William J. Sewell School

Sewell School, Camden, NJ

700 North Seventh Street

Northeast Corner of North 7th & Vine Streets

The William Joyce Sewell School was built as an outcome of a July 1902 decision of the Camden Board of Education that a new school, designed by architect Arnold H. Moses, be built on the northeast corner of North 7th and Vine Streets, opposite the Northeast Public School. After several attempts to redesign the school in order to lower construction costs, the Board awarded a contract to Henderson & Company in the amount of $35,725 and named the new school after the recently deceased General William Joyce Sewell, who also had served two terms as a United States Senator from New Jersey. The Sewell School opened in September of 2007.

William Joyce Sewell, born in Ireland on December 6, 1835, became an orphan at a young age, and moved to the United States in 1851. At the start of the Civil War, the Governor commissioned him a Captain, and he raised Company C, 5th New Jersey Volunteers. He distinguished himself in the Battles of Bull Run and Chancellorsville,and won a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1896, for assuming command of a brigade at Chancellorsville. He rallied a group of men around his colors from other regiments, and fought the Confederate troops with great brilliance through several hours of desperate conflict. Though wounded, he remained in command, inspiring them by his presence, and the gallantry of his personal example. Sewell also participated in the Gettysburg and Wilderness Campaigns. He left the military in July 1865 as a Brevet Brigadier General. After the war, he became a railroad executive, a power broker in New Jersey politics, served in the New Jersey State Senate from 1872 to 1880, and was President Pro Tem of that body during his last four years there. From 1876 to 1881, and again,from 1895 to his death, on December 27, 1901, he served New Jersey as a U.S. Senator. His colleagues called him a person of “unquestioned capacity, courage, loyalty, and integrity.” Sewell is buried in Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery at 1640 Haddon Avenue.

As stated above, the Sewell School was on the opposite corner of North 7th and Vine Streets from the Northeast Public School, which stood on the southwest corner. The Northeast School, originally called the the North East School, was completed in 1880 and was designed for 530 pupils.

Between 1890 and 1900 the population of Camden nearly tripled. School construction, however did not occur until the 1900s, by while time the existing schools were not only overcrowded, but in a state of disrepair.When the Sewell School opened, the male students from Northeast were sent to the new Sewell. This arrangement stayed in place for many years, girls going to Northeast, boys attending Sewell.

The Sewell school opened in September of 1907. At this time the boys went across the street to the Sewell School, with the girls remaining at Northeast.

Frank S. Wilson was the principal of the Sewell School in 1914. Ralph H. Parker was the principal of the Sewell School in 1918 and 1919. He was made principal of the Continuation School, which was located in the old Mount Vernon Street School building, in September of 1920. Horace B. Hand was principal in the mid-1920s, according o the 1924 and 1927 city directories. Mark Messinger was principal of the Sewell School by 1929. Toward the end of the 1929-1930 school year he was transferred to Cramer Junior High School in East Camden. L. Alvin Delp was made principal of the Sewell School, a post he held through at least 1947.

The Northeast and Sewell Schools had separate principals until at least June of 1933,when Miss Margaret Thomson retired from her longtime position as principal of Northeast School in 1916. L. Alvin Delp was the principal of both schools by 1947.

The Sewell School was still serving the students of North Camden as an independent school as late as 1977. In later years it was administered as an annex of the the Rafael Cordero Molina Elementary School at 601 Vine Street. The Sewell School building is still standing in 2024.


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