Effort to restore Camden’s oldest house gets a $500,000 federal boost

CAMDEN — The Benjamin Cooper House still looks about the same as it did in January of last year, when a group of state, county and city officials toured Lot 1, Block 1, the first charted parcel in the City of Camden. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s been no progress in the effort to turn the derelict, yet historically significant, house into a museum commemorating South Jersey’s role in the American Revolution.

Last week, those efforts got a $500,000 boost, as U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a Camden resident, announced the funds would be part of a $4.3 million federal infusion for community projects in the region that also includes money for Rowan University, Cooper University Healthcare, Garden State Equality, Volunteers of America, Camden County Police and others.

Originally built in 1734 by Benjamin Cooper — grandson of William Cooper, a founder of Camden and friend of William Penn — the house was a tavern and stopover for travelers along the Delaware, who used ferries to go from Camden to Philadelphia, New York and other destinations. It was occupied by British troops in 1777-78, when that part of Camden was still called Cooper’s Ferry; its second story and an attic were added in the 1780s, historians believe.

It remained a tavern and leisure destination throughout the 19th century; Mathis Shipyard used it for its offices from the early 1900s until it moved to Annapolis, Maryland in the 1960s. 

The house, privately owned for most of its long history, was vacant except for squatters from the 1980s until 2012. On Thanksgiving Day 2012, a fire tore through the house’s roof, exposing it to the elements; Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, now called Camden Community Partnership, eventually got a grant to secure the roof and the building.

“We’ll have construction plans done next month for the first phase, and exterior masonry and stabilizing of the interior floors will be done later this year,” said Jack O’Byrne, executive director of the Camden County Historical Society, which is leading the restoration efforts.

O’Byrne added that the $500,000 now brings total funds secured for the estimated $3 million project to $900,000; he’s applying for a matching grant through the New Jersey Historic Trust that would bring another $750,000 in funding.

Other allocations from the Funding for the People Act (H.R. 2471), an omnibus package of 12 fiscal year 2022 appropriations bills and supplemental funding:

  • Volunteers of America Delaware Valley ($500,000): to increase telehealth capacity at four Camden and Gloucester county shelter programs for homeless men, women, children, and veterans to access necessary health care, mental health, and substance use services; 
  • Camden County Police Department ($500,000): to install a citywide camera network to pinpoint the areas of the City of Camden where illegal dumping is a chronic issue;
  • Acenda Integrated Health ($300,000): to launch a community-level network to identify residents at most risk for food insecurity and health-related issues, providing kiosks in locations across the three counties as well as an online link accessible via smartphones to provide direct access to health screening tools that will be available in multiple languages;
  • Center for Family Services ($600,000): to support Center for Family Services’ community outreach, workforce development, and training and counseling and providing funding for capital rehabilitation of existing owned property where CFS provides services;
  • Rowan University ($500,000): to support a wind energy workforce training program, developing pathways from pre-apprenticeship to Ph.D. in related trades and science and technology fields at an affordable cost through jointly developed four-year programs in shared facilities across the campuses;
  • Jewish Federation of South Jersey ($250,000): to educate seniors on the use of technology to help them meet basic needs, communicate, socialize, and maintain their health remotely; and to provide support to those aging in place;
  • Garden State Equality ($175,000): to educate and empower South Jersey residents to address adverse childhood experiences through a self-healing community model focused on education, social support, stress reduction strategies, and resilience and provide funding for continued education and services to combat adverse childhood experiences;
  • Cooper University Health Care ($500,000): to support integrating military and civilian trauma care systems to achieve zero preventable deaths after injury by providing funding for capital field hospital equipment, including anesthesia machines, defibrillators, EKG machines, electrosurgical generator systems, portable x-ray machines, and ventilators;
  • Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors ($500,000): to advance collaborative research projects that use public health, population health, or population medicine to directly improve health outcomes and provide capital equipment such as a super-resolution microscope to advance medical research and stimulation equipment for nursing students

Source: https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/2022/03/17/federal-funds-help-restore-camden-oldest-house-museum-benjamin-cooper-house-historic-preservation/7046935001/?fbclid=IwAR1bRybWYApRi9Fp7_WZY1WmQHCz9cY6mS83NyNagIjd3iK-KfoFMPxW9-I#l0v08tq9jfh988gbaj