David Baird Sr. was one of Camden’s leading citizens for well over 50 years. Born in Ireland in on April 7th of 1839, he came to America in 1858 after the death of his father, and settled in Camden the following year. After working in a Philadelphia lumber yard for 13 years, he opened his own business, the David Baird Company, in Camden in 1872 and became quite successful, with lumber operations in eight states and ship’s spar yards in five different cities in the northeast.
David Baird involved himself in politics, and served in a variety of capacities. He was a quite powerful figure in the Republican party which dominated Camden politics at the time. A protege of Civil War hero, Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and United States Senator William Joyce Sewell, he secured contracts to supply poles to string the new telegraph, telephone and electrical lines in Camden and the surrounding area, and timber contracts during the Spanish-American War through Sewell’s patronage. In return, David Baird ran the local Republican organization while Sewell served in Trenton and Washington.
To say David Baird Sr. did quite well during these years would be an understatement. He acquired the home at 804 Cooper Street in the 1890s, the mansion built by real estate developer Edward N. Cohn in the late 1880s. The Baird family would make its home here until October of 1936, when his son David Baird Jr. left Camden for his farm in Delaware Township (present-day Cherry Hill).
David Baird Sr. was the dominant figure in the Camden County Republican party after Sewell’s death. At different times he served as a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Camden County Sheriff, and sat on the New Jersey State Board of Assessors. An unsuccessful Senatorial candidate in 1910, he was appointed to the United States Senate in 1918 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Senator William Hughes, and won a special election in November of that year to serve the remaining two years of that term. He served on the Republican State Committee and was a delegate to the National Conventions in 1888, 1904, and 1916. After returning to Camden from his senatorial service in Washington DC, David Baird continued his involvement in local politics, and was instrumental in the acquisition of 225 Broadway, which served as Republican Party headquarters in Camden from 1923 until 1940.
Besides his lumberyard, David Baird’s business interests included a partnership with Joseph I. Morris of the Morris and Mathis Shipyard and Joseph Tway. The three founded the Tway Steel Forge, which later became the Camden Forge, on Mount Ephraim Avenue. This business provided most of the steel forging for the New York Shipbuilding yards during both World Wars. In 1916, David Baird Sr. was the President of the First National Bank of Camden, and on the Board of Directors of the Security Trust Company.
On January 28, 1897 then Sheriff David Baird Sr. was one of several dignitaries who were in attendance at the opening of the Catholic Lyceum, attached to the the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Broadway at Market Street. Other attendees included the-New Jersey Governor John W. Griggs, Mayor John L. Westcott, late Attorney-General Samuel H. Grey, Camden city solicitor J. Willard Morgan, Senator H. W. Johnson, then- Assemblymen Louis Derousse and Scovel, Postmaster Harry B. Paul, ex-Judge Armstrong, Architect Henry S. Dagit, J. J. Burleigh, George A. Frey, and H. L. Bonsall. The Lyceum would evolve into Camden Catholic High School.
David Baird Sr.’s wife, Christianna Beatty Baird, was very involved with the founding and operation of the The Home for the Aged and Infirm of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was originally at 531 York Street before its construction and opening in Collingswood in 1891. Mrs. Baird passed away on August 29, 1897. The Baird’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Baird Fox, then took up her mother’s role as President of the Board of Managers of the Home.
David Baird Sr. served twice as Sheriff of Camden County, from 1887 to 1890 and from 1896 to 1898. While Sheriff in 1887 he appointed his cousin, David Logue to the position of turnkey of the Camden County jail, a post he held until 1906, when he was made warden, serving in that capacity until 1921. Another cousin, Joseph Logue, served from 1894 to 1920 as a firefighter with the Camden Fire Department.
David Baird Sr. passed away at his home, 804 Cooper Street, Camden NJ on February 25, 1927. He was interred at Harleigh Cemetery. His surviving family members included his son David Baird Jr., who also served as a senatorial appointee from New Jersey, and was a dominant figure in South Jersey Republican politics for many years after his father’s passing.
John Leighton Westcott, notable for his tenure as Mayor of Camden from 1892 to 1898, should not be mistaken for John W. Wescott, who served as a judge in Camden for many years starting in 1885.
Reprinted from the series of stories of Camden’s earlier days, under the title Sixty Years in Camden County – Gosh! by Will Paul, appearing in The Community news, of Merchantville, NJ.
Baird Avenue was home to many of Camden’s most distinguished citizens from different backgrounds, including those in business, law, religion, and even organized crime.
David Baird Sr. was one of Camden’s leading citizens for well over 50 years. Born in Ireland in on April 7th of 1839, he came to America in 1858 after the death of his father, and settled in Camden the following year.
The David Baird Company was founded by Irish immigrant David Baird Sr. in 1878. A protege of William Joyce Sewell, David Baird Sr. found a great success in the lumber business, and after Sewell’s death in 1901, led the Republican party in Camden for many years.
William Joyce Sewell was born on December 6, 1835 in Ireland. Orphaned at a young age, he emigrated to the United States in 1851. He was for a time employed in mercantile business in New York City, made several voyages as a sailor on merchant vessels, afterward engaged in business in Chicago, IL. He moved…