East Camden Firehouse-05/03/03

Originally a part of Stockton Township, the area that is now known as East Camden was merged into Camden proper in 1899 along with the neighborhood now known as Cramer Hill. It included the villages of Wrightsville, Stockton, and Rosedale, which lay along Federal Street. The area was served by the Pavonia Railroad Station, located along the railroad line at 27th Street. The East Camden and Cramer Hill area is border by the Cooper and Delaware Rivers, and Pennsauken Township.

Stockton Township had a large park that lay a block south of Federal Street and Marlton Avenue. This park, originally known as Stockton Park, had a long and varied history, and over the years has served as a rifle range, a park, the site of a private zoo, Depression-era family vegetable gardens, and, since 1954, the site of the McGuire Gardens public housing project.

East Camden Growth

Real estate developers such as J. Howard Kirkbride and Alfred Cramer brought large tracts of land, including parts of the Thomas H. Dudley estate, and laid out affordable building lots, which gave the area its residential character. Much of this activity occurred in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Schools built in these times included the Dudley, Garfield, and Cramer Elementary schools. The Cramer School, built in 1913, also served as a junior high school at different times.

Leon Todd developed the neighborhood between Westfield and Rosedale Avenues, along the railroad tracks that bordered the Dudley estate, below North 33rd Street in the mid 1920s. Both Todd and J. Howard Kirkbride built homes in both Stockton/East Camden and Pennsauken Townships, and if it wasn’t for municipal street signs one would not know where East Camden end and the Pennsauken neighborhoods begin, especially in the area near 36th Street and Camden Avenue. The Octavius Catto School was built in late 1920’s for black children, as Camden’s Elementary schools were then segregated. The segregation of the elementary schools defied even the logic of those times, as the upper grades had always been integrated.

A similar development to the Westfield and Rosedale Avenues project was built between Federal Street and Crescent Boulevard (then State Highway 25, later US Route 130) along Terrace Avenue around the same time. The growth in East Camden caused the city to build Woodrow Wilson High School on Federal Street across from Dudley Grange in the early 1930s. The Federal government stepped in during the Depression, building the Westfield Acres homes at Westfield and Rosedale Avenues, with the first families moving in in 1938, and the Henry H. Davis Elementary School was built as a companion to this site.

More development occurred when Baird Boulevard was linked to Federal Street, and another period of building activity occurred immediately before and after World War II, ending in the 1950s. Another public housing project, the Peter J. McGuire Gardens, was built in the early 1950s, on the site of the old Stockton Park. The new Francis X. McGraw Elementary School, named for Congressional Medal of Honor awardee Francis X. McGraw, was also built during this period, at Dudley and Fremont Streets.

Industrial development occurred along the railroad tracks. One of the largest facilities was a warehouse at North 36th and Pleasant Street that was used for many years by the Campbell Soup Company.

Decline of East Camden

During the 1960s and 1970s, as the economic fortunes of Camden declined, so did new construction. A new junior high school was built adjacent to the McGraw School on Dudley, this school was simply known as East Camden Middle School. Two high rise apartment buildings, Westfield Towers and John F. Kennedy Towers, were built adjacent to the two public housing sites during this time.

East Camden has seen its ups and downs. For years it was one of Camden’s more prosperous and stable areas, until being ravaged by drugs, poverty, and political corruption in the the 1980s and 1990s. The neighborhood is currently undergoing a rebirth, in great part through the efforts of the Housing Authority of the City of Camden and the St. Joseph’s Carpenters Society, and an influx of Asian and Mexican immigrants who have opened up many small businesses in the area.

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