in the newspaper business and I enjoyed every minute of it. Let me put it this way “we didn’t make a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun” and in the middle of all that fun I retired in 1998 after 37 years in the business.

The business has come a long way since I joined it in 1961 as a reporter for the Courier-Post. The paper had already moved to Cherry Hill, their new home, after spending more than 75 years in Camden at 3rd and Federal streets.

The 60s was an interesting time to start a career as a newspaperman. Martin Luther King , President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The Cuban Missles Crises, Viet Nam war and student unrest helped contribute to those unsettled times with groups of hippies and peaceniks parading around, getting us ready to drum up enough courage to streak into the 70s. To paraphrase a statement made by the late President Kennedy “the torch had been passed to a new generation.” Being a reporter back then was different in some ways and similar in others to today’s business.

But, like today it was long days and lots of coffee, for yourself and maybe for the cops, so you could get the facts on that all important story. In my newspapering days, it seemed we were a different breed--kind of a throw off from the earlier days. Like today we had our own beats and it was our responsibility to come up with a story any way we could obtain it. But, unlike today, there was no overtime, just straight pay and hard, dedicated work for those sometimes12+hour days.

I was hired by Jane Stretch, a hardcore no-nonsense, executive editor, who usually got what she wanted. Her brother, William Stretch, was publisher from 1959 to 1976. The Stretches had owned the paper since 1947, but when I joined it Gannett was the owner. The Stretches sold it to Gannett in 1959. Bill continued to play a big role in the management of the paper until 1979 and it was clearly known, he ran the paper as he saw fit. Bill, as he was known by all who worked at the paper, and who died on Aug 20 at the age of 81, was a fair and honest employer and I had a lot of respect for him and his sister. 

At the time, I covered news stories along with the then local reporters like Ida Mae Roeder (my mentor), Pete Finley, Jean Ross, J. Herbert Phillips and William J. Kenney. My beat consisted of Delaware Township, (now Cherry Hill), Pennsauken and Merchantville. Later I covered just Cherry Hill, giving up Pennsauken and Merchantville to a new reporter, Bob Collins, now publisher of the Asbury Park Press.

Covering Delaware Township meant keeping the cops supplied with coffee, so I could get whatever I needed. Cherry Hill in the 60s was a little quieter than it is today. I was able to patrol with the cops from time to time, something that is never heard of today. 

I had to deal with Chief Frank Jones, a tough cop with a very soft heart. Most of the time we got along just fine and sometimes we had some good fights. His son, Richard Jones, was a detective and also at time difficult. Another young police officer on the force when I was a reporter was Robert Tonczyczyn, now retired Cherry Hill police chief. Bob was a great person to work with and he would remind me to get his named spelled right in any story that concerned him. 

I was always at the mercy of the cops. They had my home phone number and many times after getting home at 1 or 2 a.m. after covering a long council or school board meeting, would get a call from the cops about 3 a.m. telling me about a fatal accident or bad house fire and I was obliged to get up and go to the scene, because if I didn’t they would never call me again.
One of my first big stories was opening day of the Cherry Hill Mall. I was asked to do a first person reaction piece on opening day for the Editorial page. It wasn’t very long but I think it served the purpose. 

Former N.J. Gov. Robert B. Meyner called the mall on its opening day a “well-founded expression of confidence in the future of the (Delaware) valley.”

With those words and the words of other officials the Cherry Hill Mall opened its doors on Oct. 11, 1961 to thousands of curiosity seekers and ushered in a whole new concept in shopping. Nowhere in the United States, east of the Mississippi River, did there exist a similar shopping bazaar. At the time of the opening Cherry Hill was still known as Delaware Township. 

Voters approved a name change in November, a month later. The name change, according to folklore, was influenced by the land on which the Cherry Hill Inn was constructed, across Route 38, in 1953. A former farm, known as Cherry Hill, occupied that land and it was planted with cherry trees. It is believed that the acreage on which the mall now stands was part of that farmland and it is said that several of the original cherry trees are still on the property.

At times I worked in the press room in Camden City Hall, mostly on Sunday nights. Usually these were quiet nights and I worked along side Howard Kimball of the Inquirer. Howard and I would cover stories together, sometimes comparing notes. 

The press room reminded me of the press room in the movie “His Girl Friday” and later its remake “The Front Page.” The room contained the same kind of telephones and the same kind of antics among reporters from other newspapers. Besides the Courier-Post there were representatives like Sara Sanderson of the Bulletin, Harry Potter of the Inquirer and a Daily News reporter, I cannot recall at this time. They were always stalking about waiting for a bit of news to filter down from some unknown source.

In August 1963 I worked on another Page 1 story that was a tragedy. A Maple Shade man and his 8-year-old daughter were crushed to death in the operating mechanism of an escalator at the Garden State Racetrack during the off season.

The man, John Patrick Sweeney and his daughter, Margaret, were killed while work was being done on the moving steps. Police had said Sweeney, who was an employee of the track at the time, was taking his daughter on a tour of the track and went to use the escalator and did not know it was being repaired. Police had said the girl had fallen into the mechanism head first and Sweeney stumbled in feet first with his arms above his head. The track was closed at the time and work was underway in preparation for the fall racing season. 

I went to the track through a tip about the fatal mishap and stayed through the 8- hour ordeal of firefighters removing the bodies and kept in touch with rewrite through the night via pay phone (no cell phones then).

The story made page 1 headlines along with the top story on the premature birth of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, third child of President and Mrs. Kennedy, the Jesse James- style train robbery in Great Britain, where bandits made off with $2 million and growing problems in Haiti.

Not too long after that incident I became a night rewriteman. Rewrite people were hard working journalists, but a strange breed. Accuracy was our goal. I worked along side Charles Finley, “Life Here Abouts” columnist and C. William Duncan, who was “Grandstand Manager” for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1960s. Duncan would appear on TV after each game giving his analysis of the win or loss.

The staff consisted of about 6 rewrite people under the watchful eyes of Night City Editor Steve O’Keefe and Assistant Night City Editor Don Scott. With those two in charge we had to be good. Both were very traditional-- O”Keefe with his green eyeshield in place and cupping the mouthpiece of the phone with his hand while he talked into it, and Scott with his sharp pencils, ready to attack our copy. 

Frank Malloy, his straw rimmed hat glued to his head and half smoked cigarette stuck between his lips, would sit at the copy desk rarely looking up and when he did he would just stare in space with glassy eyes. Malloy worked the “lobster trick” from 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. The shift was a lonely one, working by yourself after everyone had left at 2 a.m. Malloy would keep a watchful eye on the telegraph machines during those hours and call police stations in the tri-county area and at the shore, searching for interesting stories. 

He would keep notes on a role of telegraph paper that was threaded through the carriage of a typewriter. There he would keep endless, meticulous notes of his conversations with the various police departments, who would give reports on the weather and the appearance of the first robin in spring. Sometimes he would get a “hot tip” from one of his many sources and a reporter would get a call from him in the middle of the night rousing him out of a warm bed in pursuit of a fire or accident. He was one of a rare breed of newspapermen that are rarely seen today.

But back then we were surrounded by the greats, the rare breeds of the newspaper world. This was it. I have arrived at the typical 1940s newsroom in the 1960s. I was pounding out copy taken from the notes of reporters calling their stories in for the night.

One of the top stories I was involved in during my rewrite days was the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. It was Friday, my day off and my son, Tom’s, first birthday. My wife and I were not planning anything special and then we heard the news that Kennedy had been shot. The office called and asked me to report to work. It was chaos in the newsroom, editors, reporters running around checking the wires and getting ready for the next day’s edition. I was busy taking notes from grieving people who called on the phone. Later I was able to put some kind of local reaction story together. 

After a couple of years on rewrite, I moved to the night city desk as a makeup editor--the person who lays out parts of the paper. I worked closely with Stanley Goldstein, who later became Features Editor and was responsible for TGIF. Along with Goldstein on the night desk was Charles Gregg, another old-timer, whose tales of the early days inspired us all.Gregg read copy and wrote headlines and always inquired “who was the author of this fabulous piece of prose.”

In May 1966 I moved to dayside as a makeup editor for the second section under the watchful eyes of Jack Carty, who showed me the ropes of working on edition time. At that time we were an afternoon paper and went to bed in the morning. I became part of the team that included City Editor Howard MacDougall, News Editor Bud Magnin and Wire Editor Alex Watson. Allen Van Fossen was managing editor at the time. Tom Lounsberry, now police reporter for the paper, was the all-important copy boy. He was the one who secured us coffee and toast after each edition from our real cafeteria.

During those years, the Courier-Post had a cafeteria, with real employees cooking real meals every day. It was a great place to go and rest and enjoy a great lunch in between editions. I can also recall the paper’s carpenter shop where workers turned out wooden news stands that could be found around the city at the time.

I continued to work on some of the top stories of the times like the Johnson-Kosygin summit in Glassboro, the first man on the moon, Garden State racetrack fire and the outbreak of Legionnaires disease. 

Over the years I worked on the city desk, wire desk and copy desk coming full circle in the business. The education it brought could not be replaced and the people I came in contact with, will always be remembered. Echoing the words of a former fellow copy editor “it is important that we realize we are in the business of words.”



By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


A few times in the past two months I have received several phone calls from readers asking if a hospital ever existed in North Camden next to the Ben Franklin Bridge and if so, what was its name.

The answer of course is, yes! The name of the facility was Bellevue Private Hospital and was located at 500 Linden Street in the shadow of the then Delaware River Bridge. One caller stated that he knew he was born there, but could not recall its name. We also told him to check his birth certificate for the name. He called back and said that, indeed, it was on the certificate.

500 Linden Street - Bellevue Private Hospital
Click on Image to Enlarge

As native of North Camden, I also remember the hospital. I recall my mother taking me there when I was very little to visit a friend of hers. I was told I had to wait in the lobby while she called on her sick friend. At that time children were not allowed to visit patients and it was customary for them to sit patiently in a waiting room or lobby. An interesting point also is that the building in which the hospital was housed was the former home of a Civil War hero and political figure.

The hospital got its start on March 1, 1921 when Drs. J. Lynn Mahaffey and E.R. Schall saw the need for the private medical facility in North Camden. However, a newspaper clipping disclosed that the papers of incorporation for the hospital were filed on April 13, 1937. The story stated that the private hospital would open on or about May 15, 1937.

But that same story also pointed out that for several years prior to the incorporation Mahaffey had conducted a private hospital of his own at that Linden Street address. After incorporation the building was renovated to accommodate at least 30 beds and the installation of up-to-date modern equipment.

Mahaffey, who died in 1948, had practiced medicine in Camden for 40 years, since 1904, and was state director of health from 1931 until 1943. His partner, Schall, came to Camden in 1919 and was associated with Camden County Tuberculosis Association clinic and the Camden Home for Children. He died in 1954. Both men are interred in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden. None of the clippings revealed when the hospital closed its doors.

Before it was a hospital it was the home of William Joyce Sewell, who was born on December 6, 1835 in Ireland. According to clips he immigrated to the United States in 1851 and moved to Camden in 1860. Sewell was a Civil War veteran and former state and US senator. When the Civil War started, He raised a company of volunteers, and was commissioned a Captain and commander of Company C, 5th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. During the war years he rose through the ranks from captain to colonel.

He fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run and led a unit in the May 1863 battle of Chancellorsville where he performed his most distinguished service of the war. Although wounded himself, he held his position, fending off several attacks before his troops, out of ammunition, had to retreat. His bravery in rallying his men would win him the Medal of Honor 33 years later and was the only New Jersey officer to be awarded such an honor while in command of a New Jersey regiment during the Civil War. Sewell recovered sufficiently from his wounds to be in command of the 5th New Jersey during the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the war Sewell returned to Camden, where he lived for the rest of his life. He built the large home at 500 Linden Street, which later housed the private hospital several years after he passed away. 

Sewell became a powerful railroad executive and a power broker within New Jersey state politics. He was vice-president of the West Jersey Railroad, and held interest in the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company and the Camden and Atlantic Railroad Companies. He was a director of the Camden & Philadelphia Steamship Ferry Company, the Camden Safe Deposit & Trust Company, and the West Jersey Mutual Insurance Company. 

In 1889, a syndicate composed Sewell, Edward Ambler Armstrong, and real estate promoters Edward C. Knight and Edward N. Cohn, purchased the Camden Horse Railroad Company and converted the entire line to electricity.

Sewell developed neighborhoods in Camden, Cape May, and Gloucester counties. The Sewell section of Washington Township is named for him. He also became an important political figure in Camden. He served in the New Jersey State Senate from 1872 to 1880, being its president from 1876 to 1880. 

In 1881 Sewell was elected as a Senator from New Jersey in the United States Senate, serving from 1881 to 1887, and he was re-elected to the Senate in 1895. He served as a Brigadier General in the New Jersey National Guard and when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, President William McKinley appointed him as Major General of Volunteers, but he declined the commission, which would have forced him, resign his Senate seat. 

Sewell died on December 27, 1901 and is buried in the Spring Grove section of Harleigh Cemetery.

Thomas A. Bergbauer is a retired journalist. 


By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


In 1926 the Delaware River Bridge was a marvel to behold with a 1,750 foot center span.
It was the longest suspension bridge in the world--holding that record for three straight years until it was beat out by Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge.

Predictions from the bridge commission was that the span would be free of tolls for private automobiles by1941. But due to a depression, refinancing and maintenance that happy prospect diminished with time. 

Total cost of construction was more than $37 million.

For the past 75 years the bridge supported thousands of tons of roadway structure and moving traffic and unlocked a new world between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Today it is known as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It was given the name of the famous Philadelphia printer, inventor and American Revolutionary in 1955.

The span opened on July 1, 1926 amid great fanfare after four and a half years of construction and the loss of 15 workers killed in the line of duty. Car tolls was 25 cents in each direction. 

But the idea of a bridge spanning the Delaware was a dream long before 1921. More than a century before the “Camden-Philadelphia Bridge” was completed serious plans appeared from time to time for some sort of plan to bridge the Delaware.

As early as 1818, Edward Sharpe of Camden conceived a plan to build a bridge between Camden and an island that was located in the Delaware near the Philadelphia side and then ferry the commuters the rest of the way, according to a history of the span by Walter S. Andariese. The island, known as Windmill Island, was a popular bathing resort. The tree-lined island belonged to Pennsylvania and was almost a mile in length.

In 1851 a four-span suspension bridge was designed and publicized by John C. Trautwine and in 1870 Thomas Say Speakman of Camden had a plan for a “double draw” suspension bridge. Ideas were plentiful, but nothing developed. Only ferry service transported commuters between the two cities since Richard Arnold and William Cooper settled in Camden in 1681. The last ferry left Camden in March 1952.

With an increase in population and industry something had to be done and residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania finally got to work planning a bridge in 1913. An increase in automobile and truck construction also was a contributing factor to the plans. 

In 1919 both state legislatures passed uniform acts creating the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission. Both states would each pay one half the construction costs, but land acquisition in each state would be that state’s financial responsibility.

The dream of a span was about to become reality. Their first order of business was to name a chief engineer. On September 24, 1920 they named Ralph Modjeski of Chicago to that position. At the time he was considered one of the best and that was what the bridge commission needed to get the job done right. Modjeski spent most of his time directing operations on the job site. Working with him was Philadelphia architect Paul Cret, whose designs gave the bridge a timeless majesty and made it a regional landmark.

According to Andariese, construction started on January 6, 1922 after ceremonies in both Camden and Philadelphia that included a parade through the streets of both cities. Part in the gala parades was a flatbed truck carrying a large model of the future bridge. Officiating at the rites were New Jersey Gov. Edward I. Edwards and Camden Mayor Charles H. Ellis and Pennsylvania Gov. William C. Sproul and Philadelphia Mayor J. Hampton Moore.

Workers sunk the anchorage caissons and by Spring of 1923 tower construction was almost ready to begin. The anchorages weigh 200,000 tons each. The crews then installed the saddles to support cables and then completed the cable bents in July of 1924. The temporary footbridge construction on June 10, 1924 was celebrated with the linking of Philadelphia to Camden and visitors were granted passes to cross the footbridge until a number of pedestrians on the bridge began to hamper the workers progress. The suspended roadway was completed in May of 1925.

Main Span looking Northwest from Camden - April 1, 1924

According to Andariese’s history, when the center span “closed,” the main towers were bending 12 inches at their tops toward one another. The towers, he writes, were doing what they were expected to do,

With the “closing” of the span came another celebration. Workers threw their hats into the air and boat whistles sounded. Eight days later, history tells us, a group of commissioners and engineers made an official crossing in a “long narrow procession along one side of the uncompleted bridge.”

Offical Crossing on Footbridge - August 8, 1924

Halfway through the construction the question of tolls arose. According to Andariese and his bridge history, the toll question first started in 1924. Arguments over whether or not to charge for using the bridge became heated and almost shutdown construction Pennsylvania declared a legal obligation not to collect tolls and a New Jersey bond issue made clear New Jersey’s mandate to collect tolls.

New Jersey remained steadfast and Pennsylvania passed an act declaring “that the use and enjoyment of said bridge shall remain forever free and open to the people and the traveling public.” New Jersey would take action for collecting its own tolls in Camden until construction costs were paid. But finally after many arguments and battles over the issue Pennsylvania lawmakers backed down and repealed their no-toll law in January 1926.

During the bridge’s construction the risk of death became greater with each day. With more men than ever working on the span, and at great heights, accidents happened. George W. Haines of Collingswood, a carpenter at the Philadelphia anchorage became the first job-related death on May 20, 1924 when he was struck and killed by a plank. He was the first of 15 to lose their lives, among that number Howard Meyer, an East Camden resident and former World War I aviator. 

The big day finally arrived on July 1, 1926. More than 25,000 people attended the opening day ceremonies. New Jersey Gov. A. Harry Moore and Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot presided. After the ceremonies an estimated 100,000 people, including an 87-year-old Civil War veteran, walked across the bridge before it opened for vehicular traffic. On Monday July 5, President Calvin Coolidge arrived from the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition to dedicate the span.

New Jersey Governor Moore shaking hands with Pennsylvania Governor Pinchot
during an inspection of the span in the winter of 1926.

In construction of the span, provision was made to carry high-speed rail transit across the bridge on the outside brackets but it was not until February 23, 1934 when work began on the rail transit. The line, costing $8.2 million, started operation on June 6, 1936 and was operated by the Philadelphia Transportation Company under a lease. The bridge commission received 2 and one half cents from each 10 cent fare. Trains at the time ran from 8th and Market streets in Philadelphia to the Broadway Station in Camden.

Walkways were also constructed on either side of the bridge for pedestrian traffic. Many residents from both cities used the walkways for pleasure and sometimes it was their only way to get to work in either Philadelphia or Camden. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the bridge commission took steps to guard against any emergency in the time of war. The commission ordered replacement steel to make repairs that may be necessary in the case of bombings or sabotage. They also stepped up police patrols on the bridge and shutdown the use of both walkways. 

Beginning in 1942, the bridge participated in blackouts and air raid alerts. Bomb shelters were provided under the Philadelphia plaza and in the 6th Street pedestrian tunnel in Camden. Traffic was kept off the bridge during the alerts.

In 1951 the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures passed bills that renamed the Delaware River Joint Commission to the Delaware River Port Authority. The new name became official on July 17, 1952. 

The need to expand the high-speed line beyond Camden became more of a reality in the late 1950s and in 1960 plans began for a speed line link from center city Philadelphia to Lindenwold. Finally on June 11, 1964, construction began on the link and on Jan. 4, 1969 the first PATCO High-Speed Line trains started running between Camden, Philadelphia and Lindenwold.

Thomas A. Bergbauer is a retired journalist.

Ferries Across the Delaware
& the Fire on the Ferry NEW JERSEY in 1856

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


A need to cross the Delaware River between Camden and Philadelphia was felt as early as the 17th Century and it was ferry service between Cooper’s Point in Camden and Saxamaxon Street in the city of Brotherly Love that led to the founding of Camden.

There were many ways to get from one side to the other and at times there were tragedies during the crossings resulting in fatalities and injuries. According to historical records ferry service between the two cities was approved in 1687 along with rates of passage. 

Between the 17th and 20th centuries, ferries not only sailed out of Market Street in downtown Camden, but there were also ferry slips at the foot of Vine Street near Market and at Kaighn Avenue in South Camden. There were also ferries crossing the river from Gloucester City, Palmyra and Burlington City.

One early way to reach Philadelphia was to walk across the river when it was frozen. There was a time when winters on the river presented a different way of life. In the early 1800s, the river froze almost solid, possibly as a result of the “Little Ice Age,” which inundated the world for many centuries. Ice flows at times also created a hazard and historical records show that George Washington encountered heavy ice flows while crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25, 1776 in his surprise attack on the Hessians in Trenton.

Walking across instead of using a ferry turned into a family affair and pedestrian traffic on the ice-clogged river of the 1830s was a regular winter custom and usually did not always hinder the movement of ferries. Many times families ice skated across.

At the Camden County Historical Society research revealed that horses sometimes were used to tow the ferries, like a sled, between the two cities. The frozen Delaware also required specially equipped ferries for the crossings. These ferries were fitted with skids or runners on either side of the keel.

When floating ice was a problem, boats with very strong and very sharp bows were pressed into service. Extending from their bows was a platform where a boatsman would sit with legs and feet dangling down to steady himself. With boathook in hand, he would push floating ice away from the moving ferry.

Sometimes the ice was so bad that it would take a ferry from one to two hours to cross the river, working its way around the flows. 

But there were times when tragedy also struck on the river.

Saturday, March 15, 1856 was a cold and windy day. All day ice flows floated down the river past Camden, according to newspaper reports, claiming the break in the ice showed promises of an early spring. But that day gave no indication of spring-like weather.

That evening nearly 100 people climbed aboard the ferry “New Jersey” in Philadelphia in anticipation of getting to their warm homes in Camden.

According to the county historical documents and the newspaper reports, the ferry, owned by the Philadelphia and Camden Steamboat Company, left its slip at the Walnut Street wharf at 8:30 p.m. and sailed into the darkness towards Camden.

Documents show that Captain William S. Corson of Camden, was in command and he guided his vessel toward the channel, but due to heavy ice flows he was unable to navigate and turned the ferry upstream to look for another way to reach the Camden slip. Moments later smoke was seen coming from a spot near the deck and the smokestack. Passengers notified the captain, as flames became visible. 

The passengers went to work trying to put out the fire. They grabbed buckets from the walls, dipping them overboard and then passing them forward to douse the flames. In a desperate effort to save the ferry, Corson turned the boat around in order to try and make it back to Philadelphia hoping to reach the dock before the fire got out of control.

As the boat limped back and Corson held his course, flames swept the upper deck forcing passengers to the windward side creating a bad list. It was reported the New Jersey came within 30 feet of the Philadelphia dock when the pilothouse collapsed in flames causing the ferry to veer out of control.

As panic set in, Corson, who survived, watched as women tried, in vain, to beat out flames that engulfed their long dresses and men tearing benches and chairs loose to help support those who had jumped overboard. He saw passengers leap into the frigid water and climb on top of ice flows, and a short time later he followed them as he jumped overboard. Other passengers in the water clung to the benches, chairs and floating wood.

One report shows that 61 people perished in the fire and 30 had survived. Others were reported either unaccounted for or missing.

As the tragedy unfolded families in Camden took to the streets waiting for the return or news of loved ones. Later shrieks of joy sounded as survivors arrived in Camden on other ferries. However, the joy was short lived as news arrived of the number of dead or missing in one of early Camden’s worst tragedies.

An investigation later showed that the ferryboat’s boilers, fireplace and brickwork surrounding them had become defective, thus causing the fire. Other records revealed that the New Jersey had no lifeboats or life preservers. The records showed that a law requiring safety equipment on steam-powered vessels had exempted this type of boat on the grounds that short ferry trips could never seriously place passengers in danger. 

One newspaper reporting on the fire later said that every family in Camden had been touched by the tragic event, losing a loved one, friend or acquaintance.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

Glass Windows & the Nicholson House

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


It’s hard to imagine living in a house with windowpanes that you cannot clearly see through.

     Being able to view the outdoors without difficulty is something we take for granted every day.

But there was a time when there was one thing that our forefathers could not see through—and that was windows in their homes.

According to a web site on the history of glass, flat glass for windows was still rare during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Small panes were made by blowing a large glob of glass, removing it from the blowing iron and then rotating the glass quickly so it would spread and flatten. Such glass had a dimple in its center, many air bubbles and a pattern of concentric circles. This type of glass was the standard equipment in the old days. In most cases it was translucent, but not transparent.

Old newspaper clippings reveal that at one time Camden had the dubious distinction of having the first house south of Trenton to have glass windowpanes similar to today’s clear glass windows. They were a major part of the construction in the old Nicholson house that was once located off Bridge Boulevard, now the Admiral Wilson Boulevard and just east of Baird Boulevard.    

When Joseph Nicholson built the house for his bride, Hannah Wood in 1696 along the banks of the Cooper River, he incorporated glass windows in the construction, which was considered a marvel at the time. Joseph was the son of Samuel, who immigrated to the new land from Nottinghamshire, England, with John Fenwick in 1675.

But just where Nicholson obtained the glass panes for his windows is a matter for speculation and experts in the 1940s believe the glass was imported. Others contended that the panes were muff glass blown in North Jersey and transported to Camden. According to, muff glass was window glass, made by a now obsolete technique. A glass cylinder was blown; but before it cooled, it was sliced lengthwise and unrolled into a flat piece from which the panes were cut.

The windows of the old house were smaller than the present day standard and only the lower sash was moveable. The lower sashes contained four panes while the upper sashes had six. At any rate the young couple must have enjoyed all of the light provided by the windows. But by 1940 none of the original panes remained in the structure.

The stories reported that the brown Jersey fieldstone used in the construction of the house was not indigenous to Camden, but might have been quarried from an area in Burlington County. The first floor was unique because of its low ceiling, just a little over six feet in height. Doorways were only five feet, six inches and led to the assumption that the Nicholsons may have been short in stature.

The houses quaint architecture with beams protruding through the exterior walls furnished a link to the past that is not usually duplicated in today’s construction. The two-storied house stood unnoticed and neglected for years before it met with a wrecking ball in 1948.

Newspaper reports at the time the building was razed stated that the house was one of the few remaining landmarks in a city that has erased the past in a rapid industrial growth. The report claimed that it was once the object of heated debate by city officials and historical societies, which sought to save it from destruction.

As the story goes, movements were started by patriotic organizations to preserve the old landmark or move it across the river to another site in the city park. But there were difficulties with plans to move the solid stone structure whose walls had sagged and cracked with age.

In 1936 the Camden County Historical Society supported a movement to have the city purchase or acquire the building and make it a memorial to Charles S. Boyer, a former president of the society. The Nassau Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) requested the city acquire the home in 1937. At that time a spokesperson for the DAR said the organization would do everything in their power to preserve the old house and that it seemed a shame to let the place go to ruin when it could be made into a museum. The DAR also claimed it would have been a great advertisement for Camden since thousands of motorist pass by the landmark every day.

In 1940, F. Harvey Tripp of Haddonfield, who then owned the house, offered to give it anyone who was interested in preserving it for historical value. Jack Goncheroff of Camden, who owned the house in 1948, offered it to the Camden County Historical Society, but no action was taken by the society at that time.

But between 1940 and 1948 the elements continued to whip through the exposed and poorly protected structure quickly hastening its demise.


Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

The Sinking of the M. & E. HENDERSON

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


The sinking of the M & E Henderson off the coast of North Carolina on Nov. 30, 1879 had been one of South Jersey’s most famous mysteries and tales.

There is certainly great mystery and confusion about this ship. Clippings in the Courier-Post library report that the ship was Camden-owned while other sources say the ship was out of Philadelphia. Researchers at the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society says the ship was owned by a Captain E. A. Cranmer, Captain Price; Cain and Winsmore, ship chandlers, and others at the time of the wreck. But this information did not mention the schooner’s base.

But one thing is certain, the three-masted schooner went to it watery grave off Kitty Hawk Beach on a brilliant moonlit night on calm seas. 

The ship, along with its captain, two mates, a cook and three deck hands, went down just a few days after taking on a cargo of phosphate at Bull River in South Carolina. But not all of the crew was lost. The three deck hands were found later that day. Not too long after the sinking the sea gave up the faceless body of its captain, which had washed up on a North Carolina beach. The fact that the three deck hands survived gave rise to suspicion.

Records of the ship are as vague as the tragic incident that sent the ship to the bottom of the ocean. According to a story written in the Courier-Post on Dec. 20, 1929, the 347-ton schooner was launched at a Dennis Township shipyard around 1840. Some records also show that after close examination of some of the remains of the ship it must have been at least 40 years old.
However, according to the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society, the schooner was built in 1864 on Great Egg Harbor at Hezekiah Godfrey’s shipyard in Tuckahoe. A society researcher states that Godfrey’s shipyard was active at this time, and the Tuckahoe River flows into the Great Egg Harbor, so this is likely the same ship. Also a search of the “Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States” did not have the ship listed or the name and location of its owners. The value of the schooner at the time of the sinking was $7,000. But according to the Atlantic Heritage Center in Somers Point, Zephaniah Steelman built the Henderson in 1863 in Pleasant Mills near Tuckerton, not Tuckahoe. 

According to information taken during the investigation into the sinking, beach patrolman Leonidas Tillett from the US Life Saving Service (a forerunner of the Coast Guard) on Pea Island had been patrolling a section of the North Carolina coast near North Point and returned to the life saving station shortly before 5 a.m. After starting a fire in the stove and waking the crew’s cook, he then went to the station’s tower and using a telescope he saw at some distance in the bright moonlight the figure of a man crawling along the sands.

At first he thought it was a fisherman, but noticed that he was not wearing a hat and began to believe it might be a castaway. Tillett woke the crew of the life saving station and then headed down the beach to encounter the man. It turned out that the man was a sailor. Soaking wet and delirious Tillett heard him whisper “Captain drowned—masts gone” before lapsing into unconsciousness.

After carrying the survivor to the life station, Tillett, along with George C. Daniels, the keeper and members of the crew hurried back to the beach to continue their search. A mile and a half south of the station they came across pieces of wreckage and saw a mass of debris floating on the water about 300 yards off shore, which they assumed, marked the gave of the Henderson. They continued their search for bodies, and other signs of wreckage.

At New Inlet, the crew met a group of fisherman who reported that they rescued a sailor after finding him floating in the channel. The fishermen said they took the sailor to their camp on Jack’s Shoal, a small island at the back of the inlet. As Daniels and his crew headed for the fishermen’s camp across the inlet they saw what appeared to be a figure seated on a mound of wreckage gazing out to sea. It tuned out that the figure was another sailor unconscious and barely breathing. He was taken to the lifesaving station and revived.

Meanwhile, as the lifesaving crew nursed the three survivors back to health with warm blankets and hot coffee, the body of Captain Silas Swain, master of the Henderson was carried ashore on the flood tide. Rescuers were horrified by the ghostly discovery that the body lacked face and scalp and that the head was only a gleaming, polished skull with every shred of flesh removed. Identification was made from the vessel’s papers and other documents found in Swain’s pockets. Later another body washed ashore which could not be identified and was buried by Daniels in a little plot next to the station.

Names of the ship’s company were unknown, except for the captain, to the alleged Camden owners. The records show that the survivors appeared to be Spanish mulattos, speaking very little English. They identified themselves as Abram Annight, Samuel Manilla and Sanders Manilla.
An investigation pointed out that since the captain and most of the mates had perished at once, it was believed, especially by the owners, that the surviving seamen may have murdered the officers and then ran the vessel ashore. This strong suspicion of mutiny and murder caused the arrest of the sailors who were held for more than a year in a Baltimore jail. They finally gained their freedom when no evidence of criminality was discovered.

The manner in which the Camden vessel was lost remains a mystery to this day. She had been sighted at sunset a day earlier sailing along the coast in a northerly direction and had attracted attention because of its extreme closeness to the shoreline.

Members of the special investigation committee believe that the schooner had grounded on a bar just about the time the surfman completed his patrol. It was ascertained that the ship immediately broke up. Even though there was no heavy surf it was thought that old and decaying hull timbers could have given way to the weight of phosphate rock..

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune - December 3, 1879

Philadelphia Inquirer  - December 13, 1879

Philadelphia Inquirer  - December 15, 1879 New Haven Register  - December 15, 1879

Baltimore Sun - January 8, 1880

Gutter Fun

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


While driving not too long ago I noticed two youngsters playing in water at the curb of a street. Immediately I had flashbacks of water running down the gutter of my old city street in North Camden.

They were draining the fire hydrant at the corner and it was a great time to sail your favorite model boat during a warm summer evening. Flushing the hydrants was a regular routine in the city. The reason for this, according to my good friend and former fire chief, Bob Shapleigh of Haddon Heights, all fire hydrants should be "flushed" once a year. He says it clears rust and debris from the pipes. 

Water running in one direction over a period of time from rusty stalagmites can cut down water flow. When flushed they try to use hydrants that can reverse water direction thus breaking down the stalagmites. I know one thing, it turned the tap water rusty in the house for a short period of time.

However, getting back to the to the water, I was not the only kid on the block with the same idea. Hoping they could make it in time before the man closed the hydrant, the kids ran into their homes to get their favorite sailboats and the race was one. Starting where the water was gushing from the hydrant each did put their boat in the water one at a time watching it as if floated down the street, bobbing and weaving as it was pushed along by the gushing water. I guess you could say that this was the inner city kids version of today’s white water rafting on a small scale.
As the stream narrowed near the other end of the street, you would grab your boat and run back to the hydrant to repeat the process. Some kids would attach a string to their boat to help guide it along. This would go on an on until the man draining the hydrant would turn it off, much to the dismay of all of the young would be sailors.

Some of the kids also loved to walk barefooted in that water. It had s great cooling effect on your body during those muggy summer evenings.

Our imaginations were certainly creative. They had to be. We lived in an age that lacked television, video games and computers. We had to use our creative juices to survive the times.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at


By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


They came through the alleyways and down the streets. They came like a parade at intervals hawking their wares. Those were the hucksters of our day.

I have received many phone calls and emails asking me about hucksters and would if I do a column on them. I had done one long ago and am happy to revive it for those who fondly remember them.

Fifty or sixty years ago hucksters were a big part of the Camden scene. In the spring, summer and fall they were seen more frequently on the streets than in winter. Today we hop in the car and head for the super market to buy what we need. But in the 30s and 40s and even the 50s a lot of residents could not do this because of a lack of private transportation.

For those who lived near the Giant Tiger (an early super market) in South Camden or the Baltimore Market (the first modern super market in the city) that was once located across from the old Sears building, it was easy to do your shopping and cart it home. But for those not living near these stores it was a task to haul their packages home on a bus.

Hucksters were the product of the depression and for many years brought foods and goods to consumers confined for the most part in their area of the city. They were as constant as the northern star in their movements to provide a service to the average American family who were trapped in the inner city during that era.

The clothes prop man came through the alleys passing backyards where housewives were hanging out the day’s wash. He marched along, clothes props over one shoulder and a bag containing clothespins and lines slung over the other. His cadence steady as he sang “clothessss prrrops.”

Busy housewives waited on washing day (usually Monday) for the javelle water man. Javelle water, you say? What was that? Well according to the encyclopedia Javelle water or Javel water, is an aqueous solution of sodium or potassium hypochlorite and before the days of store-bought bleach, women used it in their washing machines.

It was originally made near the French town of Javelle (now part of Paris) and was the first chemical bleach used in 1785. It was produced by passing chlorine gas through a water solution of potash potassium carbonate. The solution was usually made by local independent retailers who peddled the strong-smelling solution daily. It was manufactured locally by many enterprising merchants.

We must not forget another important huckster--the knife sharpening man. He trudged through the streets and alleyways lugging his knife and scissors sharpening machine on his back, which he removed and placed on the ground when confronted by a customer and worked the grinding wheel with his foot on a peddle.

In the afternoon as you sat on your front step the pretzel man, pulling his wagon filled with the beloved Philadelphia pretzels, would come down the street. He was an old gent with a slight limp who rarely smiled as he smeared mustard on your pretzel with a wooden stick.

He could have been 50 or 60 years old, but he was old in the eyes of us young kids. No matter what age or how far he traveled with his wagon, he was a welcome enjoyment for all of us.

At least a couple of times a week the waffle man arrived, clanging his bell, which was mounted on the side of his large wagon drawn by a horse. He did not have to bark his wares, just bang on that bell, which was loud enough to draw the attention of residents two blocks away. His waffles were freshly made on the site, tasty and warm and with a sprinkle of powered sugar they were just right.

Another hot item was horseradish. About once a week a man with a white pushcart with a grinder mounted on top plied his trade through the city streets. Housewives would rush to the streets drawn by the huckster’s cry of “horseradishhhh.” His product, strong enough to clear the sinuses for a week, was put in containers provided by the women.

Let us not forget the fruit, produce and fish peddlers that brought their wares to the neighborhoods and above all on hot summer days we kids waited anxiously for the iceman.
Before the modern-day refrigerator most families had iceboxes. These were wooden boxes that looked like a refrigerator and at the top there was a place for a block or two of ice. “Usually the iceman had access to the homes rear door where he entered and placed the ice in the top of the box,” recalls our local historian, Bob Shapleigh of Haddon Heights. To carry the ice the deliveryman used "tongs" to transport the ice. “A pan sat under the box behind a swinging panel to catch the water from the melting ice,” he points out. “Some (boxes) had a funnel attached to a hose to channel the water to a container in the basement,” he says. 

It was at this time that the neighborhood kids would hang around the truck and the iceman would chip off pieces to give to them. 

This brings us back to some enterprising summer activities for kids. One of the most popular huckstering jobs for kids was selling snowballs. Anyone could get a wagon, some Kool-Aid, a block of ice and paper cone-shaped cups. Once equipped a kid could sell snowballs for a nickel apiece.

But the main thing you needed was a snowball scrapper and if you were lucky enough to own one or knew someone who had one, you were set to go in business. 

The parade of hucksters was endless. Now they exist only in our memories. Their cry is now drowned out by the sound of the automobiles headed for the supermarket or the shopping centers.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at


By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


I have to admit it—I love maps. It does not matter whether they are old or new, as long as they are maps.

I have had a fondness for those folded charts since I was a kid growing up in North Camden. Not too long ago I wrote a column that included old time gasoline stations. While doing it I had flashback memories of those map collecting days. I think now it would be nice to take a trip back into the world of cartography of gas station maps.

I spent a lot of time researching gas station maps and found a little information. There is a world of map collectors out there, but very little history on them (the maps). Years before the energy crises in the 1970s all gas stations provided customers with FREE maps. That’s right—free maps.

My research showed that the birth of the automobile also brought the desire to travel and see the country. Apparently motorists got tired of asking for directions so oil companies started offering them directions—via the road map. The companies hoped to increase customer loyalty with the free charts. 

According to the Oil Company Road Maps of Pennsylvania Web site the first oil company to distribute road maps was credited to the Gulf Oil Company. They say that in 1913 Gulf opened the first drive-in gas station in Pittsburgh's east-end and began handing out road maps. The Web site shows that the early years of oil company maps, 1915 to 1925, are dominated by Gulf as few other oil companies issued maps, and until about 1925 Gulf was the only oil company to issue revised maps annually. But the Road Map Collectors of America point out on their Web site that around 1914 Standard Oil of California, now EXXON, developed a prototype design for its gas stations. They put their employees in uniforms, provided free air for tires, and gave away road maps. 

The map collectors’ site shows that W. B. AKINS of Pittsburgh, an advertising company, made the first maps. In 1915 the business went to the Automobile Blue Book Company; in 1922 it went to Rand McNally and in 1927 to the H. M. Gousha Company. 

That site also shows that there were basically three types: state maps, local maps, and trip maps. The trip maps showed a highlighted route between two (or more) cities. 

And of course the road maps were good for business. The Pennsylvania road map site claims that Gulf Oil, formed in 1901, gave out the free road maps as advertising for the gas stations they started building in 1913. Early ones, they say, had more lubrication advertising than later ones, and the reason was that engines of that time needed frequent oil changes. The maps, also, would help tourists find their way and like a first aid kit or a couple of extra tools; they were a travel necessity that was stored in every ones glove box.

My fascination for the road charts evolved when I first found out they were free. I guess I was in my early teens, around 1944 or 1945. I cannot remember what it was that piqued my interest in those colorful charts. We did not travel much when we were kids. My mother did not drive, so I was a teenager before I saw the ocean. The Atlantic, that is. The map collecting could have been a dream world for me, magically taking me to places that I have never visited— following routes out of Camden for miles to places I longed to see.

It was then that my quest for the maps started with a round of service stations in the area collecting as many as possible. Maps for New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and if I found one for Maryland or Delaware it was like finding gold. 

I also discovered the different designs that each oil company used. Some folded different and printing varied for others.

My method of collecting was simple. After visiting a station and successfully getting a map I would tuck it in my belt and cover it with my shirt after leaving the station. Then I would head out for the next station.

My first stops were usually the Sinclair, Mobile and Atlantic stations that were located at 7th and Cooper streets. Then I would head down Broadway to South Camden, visiting as may stations as I could. 

When I got home I would spread them out on the living room floor and carefully examine each and every one of them. When I was finished I would store them in old cigar boxes that we collected from the corner candy and cigar store.

As time went on, maps became costlier and competition among oil companies became more fierce. The energy crises that hit the world in the 1970s caused oil companies to cut expenses, detouring free maps from gas station racks to official tourism offices, like AAA. Motorists then were able to secure free maps when they joined automobile clubs for their trip routing services, or they were forced to purchase them from other sources.

Today the GPS (Global Positioning System) is the in thing for trips and has quickly become the 21st Century’s answer to the folded map. It could eventually replace any and all paper maps and trip routing services. 

GPS or not, my love for maps has never really waned and never will. While I no longer get them from service stations I can still get my supply from an auto club and the National Geographic Society and I treat them with utmost care.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at


By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


The Fairview section of Camden was the mother of all planned communities. It was born at the beginning of the “war to end all wars.”

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, the New York Shipbuilding Corp. on Broadway, owned by the American International Corp. since 1916, raced to build its share of fighting ships. The influx of workers at the shipyard and their families at the time put a strain on Camden housing, schools and transportation.

As the need grew larger, Federal funds financed the construction of Yorkship Village. In 1917, the War Department established two housing agencies to combat the wartime housing need. The United States Housing Corporation and the Emergency Fleet Corporation were assigned the task of addressing the problem.

Fairview was designed by Electus Darwin Lichfield in 1917 and ground was broken on May 1, 1918 for construction of 1000 village homes on a 225-acre parcel of land called the Old Cooper Farmstead. At the time the farm was located in Haddon Township. 

Construction was of brick units containing two, three, and four homes under one roof. There are some single homes. A church was provided but no school facilities. 

The tree-lined streets are narrow and winding with the main roads leading to and from the center of the village, Yorkship Square. The streets are named for ships, such as the Merrimac, Ironside, Alabama and Constitution. Construction of the village cost the federal government about $11 million.

Camden County Historical Society records show that in response to growing knowledge and awareness of the importance of health standards at that time, the government required that municipal improvements, such as sewer lines, water pipes, fire hydrants and police and fire protection be provided by the local community. But, according to the society records, Haddon Township at the time could not afford the service expenses and neighboring municipalities began to bid for the village. Since Camden City at the time was interested in acquiring tax ratables they were anxious to acquire the village.

To show good faith, the records say, Camden erected the firehouse on Morgan Boulevard in an effort to attract the planned community. Then finally on July 8, 1918 Haddon Township ceded the American Federal style village to the city. 

Records show Camden designated the area as the 14th Ward and after taking possession adopted an ordinance for a $650,000 bond issue to cover construction of a school and other future improvements. The first school was opened in the village in September 1918 in a four-unit home while construction on a new school building began early in 1919.

The homes were, at first, rented to shipyard workers, but after the war, in 1921, they were sold to the employees at public auction. According to records an estimated 1,500 homes were sold in three days at prices from $800 to $1,800. In 1922 the name of the village was changed from Yorkship to Fairview. 

Pat Tracey of the Sicklerville section of Gloucester Township grew up on N. Congress Road. She lived with her parents and a brother and sister in a three-bedroom semi-detached home that she called a large six.

Many residents never forgot the closeness of the village and the popularity of the Fourth of July parades. After the parade they would block off part of Yorkship Square and hold a block party and a dance. Tracey, who attended St. Joan of Arc School, enjoyed her after school visits to Bill’s Sweet Shop, confirming it was the hub of activity for young people. “They made the best hoagies around,” Tracey recalled. 

Tracey remained faithful to Fairview for many years. Her husband, George, was a village native growing up on Kansas Road, and when they were married in 1960 they stayed in Fairview until 1969 when they moved into larger digs.

By today’s standards Fairview may not qualify as a planned community, but when the century was young it had a lot to offer the people. The village square rendered the services of a food market, a pharmacy, dry cleaner, doctor’s office and library. To those living then this was progress, this meant not having to travel too far for these services, this was the beginning of big and betters things to come. The future was looking good and showed promise.

Writing in the American Review of Reviews in December 1919 on the village Litchfield said “It (Yorkship Village) was to be a place of light rooms and clean yards, with adequate playgrounds and amusement fields; a place of beauty and appropriateness and cleanliness so great that a man returning from his daily toil would receive new strength and recreation; a place where the man who could save a fraction of his income, would be able to obtain with it, for himself and for his children, a share of play and education, literature and music, and other uplifting things.”

On April 1, 1974 Fairview was recognized and became protected by the State of New Jersey and recognition and protection was secured from the federal government on Nov. 19, 1974..

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

Seven Unknown U.S. Soldiers

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


The inscription on the tombstone at Beverly National Cemetery reads “Seven Unknown U.S. Soldiers, Rev. War.”

Sounds like the end. But it’s not. Those seven revolutionary soldiers died on a sleety, windy February day in 1778 in a skirmish with the British in what is now downtown Camden. They laid in the very heart of Camden, in a debris-littered, secluded 15 by 20 foot burial ground only a few feet from the old fire station at 5th and Arch streets. Thousands had passed near the tiny cemetery, unaware that it existed.

According to the history of Camden County, it all started after General George Washington ordered General Anthony Wayne, also known as Mad Anthony, to Salem County, to confiscate livestock and transport it to Washington’s winter quarters at Valley Forge. Wayne was also given orders to destroy hay and other supplies, which might be useful to the enemy.

After accomplishing his mission, Wayne moved north through Swedesboro and Woodbury to Haddonfield.

The British, camped out in Philadelphia under the leadership of Lord William Howe, wanted to prevent supplies from reaching Valley Forge so they sent two units across the Delaware to engage a raiding party. Once the force landed at Cooper’s Ferry they headed for Haddonfield. Under Col. Thomas Stirling and Major John Simcoe, the British set up headquarters in Haddonfield and began foraging operations.

But British occupation of Haddonfield was short lived as Wayne with modest reinforcements, advanced on Haddonfield on Feb. 28. Stirling assumed Wayne had a superior force and ordered a night retreat to Cooper’s Ferry in Camden. Wayne arrived the next morning and found the British troops waiting to cross the Delaware, but were unable due to high winds.
Several minor skirmishes took place in the area of downtown Camden with Colonel Ellis and his militia beating a Hessian force at Cooper’s Creek Bridge (now Cooper River) while an advance company of Wayne’s riflemen engaged a British outpost in the area of 7th and Cooper streets. Wayne was unsuccessful due to canon fire from British ships on the Delaware and Stirling’s men crossed the river before nightfall.

Wayne sent his supply of cattle to Valley Forge and held up in Haddonfield before returning to Washington’s camp.

The seven men who apparently died in these skirmishes were buried where they fell, in the vicinity of 5th and Arch streets. As time passed the graves of the unknown Camden seven, who fell with Hessian bullets in their bodies, were forgotten. Their memory squashed into anonymity by growth and the business world.

According to a Courier-Post story in 1940, approximately six feet from one of the head stones of a soldier another tombstone was found which was inscribed “Our Faithful Jack--Died Nov. 5, 1934, in service--Fire Headquarters”.

The story revealed that Jack was an Irish terrier, the mascot of the firemen at the fire station at 5th and Arch. It said its body was buried and marked with a headstone that appeared to be more expensive than those of the soldiers. In 1955 when the bodies were removed and taken to Beverly National Cemetery, Jack became the sole possessor of the little known graveyard.
The small cemetery was discovered in 1920 when Thomas J. Hamm, who had a law office at 526 Market St., was checking out some deeds in Woodbury. During the Revolution, Camden was part of Gloucester County and the old deeds were registered there. During his search he discovered a deed that described the plot of ground as a cemetery in which the bodies of seven American patriot soldiers lie, killed in a skirmish between troops of General Anthony Wayne and the Rangers of the Queen. 

Hamm did not make his discovery known and in the 1930s a Courier-Post reporter heard about the deed and investigated. He found the graves intact and notified several service organizations that placed headstones on the graves, which read “An Unknown U.S. Soldier.”
In the 1940s several service organizations in Camden County banded together in an effort to have the remains moved from the unkempt cemetery to a place of honor. But it took 15 years and through the cooperation of veteran’s organizations and the city government the remains were moved to Beverly and re-buried with full military honors, with salutes to the dead fired by the VFW and the Spanish American War Veterans.

The seven are the only Revolutionary War soldiers buried in the cemetery. Cemetery officials had said that it is very unique for these soldiers to be here in that the cemetery was created during the Civil War to accommodate those who died in that war. 

The cemetery was established in August 1864 after President Abraham Lincoln signed an act in 1862 authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries. The first burial was Warner Haskell on August 29, 1864, a young soldier who served with Company K of the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers.

Christian Weyman donated the ground to the United States by deed dated August 25, 1864, for “the express condition that it be used for those who died as a result of battle.” In 1937 six and a half acres were added, 20 acres in 1948 and seven acres in 1953. The cemetery includes the remains of veterans associated with every war and branch of service who have served throughout history..

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

Orange Crates

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


While reminiscing about street games and vendors and the subject of orange crates came up and how versatile they were in our early years.

This struck a chord with me because innovation back then seemed to be a universal thing with the children of my time. Kids in that day and age were more innovative than they are today. We had to be or we would have been bored to death. Besides, our parents usually never had the money to buy us those expensive toys. So we all looked at an object as an adaptable tool and we had to improvise—if we can’t afford it we’ll make it. 

That brings us back to the orange crate. They were usually found discarded at most corner grocery stores. Now a kid picking up one of those would look at it with a creative eye. Stand it upright and it could become a scooter, lay it down and it could be an orange crate car. 

The crates were about 30 inches long, about 12 to14 inches wide and about 12 to 14 inches deep with solid wood top and bottom and a wood partition in the middle. To make a scooter you needed a crate, of course, and a piece of 2 x 4 wood strip that would be nailed to bottom of the box for the scooter’s running board. Next you needed a roller skate. Skates then were adjustable and attached to the shoe and tightened at the front with a special key. Each skate came apart in two sections and one section was nailed at the front of the 2 x 4 and the other at the rear. At the top of the crate a piece of wood was attached to either side of the crate and used as 'handles' which could be used as steering. 

We found out later that many others spent days in the 1930s and 40s doing something creative with that wooden box.

We thought scooters and cars was it, but we never dreamed of the number of uses for that old wooden box. We are talking about chairs, doll houses, bookshelves, night stands and storage space for can goods and clothes, in some cases firewood to keep warm and not to mention drying racks for muskrat skins.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

Pyne Point Park

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


If you grew up in North Camden then you had to remember Pyne Point Park. They were synonymous.

For many living in that part of the city it was a great escape, especially during the warm summer months. Many spent hours there swimming or playing baseball.

This piece of city property, bounded by North 6th Street on the west, North 8th Street on the east, Erie Street on the south and the Delaware River on the north, provided all types of recreation for city residents. The park was known for its great Independence Day celebrations. Pyne Point Park’s celebration was not just an observance of the Fourth, it was an institution.

William Cooper settled there in 1679 from Burlington County and for years the area remained unchanged. It was said that George Washington at one time tied his horse to a large oak tree that once stood near the Cooper mansion, but we are not sure if the Revolutionary general once slept there (in the mansion, of course).

In 1909 Camden Mayor Charles H. Ellis created a playground board making Pyne Point Park, (a.k.a. Pyne Poynt Park) one of five playground sites in the city to be furnished with recreational equipment. In the 1920s several improvements were made to the park and it became a great recreation area and between 1935 and 1939 the WPA (Works Progress Administration) poured millions of dollars into Camden County between focusing on urban beautification including planting trees and shrubs at Pyne Point and other parks.

But each year up until the late 1960s you could say that the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in the air gave proof through the night that Pyne Point celebrated the birth of the nation in all of the glory, tradition and might it could muster.

According to early newspaper articles that customary tradition at Pyne Point started in 1900. It came about when a patriotic-spirited resident by the name of Oscar Boehm put on a fireworks display near his home at 6th and Bailey streets each and every 4th of July. That year some of the neighbors, including Boehm, came to the conclusion that it would be appropriate to put on a bigger display each year and perhaps add some games to the celebration.

This was the beginning of the Pyne Point Athletic Association. The association included 15 men who were able to raise $36 that year for a bigger and better Fourth. Every year after that the association was able to add laurels to the splendor of the celebration, the glory of the tradition to the delight of thousands who flocked to the park from around the city.

The day’s activities usually began at 6 a.m. with firing of a 21-gun canon salute and the raising of the flag. “It started off with a BOOM,” says Dan McCabe of Scottsdale, Ariz., who grew up nearby at 10th and Vine streets during the 1930s and 40s. “It announced the beginning of that best of (all) days, July 4th, “ he recalls. During the day picnickers and visitors delighted in competitive matches like baseball, wrestling and boxing bouts and an evening vaudeville show before culminating the day with a grand fireworks display.

McCabe remembers a gazebo in the center of the park where a band played most of the day. “There was also a large covered pavilion with picnic tables, where if you arrived early enough to get one, you had it for the day and enjoyed your lunch there,” he says.

The park also hosted all sorts of games for the kids, sack races and one-legged races. “There was cotton candy to be had, balloons and watermelon eating contests,” he says. Later years included a dance floor for those wishing to “Trip the Light Fantastic,” a phrase coined by John Milton in his 1645 lyric poem, “L’Allegro.”

During the days there would be a parade ending at the park. “Kids from all over town marched in the parade and if you had a bike you decorated the wheels with red, white & blue crepe paper wrapped between the spokes,” McCabe remembers.

The homes surrounding the park were all decked out in their finest red, white and blue displays. McCabe says the houses were all two-story “row” houses with front porches, and for that day, they were all decorated. “Hundreds of American flags were seen flying from every house,” he says. “It was a beautiful sight.” Each year a prize, like War Bonds or war stamps, were usually given to the best-decorated homes and their porches.

During the 1946 celebration, its 46th year, wounded World War II veterans and liberated prisoners-of-war were guests of the celebration. The liberated POWs, according to records, were all North Camden residents.

Over the years things started to change in Camden. “By 1969,” says Phil Cohen, creator of a website on Camden, “The city, we seniors have known for years, had been losing jobs and residents for a quarter century due in large part to urban decay, highway construction, and racial tensions. “There were two race riots, the first in 1969 with sections of downtown being looted and torched, and another in August 1971 with a lot of damage being done in North Camden,” Cohen says.

We were unable to find out exactly when Pyne Point ceased putting on their spectacular display of fireworks and Fourth of July festivities. Courier-Post records show that the athletic association was still sponsoring a celebration as late as 1966, but it is believed that the gala came to an end around the time of the city riots.

“It was pretty much fun and games and food all day long,” McCabe points out. “We lived in a carefree world at that time, at least for a kid it was carefree, for our parents, well maybe not quite so carefree,” he says. For McCabe as for many others, he explains, “It was just after the depression and just before World War II.”

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist, can be reached at

City Industry

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


Just 100 years ago Camden was a thriving, prosperous industrial metropolis and the future looked bright for this river city.

     At the end of the 19th century and in the first couple decades of the 20th century, industry in Camden came alive and at that time most of Camden County’s business was located in the city.

     Camden grew from a few hundred small houses and commercial establishments in the late 1830s to a leader among national industrial giants that got their start in the city along the Delaware. Its location on the river was clearly its most marketable asset.

     Names like Victor Talking Machine Company, later RCA Victor and RCA, Campbell Soup, J. B. VanSciver, Esterbrook Pen, New York Shipbuilding Corp., Knox Gelatin, Hollingshead chemical, Joseph Oat, Warren Webster and J. Eavenson & Sons were just a few on the rollcall of big businesses giving Camden its shining hour.

     Campbell Soup, one of Camden’s first major firms and now one of only two remaining holdouts- the other being Joseph Oat Company, manufacturer of machine parts for more than 100 years- was the brainchild of Joseph Campbell who founded the canning and preserving plant in 1869 and who developed condensed soups under the direction of Dr. John T. Dorrance.

     It was just four years after the Civil War when Campbell, who was often seen on the streets of Camden peddling fresh fruit, became partners with Abraham Anderson, a manufacturer of iceboxes. Together they began a food-canning business that became worldwide. In 1897 things changed for the company when Dorrance, a young chemist, joined the firm. Dorrance invented the idea of cutting the cost of making soup by condensing it in the canning process.

    After that, business at Campbell’s was never the same. In 1950s, as the company continued to expand, it moved its corporate headquarters from the waterfront area to the present site near Memorial Avenue, just east of center city.

     Ten years before Campbell founded his canning company on Camden’s busy waterfront, Richard Esterbrook opened a factory at the foot of Cooper Street. The Esterbrook Steel Pen Factory was established in 1858 with just 15 workers. At the time two of the four pen companies located in the United States was situated in Camden. Besides Esterbrook, the first in the country, the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company at 7th and State Streets, produced pens, pencil sharpeners and allied products. It employed 125 workers. Eventually the Esterbrook plant had 450 workers and produced 600,000 pens a day.

     In 1964 Esterbrook moved from Camden to an industrial park off Route 70 in Cherry Hill after it was disclosed that the Federal Area Redevelopment Administration refused to classify Camden as a depressed area, thus losing Federally supported financing to industries and businesses.

     In November 1967 the company merged with Venus Pen Company of New York and in 1969 Venus-Esterbrook phased out their operations in Cherry Hill putting an end to another era. In 1940 an Esterbrook pen and pencil set cost about $5, today the highly prized pens and pencils are a rarity and considered a collectors item on the antique market.

    The C. Howard Hunt Pen Company opened in Camden in 1900. It moved its manufacturing facilities from Camden to Statesville, N.C., in 1955 and transferred it headquarters to Philadelphia ten years later.

    At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Victor Talking Machine Company was one of Camden’s largest industrial employers. Incorporated in 1901 it had 7,000 employees by the time World War I broke out. The company was the brainchild of Eldridge R. Johnson who invented a new spring motor for hand powered gramophones in the 1890s.

    Johnson was born in Wilmington, Del., in 1867 and came to Camden in 1886 to work for the Scull Machine Shop. He bought the shop in 1894 and developed the spring motor for Berliner Gramophone Company of Philadelphia. During that time he perfected his own version of the disc-talking machine.

     In 1906 Johnson’s company bought the Berliner company and that same year introduced the enclosed floating horn in the Victrola and developed new sound reproducing and assembly line methods.

    Great performers came to the Camden recording studio at Cooper Street and Delaware Avenue to make records for the Victor company. In later years the company underwent a multimillion-dollar building program that included a six-story shipping plant, a powerhouse, office buildings, cabinet department and record grinding plant. Camden became known as “The Radio Capital of the World.”

     In 1929 Victor merged with Radio Corporation of America becoming RCA Victor and in 1985 RCA merged with General Electric. Over the years the company moved its operations to other parts of the state and nation.

    Between 1880 and 1900 other companies were founded in the city. J.B. VanSciver, Richard M. Hollingshead, Warren Webster, Eavenson soap, Knox Gelatin and the New York Shipbuilding Corporation were among the new arrivals.

    Hollingshead, who opened a plant 1885 at 9th and Market streets manufactured waxes and automotive oils and did work for the government during World War II. The company was eventually bought by the Classic Chemical company and closed its Camden operations in the 1980s.

     Warren Webster moved his vacuum feed water heater and purifier company from Philadelphia to Camden in 1893 and Joseph B. VanSciver, a Dutch-American born in Hainesport, open a small furniture store on Federal Street in 1881 at the age of 20. Seven years later his business became so successful that he had to move to a larger building at Federal Street and Delaware Avenue.

    VanSciver sold inexpensive furniture as well as costly reproductions and added public showrooms at his Delaware Avenue site. The company’s distinctive landmarks were its two exotic towers atop its factory that could be seen from Philadelphia. The building was demolished in 1986.

    In 1899 Henry G. Morse, a Delaware engineer and president of the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company of Wilmington, chose the Camden site for the New York Shipbuilding Corp. Morse preferred a Staten Island site for the shipbuilding company but was unable to locate there moving to Camden and keeping the name of his favorite area.

    The first keel was laid on Nov. 29, 1900 and over the years more than 500 merchant ships and naval vessels slid down their ways. The battleships Michigan, Oklahoma, Idaho and South Dakota and the liners Excalibur, Exochorda, Exeter and Excambion, known throughout the world as the “Four Aces”, were built there.

    In 1956, the 60-ton Kitty Hawk, one of the largest carriers in the Navy at the time, was the biggest challenge ever taken by the shipyard.

    The yard closed in 1967 and it holdings liquidated. The South Jersey Port Corporation bought the yard in 1970.

    Warren Webster, at one time a leader in steam heating systems, was established in Camden in 1888. The company, at the time, operated with approximately 250 employees, with founder Warren Webster leading the operation as president and general manager. Another 185 people were employed at the company’s branches. The company’s heating systems were installed in thousands of building throughout the United States. The company also did top secret work for the government during World War II.

    The Knox Gelatin Company, which specialized in the production of all types of gelatin that was used in the food, photographic and pharmaceutical industries, started business at 5th and Erie streets, Camden, at the turn of the 20th Century as the Landesman Company. Soon after its founding an interest in the firm was acquired by Maurice Kind, a German-born brewer who emigrated to America in 1898. After his death in 1914, his sons, Paul and Ludwig, took control of the Kind and Landesman firm.

    Paul Kind, a chemistry graduate of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, worked with the chief chemist, Thomas Downer, while Ludwig helped to develop the specialized gelatins produced by the firm. The company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Knox Gelatin in 1955. Knox, whose headquarters was located in Johnstown, N.Y., was sold to the Lipton Tea Company in May 1972.

     J. Eavenson  & Sons soap plant opened in 1906 at Delaware Avenue and Penn Street. The company manufactured soap products for both consumer and industrial uses. At its peak it employed approximately 250 employees. The company went out of business in 1956.

     As the 19th Century grew to a close, Camden became the 44th largest city in the country and was the center of South Jersey life. With all this industry Camden had a new beginning with a new century, but as the 20th Century progressed so did this industry, forcing it to expand and as it outgrew its limited city space it had to look to other areas of the country and state.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist,
can be reached at

The First Automobile In Camden

By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor
with additional notes by Phillip Cohen


    One hundred years ago change was on the horizon and new ideas were in the minds of many as the new century was still in its infant years.

     As the years unfolded the automobile appeared on the scene, but as most of the people resisted change, horsepower and the use of bicycles and public transportation still dominated the scene. 

     A newspaper article printed in the Trenton Evening Times on August 22, 1895 stated that two separate companies in Camden were developing electric cars. Several automobile manufacturing concerns were incorporated in Camden beginning as early as 1899. In 1900 the Camden County Freeholders considered banning automobiles from the streets and roads in the county, which would have effectively killed shore traffic. Fortunately for all this idea went nowhere.

     By June 1 of 1901 Oscar A. Eastlack of Camden had purchased an automobile and was taking part in races in Philadelphia. It is unknown the make and model of what this car was. He later purchased a car manufactured by the Michigan-based Brush company.

     Before the Model T Ford came off the assembly line, automobile manufacturer Alanson P. Brush tried to urge people of modest means to give up horses, bicycles, and streetcars and buy cars. Courier-Post files reveal that the Brush was one of the first cars to appear on the Camden scene in the early 1900s.

     Brush put emphases on small size and lightweight as ways to reduce costs and adapt cars to dirt roads that were bumpy in dry weather and muddy in wet weather. Brush designed an automobile that was low-priced and suited to rural conditions. 

     According to the American Automobile and America on the Move websites, the first Brush built used a single cylinder 12 horsepower engine with chain drive and solid tires. The cost in 1907 was $780.00. But by 1908 competition drove the price down to $500.00 and in 1912 a stripped down version, called the Liberty Brush sold for only $350.00. 

1910 Brush Runabout Model D

     Power was provided to the Brush Runabout by a large single cylinder water-cooled engine. Additional features unique to the Brush automobile was a wooden chassis, actually wooden rails and iron cross-members, friction drive transmission and coil springs in tension instead of compression.

     Oscar A. Eastlack, son of grocery storeowner, Charles F. Eastlack, owned the one-cylinder motor car with a top speed of 20-miles-per-hour. The Eastlack store was located at Broadway and Walnut Street and was called the Charles F. Eastlack & Son Grocery store.  

     Another early Camden auto enthusiast was Dr. Wilson Gill Bailey, who was also the first Camden resident to own an airplane in Camden, and who introduced the Borzoi dog breed into the United States, among other things.

     While Eastlack may have been the first to own a car in Camden, Jeffery M. Dorwart says in his book Camden County, that Justice Cox Paschall of Pennsauken may have owned the first automobile in the county. In December 1901, Dorwart claims, the clerk of the board of freeholders registered autos in the county and required each motor car to display an official tag and observe a ten-mile speed limit.  

          It was said that Eastlack loved his vintage car, and he called it the “red devil.”  According to early Courier-Post stories it was equipped with large wooden wheels with solid rubber tires. The car lamps were made of brass and burned kerosene. Records show that Eastlack could be seen holding the driving handle as he toured around Camden. He later had it fitted with a steering wheel. They say that men took a tighter hold of their horses’ reins when they saw him coming at a fast 20-miles-per-hour.

    According to eyewitnesses recorded in the Courier-Post pages of history, Eastlack was arrested for speeding on Broadway the very first time he gave his new car a workout. The fine was $20--$1 for each mile. The report stated that “the speed represented an infraction of the law and merited arrest and imposition of a fine on a driver who dared to propel his ‘red devil’ that fast.” Broadway, at the time was largely a residential thorofare with a scattering of stores and markets and was paved with Belgian block.

     Eastlack was reportedly a colorful character in the city at the time. It was said that when he drove around the streets of Camden, people would stop and stare at him and his car as it threw off dirty colored and heavy exhaust smoke, probably created by the use of unrefined grades of machine oil.

     It was estimated that Eastlack paid about $600 for his car and later sold it for $100 to purchased a later model Brush.

      Eastlack was also considered one of Camden’s leading sportsman and was a fine boxer and runner. They say he had a great love of horses and was a familiar figure as he drove about town in a sporty horse and buggy. Records even claim that the buggy was manufactured at the old McCaffrey carriage factory that was located at 10th and Market streets. But he retained his love for fine horses even after he became a pioneer automobile enthusiast.

      After Charles Eastlack retired his son carried on the business for many years and eventually turned it into Camden’s finest and most modern confectionery and ice cream business. Oscar eventually quit the business and became a distributor of motor trucks.

     April of 1902 saw the first many automobile trips to Atlantic City from Camden that would be reported that year. 

     The earliest automobile accident known as of this writing in Camden took place in September of 1902 when well-known letter carrier Harry Reir, his wife, son and sister were thrown from his newly-purchased car on Market Street. The four were treated for cuts and bruises. 

     On April 1, 1908 Samuel Bailey, a principal in one of Camden's oldeest and largest manufacturing firms, the Farr & Bailey oilcloth works, was killed when his automobile, a White steamer, was struck by a train at Mays Landing, New Jersey.

     Dorwart says in his book that by 1906 there were 1,275 automobiles registered in Camden County and probably many more unregistered ones. By 1915, he reported,  Camden City housed dealerships for Hupmobile, Ford, Buick, Overland, Flanders, Studebaker and Cadillac.

Thomas A. Bergbauer, a retired journalist,
can be reached at

In the '30s, they danced on a Cooper River barge

By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor

Roy Steele



In this 1955 photo, workmen remove portions of the sunken barge

The Founding of Cooper Hospital

By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor

Dr. Richard M. Cooper always dreamed of a hospital for Camden, but he never lived to see his dream come true.

Cooper and his twin brother, William D., were born on August 30, 1816. Fraternal twins, they did not look alike. They were direct descendants of William and Margaret Cooper, who first settled in Camden in 1681.

According to Cooper Hospital archives, the brothers attended the University of Pennsylvania, Richard studying medicine and William, law. The 23-year-olds graduated in 1839. Richard lived with his twin brother and two sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah in the home their father built at 121 Cooper St. The four never married. There were three other sisters, Caroline, Abigail and Mary and another brother, Alexander.

During the 1800s Camden was never free from contagious diseases, according to hospital records. The city suffered cholera epidemics in 1832, 1849 and 1854. There were outbreaks of smallpox in 1871 and again in 1880 and 1881, which were followed by an epidemic of typhus fever. With no hospitals to care for the sick, doctors had to treat their patients at home.
Camden was in critical need of some kind of organized medical center and Richard always saw a need for a hospital and in the 1870s revealed his plans for an institution.

Unfortunately death came before the hospital. Richard Cooper died on May 24, 1874 at the age of 57. He left no bequest for a hospital. However, his survivors were determined to keep his dream alive and William appealed to the state legislature requesting an act of incorporation be approved to establish The Camden Hospital. 

But on February 17, 1875, William died at the age of 58 and despite the deaths of Richard and William the remaining family members worked to keep the plans for the hospital alive.

On April 7, 1875 an act of incorporation for the hospital was adopted. The group elected Alexander Cooper, brother of Richard and William, president and John W. Wright, a nephew, secretary-treasurer. The family donated five acres for the hospital which was bounded by Mickle, Benson, 6th and 7th streets that also included Steven Streets, which ran through the property.

On March 16, 1877 the state approved a name change to Cooper Hospital and on Nov. 5, 1877 construction was completed. But the hospital did not open. Records show the board declared there was not enough funds to begin operations. Finally, 10 years later with $185,000, the doors opened on August 8, 1887. 

While Cooper was the first hospital to be built in the city it was not the first to open. The Camden Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary Association opened on March 2, 1885 at 4th and Arch streets, which later changed its name to West Jersey Homeopathic Dispensary and Hospital Association-- today’s Virtua Health System. West Jersey’s present facility at Mount Ephraim and Atlantic avenues was constructed in 1912.

Thomas A. Bergbauer is a retired Courier-Post copy editor
  and freelance writer, can be reached at

President Coolidge Opens The Bridge

By Thomas A. Bergbauer
Retired Courier-Post Editor


In July 2001, with plenty of fanfare, fireworks and fun, the Delaware River Port Authority celebrated the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

But 75 years earlier on July 5 there was another celebration at the bridge. At that time the brand new Delaware River Bridge was the subject of news for weeks.

During the July 1 opening gala in 1926 an important person was missing from the festivities and did not arrive until four days later. But, better late than never, President Calvin Coolidge showed up on July 5 to dedicate the longest suspension bridge (at that time) in the world. 

Coolidge became our 30th president on Aug. 3, 1923, the day after William G. Harding suddenly died. He was sworn in by his father, John, a notary public, in a simple ceremony at 2:30 that morning in Plymouth, Vt. But the swearing in had to be repeated by a Federal judge to make it official. 

His taciturn and often wry Yankee demeanor made him popular. Often known as “Silent Cal” he was the butt of jokes for his brief utterances. Coolidge was re-elected in 1924, but in 1928 he announced “I do not choose to run” and settled into quiet retirement until his death in 1933.

According to Benjamin Franklin Bridge historian Walter S. Andariese, Coolidge arrived at the foot of the Philadelphia side of the bridge about 3:30 that afternoon after addressing the Sesquicentennial Exposition in the city of Brotherly Love.

It was on a Monday and the end of the long holiday weekend. The day was a rainy one, but despite the inclement weather and estimated 30,000 people ringed the Camden bridge plaza to witness an historic event that only lasted a few minutes.

Andariese gives an on-the-scene description of the developments of that day. He writes that the bridge was closed at 3:20 p.m. and soldiers lined the roadway. Shortly after 3:30 the president’s motorcade started up the Philadelphia approach under full escort. The procession halted in mid span for an exchange of state officials and escorts. The motorcade then proceeded towards Camden with New Jersey’s Essex Troop B (102nd Calvary), troops of the 114th Infantry and 30 motorcycle policeman.

As the limousine left the bridge on the Camden side members of the 112th Field Artillery fired a 21-gun salute and Coolidge’s auto continued across the plaza to where a tree was to be planted.

The president stepped from the automobile, but due to the heavy rain Mrs. Coolidge chose to remain in the car. Sergeant Charles Wilson of the bridge police offered his raincoat to the president and Coolidge accepted it and set to work planting the tree. 

After the tree, a Vermont Maple from the president’s home state, was planted, Andariese says in his history, the man of few words, was heard to utter, “This is the kind of work I like.” But others say the president said nothing and only smiled at the crowd.

As the chief executive finished shoveling, a policeman presented Mrs. Coolidge with a bouquet of flowers that was supposed to be given by a delegation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but did not because of the bad weather. After the ceremonies Coolidge returned to his car, which sped off, back across the bridge amidst another artillery salute.

Andariese relates that Coolidge took off without returning the raincoat to the police sergeant and that two other officers were injured during the celebration when they were brushed by two cavalry horses.

By evening it was business as usual as an estimated 60,000 cars returned from the Jersey shore crowding not only the new bridge but also packing the ferries.

Thomas A. Bergbauer is a retired Courier-Post copy editor
 and freelance writer, can be reached at

Dudley Grange

By Thomas A. Bergbauer, Retired Courier-Post Editor

One of Camden’s many parks is Dudley Grange and at one time the old Dudley mansion once stood on its grounds like a proud old lady. It was demolished in 1980, the victim of vandals and finally an arsonist.

The mansion was built in 1871 by Thomas H. Dudley, onetime consul to Liverpool during the Civil War. Dudley, who represented the U.S. from 1861 to 1871, built the three-story, 23-room Victorian brownstone mansion as a summer home in the center of a beautiful park. His winter home was in Philadelphia. 

According to historical records, he paid $26, 880 in cash to have the house built. Along with the mansion Dudley built outbuildings, including a stable, barn, carriage and coachman’s houses and servants quarters.

The 20+ acre East Camden tract at one time hosted and entertained horticulturists with a wide variety of flowers, bushes and trees and drew many different species of birds. Its winding, criss-crossing paths, flanked by park benches, were a comfort for all who visited the onetime city oasis.

When Dudley went to Europe in 1861, he took his son, Edward, who was born in 1849. Edward returned from England in 1866 after studying at the Royal Institute and entered Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard in 1870 and returned to Europe until 1871. Edward studied law under Peter L. Voorhees and was admitted to the bar in 1874. He took over the mansion after his father’s death.

The interior of the mansion was a tribute to excellence. It boasted 12-foot ceilings, 9-inch brick walls, copper sinks with silver plated spigots in the butler’s pantry, built-in closets and cupboards, a stained-glass skylight over the billiard room and greenhouse, double black walnut staircases, a library, drawing room and locks on all entrances to the wine cellar. A shower and water closet was also constructed in the backyard for servants.

When Victor King was mayor of Camden between 1923 and 1927 he persuaded the city to buy Dudley Grange from the Dudley estate for $124,600 and in 1927 the park was re-named the Victor King Park. But in 1929 the city commission re-christened it Dudley Grange Park. 

Before its demise the building housed the East Camden branch of the city’s library since the 1930s, but the library had to vacate around 1978 due to increased fuel costs and continued vandalism. 

Thomas A. Bergbauer is a retired Courier-Post copy editor
  and freelance writer, can be reached at