JESSE W. STARR was born in Philadelphia of Quaker parents around 1809. He went to work for his father, Moses Starr, and by the mid 1830s the two were partners in a steam boiler business. His younger brother John F. Starr would join them as an apprentice in 1834, becoming a partner in 1840. In the early 1840s the Starrs were built three iron steam boats, the Conestoga, the Independence, and the Ida.
The Starr brothers had come to Camden by 1845. That year, John F. Starr who had previously leased the iron foundry of Elias Kaighn at the foot of Stevens Street, built the Camden Iron Works on Bridge Avenue. for, as Prowell wrote in 1885, "the manufacture of gas machinery, street mains, and other castings." The foundry was named the Camden Iron Works, and would remain a presence in Camden past 1900. Jesse Starr became a partner in the business in 1846, and as J.W. & J.F. Starr, and another facility was built on Bridge avenue below Second Street. This was a three story building, originally used as a hardware store, and known for many years as Starr's Hall. The Starr brothers' business grew to the point that the brothers purchased from the estate of Richard M. Cooper land north of Line Street along Cooper's Creek to build a new and enlarged foundry. This complex was completed in 1849. The Camden Iron Works Company was incorporated March 21, 1866 with a capital of $300,000. The Starr brothers controlled practically all the stock. The Camden Iron Works became the largest such business in North America, furnishing the gas machinery and building the gas works for most of the large cities in the United States and Canada. During the late 1850s and early 1860s former Camden mayor James W. Shroff worked for the Starr brothers.
John F. Starr was elected to Congress in 1862 and served through 1866. During this period he also was named a director of the Farmer's and Mechanics Bank of Camden, which soon was renamed the First National Bank of Camden. Banking would soon require all of his attention, and on December 1, 1868 the firm of J.W. & J.F. Starr was succeeded by Jesse W. Starr & Sons, the firm including Jesse W. Starr, his son Benjamin A. Starr, and brother-in-law Benjamin F. Archer.
Jesse W. Starr had married in the 1830s, and his wife Sarah Ann bore their first child, Benjamin A. Starr, in 1836. Daughters Catherine and Sarah came, the latter born in 1843; after which the family came to Camden NJ. Four more children would be born before Sarah Ann passed away in the mid-1850s. The children, born in Camden, were Jesse W. Jr., in 1846; Mary Ann, 1848; Elizabeth, 1851; and Rebecca, born in 1854. Jesse W. Starr Sr. was again married, in Camden on January 14, 1858, to Emeline Archer, older sister of Benjamin F. Archer.
In 1870 Jesse W. Starr & Sons purchased the foundry of the bankrupt Camden Rolling Mills Company, at the head of Third Street. The rolling mill, used for the manufacture of bar iron, had been one of the larger industries in Camden prior to an 1867 fire and the death of founder J.W. Middleton. The Jesse W. Starr & Sons Co. Inc., later sold the rolling mill and its attached property to businessmen from Philadelphia.
In 1871 Jesse W. Starr contacted the committee of City Council appointed to select a site for a new City Hall in order to donate four and one half acres of land along Haddon Avenue south of Mickle Street for that purpose. Among the conditions attached to the donation were the following:
1. That the erection of a City Hall should begin thereon within three years and completed within five years;
2. That the ground should always be used for a City Hall and public park and if it should cease to be so used it was to revert to him or his heirs.
As this site was outside of the what was then the developed part of Camden, there was great controversy as to weather to build a new City Hall at this location. The issue was not settled until 1874. On July 2, 1874, Mr. Starr also gave the city the ground upon which the Soldier's Monument now stands. Camden's City Hall was built by Enoch Allen Ward, and completed in 1875. This building would serve as Camden's seat of government until the present building's dedication in 1931. On December 20, 1883, the City of Camden wishing to own the Haddon Avenue site free of all conditions paid Jesse W. Starr $10, 813.19 for an absolute conveyance.
The Camden Insurance Safe Deposit & Trust Company was chartered by an act of the Legislature, approved April 4, 1873, and the subscription book was opened May 31, 1873, at Parson's Hotel, Front and Federal Streets, which was owned and operated by Stephen Parsons. Jesse W. Starr was the first president, followed in succession by James B. Dayton, Peter L. Voorhees, William C. Dayton, Alexander C. Wood, Edward L. Farr, and Ephraim Tomlinson. In 1938 the bank shortened its name again to that of Camden Trust. By the time it celebrated its 75th Anniversary, in 1948, it was the largest bank in South Jersey, and seventh largest in the state.
Very involved in the civic life of Camden, Jesse W. Starr was, in April of 1865, one of the founders of The Camden Home For Friendless Children, which was located for over 90 years at Haddon Avenue, above Mount Vernon. During the 1850s Jesse W. Starr gave the Catholics of Camden the use of Starr's Hall, until they could build their first church on the southeast corner of Fifth and Taylor Avenue, in 1859. Starr's Hall stood on Bridge Avenue, below Second Street, and was demolished to make room for the Pennsylvania Railroad yard.
The Starr brothers built homes near the foundry, John F. Starr making his home at 1115 Line Street, and Jesse W. Starr Sr. residing on Newton Avenue at the time of the 1880 census. John F. Starr moved to 521 Linden Street, one of the then new Linden Terrace homes, in the mid 1880s.
Jesse W. Starr met with some financial difficulties in his later years. In 1883 the control of the Camden Iron Works was secured by R.D. Wood & Company who conducted the business until 1920. In 1923 much of the property was purchased by the city for a Civic Center. One of the large buildings was remodeled as a Convention Hall and was opened in the latter part of 1925. The land on which the old Camden Iron Works lay has became headquarters of the Campbell Soup Company in the latter half of the 20th century.
Jesse W. Starr passed away on February 27, 1886 in Camden NJ. The Jesse W. Starr Elementary School at 821 Pine Street, which in recent years has been converted into an apartment house, was named for him. The section of Mount Ephraim Avenue that runs parallel to Newton Avenue, was known in past years as Starr Avenue.
1914 Map of Camden NJ
Starr Avenue and the Camden Iron Worls are visible along the Cooper River
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