A Future Role

Historic preservation efforts in Camden include the Benjamin Cooper House and American Revolution Museum.

by Vince Farinaccio

Earlier this century, it could be said that the fate of the Benjamin Cooper House, Camden’s Colonial landmark that had weathered the American Revolution, remained undetermined. Privately owned and no longer housing business offices as it had in the previous century, the structure spent the last 15 years precariously walking a tightrope for its survival.

In 2013, the preservationnj.org website reported that six years earlier “the Camden-based non-profit Save Our Waterfront, working with area stakeholders, published a North Camden Neighborhood Plan that prioritized rehabilitation of the Benjamin Cooper House.” The building, according to a Courier Post article earlier this year, “was vacant except for squatters from the 1980s until 2012” when, “on Thanksgiving Day… a fire tore through the house’s roof, exposing it to the elements…”

The damage to the house prompted action from the owner who, the preservationnj.org website explained, signed an agreement with the non-profit Cooper’s Ferry Association, “which assumed the responsibility of applying for a recently awarded grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust to fund a desperately needed stabilization plan for the house.”

Along with the grant application, a tarp was placed on the building in 2013, but the website noted that the structure was “badly in need of a future rescue plan beyond the short-term immediate stabilization for which planning is currently in the works.” It appears that another six years passed before a 2019 grant provided funding for a Historic Preservation Plan that, according to the State of New Jersey website, included a Heritage Tourism Assessment.

Two years later, a virtual public meeting was held to announce a preliminary plan for the future of the Benjamin Cooper House. At the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Trenton architectural firm of Clark Caton Hintz had developed the plan, which “envisions restoring and transforming the long-vacant, fire-damaged structure and its later additions into the ‘American Revolution Museum of South Jersey.’ ”

It was also announced that the former home of the Cooper family would also serve as part of “the proposed Camden Waterfront Trail that will connect with the Cross Camden County trail and the Philadelphia region’s Circuit Trailsystem.”

The Inquirer reported that the cost of the project was estimated at $2.5 million and would include the eventual purchase of the structure. Additional grants, it was explained, “could be matched by the New Jersey Historic Trust Capital Preservation Program. Federal American Battlefield Land Acquisition Program funds could also help with the purchase…”

In 2022, the new estimate for the project had reached $3 million, seemingly creating a further challenge to its completion. But by March, the effort was aided by what the Courier Post called “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.” As of the announcement, $900,000 had been reportedly raised for the project and an application for additional grant money was expected to bring in an additional $750,000.

So, what can New Jersey residents expect from a refurbished Benjamin Cooper House? The proposed American Revolution Museum, according to the Inquirer, “would highlight wartime events in and around the house as well as related skirmishes and troop movements along Kings Highway in nearby towns such as Haddonfield, and the Battle of Fort Mercer…” The facility would also contain space for public events.

And the Cross Camden County trail? The Courier Post explains that the American Revolution Museum would “serve as a trailhead for the Camden County Greenway, a 33-mile bike, running and walking trail that would go from Camden to Winslow.”

But New Jersey residents and out-of-state visitors will have to wait a few years for all of this to be available. At the moment, the opening date is appropriately planned for July 2026 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the declaration of America’s independence.

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