Vintage Photos of the Central Camden Waterfront

1808 illustration of Philadelphia - Camden horse ferry

This post is copied from, or based on, the writings of Rick Grenda in his Facebook Group, About South Jersey.

In the beginning Camden was just settlement of a few farms and a couple ferries to and from Philadelphia run by the Cooper Family. Before it was named Camden it was mostly just called Cooper Ferry. The Upper Ferry was at Cooper’s Point (about where the Riverfront Prison was just north of the Ben Franklin) and the Lower Ferry was at the roads that led to Burlington and interior settlements like the Newton Colony. It was at the end of what was later named Market St.

The first ferries were just small sailboats or flat bottom boats that were propelled by rowing or pushing with a pole. Crossing were dangerous when the currents were strong, especially after heavy rains or when there was ice. The operators tried to schedule crossing at the point of high or low tide when the current was calmer.

The first mechanical propelled ferries were powered by horse. Horses would walk or trot on a circular turntable or a treadmill that was connected to a paddle-wheel (see illustrations). Then in the early 1800’s steam engines began to power the paddle-wheel and soon propeller driven boats. Soon there were 3 ferry companies running many ferry boats. As it became safer, quicker and easier to cross, Camden and other towns in South Jersey grew. The railroads arrived in the mid 1800’s, connected with the ferries and by the late 1800’s South Jersey was booming

The Ferry at the foot of Market St was the most popular. It went thru a series of owner/operators and finally became the West Jersey Ferry. A large hotel was built there, first called the Parson House, then the West Jersey Hotel and finally the Ridgeway House. (See illustrations). Around 1890 the Pennsylvania took control of the West Jersey Ferry and replaced it with a huge ferry house and railroad yard at the foot of Federal St. Ferry service there continued until 1952 with the last crossing of the ferry boat “Haddonfield” from [Philadelphia] to Camden.

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