Admiral Wilson Boulevard

Admiral Wilson Boulevard looking East from the Baird Boulevard Overpass circa 1958

Admiral Wilson Boulevard, colloquially known as US Route 30, holds a rich history and a complex reputation in South Jersey. Spanning from the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to the Airport Circle, this thoroughfare has been both famous and infamous at different periods. The boulevard is named after Admiral Henry Braid Wilson Jr., a distinguished naval hero in World War I, and a proud native of Camden. His father, Henry B. Wilson Sr., a notable figure in the city, was honored with the H.B. Wilson School at 7th and Florence Street.

Originally designated as Bridge Boulevard, the road was intended to connect with Bridge Avenue, an older street that has since vanished from the maps. The name change to Admiral Wilson Boulevard was informally embraced by travelers following Camden’s Armistice Day ceremonies on November 11, 1929. Despite this popular usage, the change was not officially authorized until 1937, during Mayor Winfield Price’s administration.

The south side of the boulevard was originally planned to be parkland, offering motorists scenic views of the Cooper River, Camden High School, and various city and county parks across the riverbank. However, this vision was replaced by commercial development, driven by the Sears-Roebuck Company’s decision to locate on the boulevard instead of downtown Camden. The construction of Sears’ modern building at Admiral Wilson Boulevard and Mount Ephraim Avenue in 1927 marked a significant milestone in the boulevard’s history.

In the mid-1930s, Commissioner Frank J. Hartmann Jr. initiated a push to rezone the boulevard in Camden, paving the way for commercial development. By the late 1930s, a thriving business district had emerged along the boulevard in both Camden and Pennsauken Township.

The post-World War II era witnessed a surge in businesses along the boulevard, including gas stations, car dealerships, bars, motels, and various other enterprises. Despite efforts to improve traffic flow with wider roads, bridges, and ramps, traffic congestion persisted, becoming emblematic of the boulevard.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s, the boulevard’s reputation took a hit due to the presence of bars, motels, and adult establishments, a perception fueled by negative media portrayals. In reality, the adult establishments were limited in number, and the motels, once commercial hubs, became hotspots for illegal activities, notably solicitation by prostitutes.

In preparation for the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, then New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman implemented a controversial initiative to acquire all commercial properties on the south side of the boulevard east of the Cooper River to create a park. This move led to the demolition of commercial buildings and loss of tax-generating properties for Camden.

Over the years, traffic congestion remains a persistent issue, exacerbated by flooding on the south side of the boulevard during heavy rains and high tide. Despite the challenges, the north side still houses numerous commercial buildings erected before 1960, some of which serve different purposes today.


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