Status: Lost Forever
After persistent effort by the Camden High School PTO, the New Jersey Schools Development Authority went ahead with plans for a new school, demolishing this iconic structure in the process. The PTO was formally recognized for their efforts with Preservation Leadership Award in 2018.
Camden High School, known locally as “The Castle on the Hill” and constructed 1916-1918, is an imposing three-story Collegiate Gothic structure that combines architectural terra cotta with smooth-dressed Indiana limestone and rough-textured brick. A turreted tower, centered on the façade, contains the main entrance, which features a four-centered Tudor arch. Camden High School was designed by Paul A. Davis III (1872-1948), of Philadelphia, one the most influential of the city’s Beaux-Arts trained architects. He was a native of Haddonfield but moved to Philadelphia. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1894, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The site supervising architect for Camden High School was Arthur Truscott (1858-1938), a resident of Merchantville with an office in Philadelphia.
Camden High School was originally intended for manual training and included a “forge room” along with shops, a manual training department, and a domestic science department. However, until 1933, when Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was converted to a four-year high school, it was Camden’s only high school and was soon providing a full high school curriculum. A rear annex was built in 1959 to relieve overcrowded conditions. In 1969, three circular pods were added at the far rear to hold manual training shops. Today, Camden High School is an active four-year public high school serving approximately 700 students.
In 2009, following several proposed plans for restoration, the New Jersey School Development Authority (NJSDA), the State’s school construction arm, decided to restore only the building’s tower for a cost of approximately four million dollars. Following that, the NJSDA decided to demolish all of the building except for the tower. In 2016, the NJSCA announced their intention to demolish the entire building, including the newly restored tower, at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, and to build four small academies on the site.
The original plan proposed in 2004, was to remove the later additions to the rear to make room for new supplemental construction while keeping and restoring the original building. This is still the best solution. The proposed demolition of Camden High School accentuates the New Jersey Schools Development Authority’s disregard for the cultural significance historic school buildings hold. The current plan to demolish Camden High School follows on the heels of their recent demolition of Trenton High School, despite community opposition. Though some in Camden cannot envision the cultural and architectural asset a restored Camden High School would be for the community, many others – students, alumni, and residents – are proud of their grand school and are working at a grassroots level to have it saved and restored. The threat can only be eliminated by convincing the powers-that-be that demolition is not acceptable, and that restoration of the beloved landmark will better serve the needs of Camden citizens. They must be made to understand that new, utilitarian structures will only provide classroom space; the loss of heritage and cultural identification that the demolition of the building would inflict on the people of Camden will have far-reaching ramifications that the new construction will not mitigate.
Dr. Doris Carpenter