The REEVE Family
Building Camden - 1880 to 1930

Another wonderful answer to that question which has many answers: WHO BUILT CAMDEN. Frederick W. Reeve, whose family was very much involved in construction in the city from the 1880s through the 1930s, sent in the following article and photographs.

The REEVE family contribution to building of Camden 1880 to 1930

James Henry Reeve was born in Hilton, Essex County, N.J. on 24 November, 1849. The son of a shoemaker, he had one brother who died at an early age, and several sisters. James acquired his carpentry skills as a young man in South Orange, N.J. (1870 census - Essex County, South Orange page 428). It is suspected that James emigrated to Camden sometime between 1870 and 1880 to pursue work and hone his skills as a carpenter. Although he lived in Camden during the 1870's, his marriage certificate of 1880 lists his address as "Newark".

During this same time, Peter F. Gilman, from Vienna, Kennebec County, Maine, also relocated to Camden to work in the Oil Cloth Works at 7th Street & Kaighn Avenue. According to his obituary "For many years a resident of this city while superintendent of the old oil cloth works at Seventh & Kaighn Avenue for the Boses Bailey estate..." Peter Gilman brought his family, wife Mary Healey and ten children with him, including his eldest surviving daughter, Ella May Gilman.

James H. Reeve
about 31 years old
circa 1880

Click on Image to Enlarge

James and Ella May met sometime during the 1870's and after a courtship, married on 19 September, 1880, in Camden. The marriage was officiated by Willis Reeves (no known relation, although he named one of his sons "Willis" six years later); James was 31 years of age and Ella May was 18. 

James H. Reeve,
carpenter, at right
with co-workers,
Paul (Williamson?)
(?) McQuade

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Working as a  carpenter, James and Ella May started a family at their first recorded residence, 609 Line Street. Over the next 20 years, they had 9 children all boys! They were, in order of birth, Leslie Wellington Reeve, Frederick Gilman Reeve (my grandfather); Willis Hunt Reeve, Albert J. Reeve, Guy Clifford Reeve (later to serve as Mayor of Woodlynne); Walter Irvin Reeve, Robert Kerwick Reeve, Harry Folsom Reeve, and Alonzo Williamson Reeve

According to my father, Albert Leslie Reeve (a union painter out of Camden and a WWII Navy veteran), his father, Frederick and all his brothers were, at some time or other, in the building trades. Leslie Reeve was a general contractor and builder who built the Walt Whitman and Victoria theaters and worked on converging porch-type houses on Broadway into stores. He also worked on court-type apartments in South Woodbury. Leslie's obituary (Camden Courier-Post 16 Nov. 1954) reads as follows, in part: "Leslie W. Reeve, for many years a contractor of the Camden area...Mr. Reeve built the Walt Whitman and Victoria theatres and many other buildings in this area. He was a member of Camden Lodge 111, Loyal Order of Moose..."

Frederick Reeve was a union bricklayer who worked on many large industrial buildings in Camden and did a lot of boiler work and building of ovens for glassworks in the Salem area. He was a member of Bricklayers and Masons Union 7 and the Loyal Order of Moose.

Willis Reeve was a contractor and builder. His obituary (CP 10 Oct. 1972) reads, in part: "...contractor and builder for 5 of Camden's theaters as well as the city's first nickelodeon...the son of James H. Reeve...both were responsible for the construction of the Lyric, Towers, and Princess theaters in Camden as well s the Walt Whitman theater in Pennsauken. The contracting firm was also active in building homes in Camden's Parkside section. A retired crane operator for New York Shipyard..."

Guy Reeve worked as a carpenter with is father during his younger years and then at NY Shipyard.

Robert Reeve worked at NY Shipyard

Harry Reeve worked at Old Victor Talking Machine Co., did some carpentry work and then worked at RCA.

Alonzo Reeve worked for Allen B. Carr Roofing, Woodlynne, during his younger years and then became a cook and chef at hotels in Florida and Maine.

Albert Reeve died at a young age after his clothes caught fire at a bonfire.


1446 Haddon Avenue

The James Reeve Family
is on the porch

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During this 50 year span, according to Camden City directories, James and Ella lived at 609 Line Street (1880-82); 608 Line Street (Partner with John Corbet -carpentry - 1883); 517 Roberts Street (1884-86); 511 South Sixth Street (1887-93); 543 Newton Avenue (1894-95); 614 Pine Street (1896-98); 426 Washington Street (1899-1903); and 1446 Haddon Avenue (1904-14). 

Leslie Reeve &
Frederick G. Reeve
426 Washington Street
about 1906

James H. Reeve
 is looking through window)
 Signs under window reads
"Jas. H. Reeve"
"Carpenter & Builder"

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In 1915, James and Ella moved to their newly constructed home on Evergreen Avenue, Woodlynne.

The obituary in the Suburban Newspaper, 23 January, 1933 read as follows: "James H. Reeve, one of the last of the old school of carpenters and builders in Camden and vicinity, died Saturday at his home at 206 Evergreen Avenue, Woodlynne, from complication of maladies incident to advanced years. He was 83 years old. His widow, Ella Gilman Reeve and eight sons, Leslie W., Fred G., Willis H., Guy C., Walter I., Robert K., Harry F., and Alonzo W. Reeve, most of whom are widely known in the building trades hereabouts. The funeral will take place tomorrow from the place of his son, Councilman Guy Reeve, at 122 Cedar Avenue, Woodlynne, and burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery. Friends may view the body tonight. Mr. Reeve was a native of New Jersey, having been born at Hilton, but most of is life was spent in Camden and for the past 18 years he has lived at Woodlynne, where he was building inspector. He had seen the greater part of Camden built up as a residential city and as a member of the firm of Graw and Reeve, was responsible very largely for the transformation of Broadway into a business thoroughfare. 

1900 Camden City Directory Advertisement

When he started in the building business, Broadway had virtually no stores from Kaighn Avenue to Federal Street and it was most of these dwellings be rebuilt into business places. He was also at one time foreman for John J. Welsh, who likewise was a factor in the great change that came over Broadway in the past 35 years When the movie craze struck the City, and many went into the business by way of the old "nickelodeons", which often meant tearing out a couple of rooms in a dwelling to provide space for the pictures and the spectator, it was Mr. Reeve who did much of that work.

He had been identified with George Holl and Lewis Holl, brothers who built hundreds of dwellings about the City, such as the Holl block and the houses in the tract formerly known as Starr mansion, where Jesse W. Starr, head of the old Starr Iron Factory, later Woods, where Convention Hall is now located, resided. He had been carpentering and building developing from the old days when a house was virtually constructed in the shop during the winter months in readiness for spring, to the present with mostly everything prepared for the mere assembling of frames, doors and other parts. He had been active in his trade until a few years ago. Mr. Reeve was one of the organizers of Local #393, Carpenters and Joiners of America and also of Wyoming Tribe #155 IORM, of which he had been a member for over 55 years. He had been a reader of the Courier and Philadelphia Record from the time there were first published."

James Reeve
and members of the
Wyoming Lodge 155
Improved Order of Red Men

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Frederick W. Reeve
Turnersville, N.J. 08012
4 April, 2005

Fred G. Reeve

1146 Everett Street
About 1918

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Camden Courier-Post January 24, 1933

Pioneer Builder to be Buried From Home of Councilman Reeve

The funeral of James H. Reeve, 83, pioneer builder, who died at his home at 306 Evergreen Avenue, Woodlynne, Saturday, will be held at 3:00 PM tomorrow at the residence of his son, Councilman Guy C. Reeve, 112 Cedar Avenue, Woodlynne. Burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery. 

Mr. Reeve was born at Hilton but spent most of his life in Camden and Woodlynne. He lived in the latter town 18 years, serving as building inspector.  

He was a member, with Joseph R. Graw, in the firm of Graw & Reeve, which transformed residential Broadway into a business section. When he started building there were few stores on Broadway between Kaighn Avenue and Federal Street and his firm played a large part in converting dwellings into business houses.  

At one time he was a foreman for John J. Welsh, who also played a large part in the transformation of the business section 35 years ago. When the nickel theatre craze struck this section 20 years ago he converted many properties into “nickelodeons”.  

He became identified with George and Lewis Holl, who built hundreds of homes in this city. They also built the Holl Block on Broadway between Stevens and Mickle Streets, and a number of houses in the vicinity of the Starr foundry, where the Convention Hall now stands. Mr. Reeve was active in the building trade until a few years ago. 

He was one of the organizers of Local No. 353, Carpenters and Joiners of America. He was also a member of Wyoming Tribe No. 55, Improved Order of Red Men, and Friendship Division No.205, Sons of Temperance.

He is survived by his widow, Ella Gilman Reeve, and seven other sons, Leslie W., Fred G., Willis H., Walter L., Robert K., Harry F., and Alonzo W., a majority of who are identified with the building trade.

Camden NJ - Builders & Contractors