Samuel S. Elfreth

Samuel S Elfreth

Samuel S. Elfreth came into the world on August 13, 1845, born at 109 North 2nd Street in Camden, NJ, into the family of Samuel D. and Martha Elfreth. Positioned as the middle son between Jeremiah and Charles Elfreth, his father’s thriving blacksmithing business in Camden and volunteer role with the Perseverance Fire Company in the 1820s seemed to foretell Samuel S. Elfreth’s future career. After completing his education in Camden, he spent two years as a machinist before entering the sash and blind trade at the age of eighteen.

In 1865, when Camden’s firefighting force was still an all-volunteer entity, Samuel S. Elfreth became involved, serving until the volunteers were disbanded in 1869. In 1871, he joined the country’s first paid fire department, initially serving as an extra hoseman in Engine Company No. 2, later replacing Abraham Bradshaw in the wake of Bradshaw’s removal on May 16th. However, Samuel S. Elfreth himself was removed from service on December 5, 1871. He returned in 1873, ascending to the role of Foreman (equivalent to today’s Captain) of Engine Company 2 until the spring of 1876. Notably, he did not serve during Claudius W. Bradshaw‘s tenure as Chief of the department.

Elected Chief in 1879, succeeding Claudius W. Bradshaw, who went on to become Camden’s Mayor, Samuel S. Elfreth embarked on a distinguished career. He served three-year terms as Chief from 1879 to 1882, 1885 to 1888, and 1891 until his retirement in 1913, totaling an impressive 28 years —the longest tenure in that capacity in Camden. His commitment to leadership extended beyond elected terms, continuing until the Chief position ceased to be elective.

In 1870, Samuel S. Elfreth married Kate Baker, and they resided at 109 North 2nd Street, where he was born. The union bore at least one child, a daughter named Fannie, who later married Rollo R. Jones, rising to the rank of Captain in the Camden Fire Department. The Elfreth family continued to reside at 109 North 2nd Street through at least 1900.

Chief Elfreth answered his last fire alarm at 445 South 5th Street on November 1, 1913, passing the torch to Charles Worthington. By 1920, he had moved to 638 State Street, sharing a residence with his daughter, son-in-law Rollo R. Jones, and a granddaughter. Samuel S. Elfreth peacefully departed this world due to natural causes on July 16, 1927.

A member of the New Jersey Fireman’s Association, Samuel S. Elfreth also held the position of Sachem in the Wyoming Tribe, No. 55, Improved Order of Red Men in Camden. His legacy endured through his remarkable service to the community and his enduring impact on the Camden Fire Department.


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