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.
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.