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, crisscrossing 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.