The act that established Camden County required an election to determine the county seat, held on August 12, 1845. Camden won 1062 votes, Gloucester 822, Haddonfield 422, and Mount Ephraim 33, with a total of 2339 votes. However, as no place had received the required majority, a second election was held on April 28, 1846, with a similar outcome. Camden won 963 votes, Mount Ephraim 527, White House 328, Chews Landing 98, and there were 98 scattered votes out of 2004 total votes.
A third election took place on June 2, 1846, with Camden winning 1440 votes, Long-a-coming (now Berlin) receiving 1550, and 3 votes scattered, for a total of 2944 votes. Despite Long-a-coming’s victory, legal proceedings and legislation followed, and Long-a-Coming was ultimately denied the county seat. The matter was taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled against Camden, and to the Court of Errors and Appeals, which also ruled against Camden.
In March of 1848, the Legislature directed another election be held for the county seat. The election held on April 7, 1848, had Camden winning 2445 votes, Haddonfield 794, and Long-a-coming 705, with a total of 3944 votes. This result seemed to determine the county seat’s location. However, the Board of Freeholders refused to accept the decision. It was only after the Supreme Court issued a peremptory order that a committee was appointed on December 1, 1851, to choose a site in the city of Camden for the county buildings.
Another controversy emerged with the selection of a site in Camden. John W. Mickle, who played a significant role in the Legislative fight, served as the president of the Federal Street Ferry Company, while Abraham Browning, who led the legal battle, and his brothers had significant investments in the Market Street ferry. There were concerns that the location of the courthouse would heavily influence which ferry people would use. To reach a compromise, the building was ultimately constructed on the closest lot to the river, equidistant between Market and Federal Streets, the two main roads leading to the ferries.
In 1848, the land where the Camden County Court House was built and later became Lit Brothers Department Store and a county office building, located at Broadway and Federal Street, was acquired from Abigail Cooper for a sum of $500.00.
The site for the building of Camden County Court House was chosen based on its strategic position. It was equidistant from both the Market and Federal Streets, and hence, equally accessible to the Market Street Ferry owned by Browning and the Federal Street Ferry, of which John W. Mickle was the president. On August 2, 1852, a contract was awarded to Daniel A. Hall for $26,800 with the condition that the building must be completed by July 1, 1853. The architect Samuel Sloan was appointed for the project. The structure was built using rough cast brick and measured 50 feet by 150 feet. The total cost of the building, including furnishings, was $40,970.79.
In 1875, a one-story brick building was constructed on the Market Street side of the court yard for use by the County Clerk, Surrogate, and Register of Deeds. Later, a second story was added to this building. Then, in 1885, the jail building on the Federal Street side of the court yard was completed, after having been modified from a court house to a jail and back again. While this building is sometimes referred to as the “Second Courthouse,” it is more accurately considered as an add-on to the first courthouse, as exemplified in the April 1906 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
After the county officials moved out of the old Court House on February 2, 1904, it was later demolished to make way for the new building. County Collector Mahlon F. Ivins Sr. was the final official to vacate his office. While the new building was being constructed, the courts convened at City Hall. Interestingly, the workmen tasked with dismantling the old Court House were unable to locate any cornerstone.
The new Courthouse was completed and occupied in 1906, and the two buildings that had been added on for the County Clerk and jail were demolished that year. Over time, more and more Camden County offices moved to the new building until it eventually became the primary location. However, it was later closed down and replaced by a new building, the Lit Brothers Department Store, in the mid-1950’s.
After the Lit Brothers store closed in the early 1970’s due to economic decline, Camden County reoccupied the site and used the old building as its offices for over 30 years. In the 1980’s, the Camden County Hall of Justice was completed on South 4th Street between Mickle and Taylor Streets, and a new county jail was built to its west. The jail fills up the land between Federal and Mickle Street, east of South 3rd, up to the point where the Hall of Justice grounds begin on the Mickle Street side, while land used by the Free Library of the City of Camden begins on the Federal Street side.
Camden County Courthouse
The selection of a site in Camden opened up another controversy: It was believed that the location of the Court House would have a large influence in ferry usage.
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