Wagner Sr.


HARRY  JACOBS WAGNER SR. served briefly as a member of the Camden Fire Department, then for many years with Camden's water department. He was born on December 15, 1874 in Pennsylvania (probably Philadelphia) to George K. Wagner, a Civil War veteran, and his wife, the former Lydia Jacobs. Sadly George K. Wagner died on August 17, 1875 of heart disease at the young age of 32. The 1880 Census shows Harry and older sister Agnes in the Soldier's Home for Homeless Children, while younger twin brothers Peter and George K. Wagner Jr. were in the Educational Home for Children.   

Harry J. Wagner first appears in City Directories in 1897, working as a blacksmith and living at 843 Bridge Avenue. He married the former Sue G. Smith in Camden on August 23, 1897. She had been married to a man named Kinsey, and had bore a daughter, Ethel Kinsey, in 1892. On March 2, 1898 a son was born, Phillip Beale Wagner. Sue's father William H. Smith, had died in 1886 and her mother, Mrs. Harriet Smith, and enterprising woman with nine mouth to feed and only one adult son to help, became one of the leading "policy" writers in Camden's Ninth Ward, "policy" being the term which is better known in our times as "numbers", i.e., she conducted an illegal lottery. Mrs. smith served a short term in state prison in 1895 before being pardoned. She and at least three of her sons were arrested in 1898 on similar charges, but nothing appears to have come of that. The future Mrs. Wagner had also been arrested in the 1890s on "policy" charges but was never convicted.

The 1899 City Directory shows Harry J. Wagner living at 767 Carman Street. When the Census was taken in 1900, the Wagners were living at 817 Bridge Avenue, next door to Mathias and M. Caroline Hess at 815 Bridge Avenue. The two families would live side by side for over 30 years. Mathias Hess and family had previously lived at 719 Carman Street as far back as 1890, this worth noting in that the Wagner family lived out most of their lives before 1950 on that block.

Harry J. Wagner was appointed to the Camden Fire Department on November 23, 1899. With his wife almost seven months pregnant at the time of his appointment and two other children already home, he appears to have decided that firefighting was not for him, and he resigned on January 18, 1900. He stayed active politically and eventually got a job with the Water Department, where he and Mathias Hess worked side by side for many years.

In February 1, 1900 Sue Smith Wagner gave birth to a son, Harry Jacobs Wagner Jr.  Harry J. Wagner worked for a time as a shoemaker, then as an ironworker. City Directories over the years also list him as a boilermaker, an electrician, an engineer and a pump operator.

By the time the 1903 Camden City directory was compiled, the Wagner family had rented a house at 745 Carman Street, while at 747 Carman lived Mr. and Mrs. Mathias Hess, and a boarder named George C. Wagner, Harry Sr.'s brother (his name is sometimes given as George K. Wagner). Both George and Harry Sr. had their occupations listed as ironworker. 

Harry Wagner Sr.'s brother-in-law Howard Smith was appointed to the Camden Police Department in 1906. During the 1910s brother-in-law Walter Smith became policemen, and brother-in-law Roy A. Smith joined the Camden Fire Department. Brother-in-law Crawford Smith was in and out of the newspapers for one thing or another until his passing in 1941. Of the other two brothers-in-law, Clarence Smith was killed in an industrial accident in 1907, and William H. "Harry" Smith worked in Camden and Philadelphia as a bartender.

When the 1910 census was taken, the Harry Wagner family then was still renting a home at 745 Carman Street. At that time the family included step-daughter Ethel Kinsey, 17, and sons Philip B. Wagner, 12; Harry J. Jr., 10; Roy A. Wagner, 8 and George C. Wagner, and Harry Wagner Sr.'s divorced half-brother, Robert B. Tomlinson, who later took the name Robert Wagner. Next door at 747 Carman Street, lived Mathias and M. Caroline Hess. Robert B. Tomlinson Jr. boarded with the Hess family, as did Harry Wagner Sr.'s brother George Wagner. Within a year the Wagners had moved to 729 Carman Street, where they stayed into the 1940s. The 1914 City Directory shows the Wagners at 729 Carman, while the Hess family was at 723 Carman Street

The 1920 Census shows Harry and Susan Wagner at 729 Carman Street with their four sons- Harry Jr., 19, Roy, 17, George, 15, and Mathias, 9, obviously named after Mathias Hess. The Hess family, Robert Tomlinson Jr., and uncle George Wagner, were still at 723 Carman Street. Mrs. Hess passed away in February of 1927. Mathias Hess would subsequently go to live with Harry and Susan Wagner. Another family had moved to 733 Carman Street in the 1910s, that of Abijah and Flora Barker. Their son Albert Barker would many years later follow Harry Wagner Jr. onto the Camden Fire Department.

The 1924 City Directory indicates that Harry Wagner Jr. was single, still living at 729 Carman Street, working as a clerk at the Newton Coal Company. He had previously worked for the Camden Iron Works. Harry Wagner Jr. joined the Camden Fire Department on August 1, 1924. He was assigned to Engine Company 1, at 409 Pine Street. He married Ella Jane "Jane" Lehman around the same time as he began work with the Fire Department. 

The 1929 City Directory also shows that Harry Wagner Jr. was living at 723 Carman Street with his wife, Ella "Jane" Wagner. Apparently the young couple moved into the former Hess house when Mathias Hess went to live with Harry Sr. The 1930 Census shows the Harry Wagner Jr. family at 723 Carman Street with their two children, Harry J. Wagner III and Jane, where they stayed into the 1960s. 

Prohibition ended in 1933 and seeing the opportunity, Roy A. Wagner got licensed to operate a bar at 920 Federal Street in 1934. By 1936 he  owned and operated a bar at 800 Federal Street, which he renamed, appropriately enough, Roy's Cafe. Having grown up around the corner in the 700 block of Carman Street, he was well-known in the immediate neighborhood. Brothers Phillip B. and George C. Wagner worked there as bartenders. Roy A. Wagner had previously operated a cigar store at 35 Haddon Avenue. In April of 1954 he was granted place-to-place transfer of his liquor license and moved the bar to 733 Federal Street, where it remained in business into the early 1970s. Youngest brother Mathias Wagner worked at and eventually managed the Woolworth's store at Broadway and Federal Street.

The 1940 City Directory shows Harry Wagner Sr., still employed by the Camden Water Department, at 729 Carman Street worked as a pump operator. Harry Wagner Jr. and family were still at 723 Carman Street.

Sue G. Smith Wagner died on July 23, 1944 after a lengthy illness, survived by her husband, sons, and brothers Howard Smith and Walter Smith. Harry J. Wagner Sr. appears to have passed way within a few years of his wife's death. The exact date, as of this writing, is uncertain. 

During the 1960s and 1970s one "urban renewal" project after another tore through downtown Camden. Bridge Avenue disappeared entirely. the 700 block of Carman Street also literally disappeared, the present Police Administration Building, its parking and impound lots occupying the land where much of Carman Street once was, and nothing that stood in the 700 and 800 Blocks of Federal Street in the Wagner's time was left standing.

Philadelphia Inquirer

November 24, 1899

Cooper B. Hatch - George W. Whyte
William Penn Hook & Ladder Company No. 1
First Baptist Church - Edgar Bolton
John W. Vanhart - W. Scott Franklin
Benjamin Kellum - Charles Robinson
George B. Wade - Albert Jones
George Cox - Edward Weston
Samuel Peoples - Harry B. Middleton
Harry Burrough - Robert W. Colkett
William G. Hillman - James E. Navin
Charles Todd - Daniel Smith
Peter B. Carter - Alfred Hayden
Henry Elliott - Josiah Sage
Samuel Price - William Rose
Charles Sturgis - Daniel Grimes
Harry Wagner - Augustus Kester
William Simpson

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Camden Post-Telegram * September 22, 1908
Charles V.D. Joline
William M. "Cloudy Bill" Williams
Lizzie Williams
Pennsylvania Avenue
South 8th Street
Crawford Smith
Edward Hambrose
Harry Wagner Sr.

Camden Courier-Post
July 24, 1944


Carman Street - 1961

This aerial photo, cropped from a larger photograph showing the dismantlement of the railroad that had run from the old ferry terminal through the heart of Camden, shows Carman Street from "top to bottom", beginning at Broadway to its end, a few doors past the intersection of Warren Street, at the bottom of the picture. City Hall and what was then Lit Brothers (today the County welfare building) are at upper right, and Haddon Avenue can be seen bisecting Carman Street diagonally. Also easily discerned is the Broadway Theater, at the head of Carman Street the " Munger & Long building" (then J.C. Penney's), the YMCA building and the still standing New Jersey Bell Telephone building along <> Federal Street

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