A launch event for a new book about the Cooper River is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, March 22 at the Camden County Historical Society, 1900 Park Blvd., Camden.
Along the Cooper River – Camden to Haddonfield (Arcadia Publishing) is "an invitation to dig deeper" into the river's enduring importance to Camden County and the region, says Robert A. Shinn, who co-authored the book with Kevin Cook. The two Cherry Hill residents share a keen interest in local history and also are lobbying for the county's Cooper River Park to be designated as an historic district.
"We had over 1,000 images to choose from," Shinn says, adding that most were culled from the collections of the Camden County Historical Society, the Historical Society of Haddonfield, and South Jersey historian Paul Schopp. Late 19th century photographs of the south side of the river in Camden, where it was lined with smokestack industries of all sorts, are among the unfamiliar images in the book. Along the Cooper River also offers wonderful glimpses of the river and its environs during the early 20th century, when waterfront land west of Route 130 was filled with gardens, swimming pools, tennis courts and other amenities.
During the 1930s, what is now the regatta-renowned 'Lake,' as well as the adjacent Pennypacker and Wallworth portions of the park east of 130, also were developed for recreation, utilizing New Deal-era programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The book's carefully curated photographs and well-researched texts are particularly valuable given two ongoing issues about the future of the Cooper River Park. As the county spends $23 million to implement a magnificent Vision Plan to improve the suburban Cooper Lake area, parkland along the river in Camden has languished -- although an advocacy group called the Friends of Cooper River Park West is lobbying to reopen and revitalize what's now a largely hidden gem.
Advocacy related to the river is what connects the two authors as well; they met in 2012 when Cook was fighting to save one of the park's original buildings -- a charming, if deteriorating, Wallworth clubhouse the county neglected for decades before it was demolished, supposedly to protect public safety.
"You don't know where the future of the river should go if you don't understand its past," Shinn says. Adds Cook, "we hope the book will inspire citizen action to preserve the resources that have been bequeathed to us. It's our responsibility."