1965-07-07 Cramer Hill. Looking West from about North 24th Street & Howell Street. Photo by Bob Bartosz

Cramer Hill derives its name from Alfred Cramer, who in the late 19th century purchased large tracts of farmland, for the most part between Federal Street and the Delaware River in what was then Stockton Township, subdivided the land into building lots, and sold them on an installment basis to people of average means. This was a new innovation in real estate sales at the time, and proved a great success. He also served as postmaster in the section for fifteen years, running a “Cramer’s Hill” post office from April 24, 1878 to Dec 12, 1893. When he resigned, Charles W. Scott too over as postmaster of “Cramer Hill” from December 12, 1893 to September 30, 1899. After that mail service was then done by Camden.

Originally referred to as Cramer’s Hill, the term Cramer Hill originally referred to the elevation north and west of 27th & Federal Street. Over the years the definition changed, and the term Cramer Hill came to refer to the area that lays northeast of State Street and northwest of the railroad and railroad switching yard that runs parallel to River Avenue. This switching yard is known as the Pavonia Yard. The term Pavonia referred in Alfred Cramer’s time to the area northwest of Federal Street between State and North 27th Street. The old Pavonia railroad station was located at North 27th Street, and Camden’s old City Water Works Reservoir was located in the Pavonia prior to October 3, 1902 when its walls fell. Many thousands of dollars of damage was done to property in the trail of escaping water. Over time the term Pavonia fell into disuse, and by 1980 only the Pavonia House bar, the Pavonia-Hower Coal Company, and the railroad yards still carried the name. By 1990 both the bar and coal company were gone. The railroad yard also expanded greatly in its width forming a division within Cramer’s original landholdings, and the words Cramer Hill arrived at its present meaning.

The main road that runs through Cramer Hill, and where most commercial activity has always taken place is River Avenue, which runs the length of the area between the Delaware and the railroad all the way to the city limits and on all the way up to Burlingtonn NJ. The area is bisected by North 27th Street, and the intersection of North 27th Street and River Avenue is arguably the “heart” of Cramer Hill, with two of the three public schools, the former movie theater, and many of the churches and in earlier times social clubs located centered around the intersection. Along the Delaware River their was commercial activity, as the Noecker, Rickenbach and Ake Shipyard was located at the foot of 27th Street, and many other businesses and factories of different sizes located along the rail line and on River Avenue. A huge plant that made plumbing fixtures was for years just over the city limits along River Avenue in Pennsauken, and a bridge connected Cramer Hill with the oil refinery on Petty’s Island.

A creek called Baldwin’s Run also bisected the area, running parallel to 27th Street north of 30th Street. Over time the creek became what was described in the 1930s as “a mosquito filled swamp” and “a health menace.” Frederick von Nieda, who was Camden’s mayor in the mid-1930s campaigned for almost forty years to have the swamp eliminated. Money for the project was finally appropriated after World War II, and Baldwin’s Run was cleaned up, the project being completed shortly before Mr. von Nieda’s death in February of 1950. The newly created park was named Von Nieda Park in March of 1950 by the Camden County Park Commission.

When Alfred Cramer was originally developing the area along River Avenue, a great many people of German origin purchased lots there, and the area for many years saw a large segment of its populace be of German descent. However, like every other area of Camden, the area was at no time ethnically exclusive. The area was one of the last to integrate housing wise, this due in part to the fact that the population of minority citizens in Camden was far less prior to 1950 than it is today and to the fact that many of the families who established roots in Cramer Hill tended to remain in the area. Separated from downtown Camden by the Cooper River, Cramer Hill did not experience the racial unrest that destroyed downtown Camden in the 1960s and 1970s. The area did suffer economically, however, as the rest of Camden did, when industrial jobs began to leave the city after World War II.

In time, the demographics of Cramer Hill did change. The population is fairly representative of Camden’s ethnic makeup today, although there is a far stronger Hispanic presence there than perhaps on other parts of the city. While the last German-American social club closed its doors in the early 1990s, there remain a few businesses in the area whose roots go back 80 years or more, among them the Lingo Inc. flagpole business, the Crescent Bottling Company, and the L. Schimpf Inc. auto repair shop.

In late 2003 a massive redevelopment plan was proposed for Cramer Hill. The proposal includes the construction of 5000 new homes, and the environmental clean-up of the Harrison Avenue landfill, which is then to be converted into a golf course. While this is in some ways reminiscent of the early 1960s proposal which was successfully battled by the residents of the then economically stable Cramer Hill, this proposal is on much better financial footing, and their was a general consensus throughout the neighborhood that the plan is both necessary and desirable. Unfortunately, some very loud and well-funded “squeaky wheels” managed to derail the project. Sadly, Cramer Hill will not see a comprehensive redevelopment. The neighborhood and the City sadly seems to have been sentenced to 30-40 more years of decay, crime, and misery.

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