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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Memories of Hopalong Cassidy and the old Bass River Hotel

Last week we discussed the 1939 fire which wiped out the second story of the New Gretna Post Office which was housed in the Route 9 home of Mary Leek. Today, we feature another fire which dramatically changed the character of downtown New Gretna.

The dominant structure in downtown New Gretna from the mid 1800's to the early part of the 1900's was the Bass River Hotel which was situated on the southeast corner of the present day intersection of Route 9 and Maple Avenues.

The Bass River Hotel, store, and Post Office was a forerunner of our present day strip malls. (Circa 1880 photo courtesy of Franklin W. Gray.)
The photo of the old hotel complex is reminiscent of my childhood memories of seeing all those Saturday morning cowboys shows on TV in the early 1950's. Remember those large wooden boxes with those tiny little screens? Hopalong Cassidy would tie up his horse in front of a building much like the old Bass River Hotel, as he stopped in town for a cool sarsaparilla. Hoppy never drank "hard likker".

Hopalong Cassidy was my favorite cowboy hero of early 1950's television. Does anyone remember the name of Hoppi's horse? (Photo from Google Images.)

The Bass River Hotel was run for many years by Franklin Adams, the man in the white suit in the above photo of the Bass River Hotel, and his wife, Mary Ann. Mary Ann was a descendant of the Great John Mathis, the first white settler in Bass River.

Franklin (1825-1885) and Mary Ann Adams were the proprietors of the Bass River Hotel in it's early years. (Photo courtesy of Franklin W. Gray.)

Franklin Adams was the Great Grandfather of Franklin W. Gray who loaned the photo of the Bass River Hotel to me. Here's the connection - Franklin and Mary Ann Adams, the hotel proprietors, had a daughter, Mary Ann (1873-1947) who married John Gray (1864-1956). They had a son, Franklin Adams Gray (1896-1986), who married Kathleen Willets (1912-1992). They had a daughter, Carol, and a son, Franklin Willets Gray, who presently lives on the Gray homestead on Route 9 in New Gretna.

Franklin Willets Gray in high school. (Photo courtesy of Franklin W. Gray.)

It would be neat having the old Bass River Hotel in our town center, today, but it was not meant to be. Unfortunately the small group of buildings was wiped out by a fire in 1917.

Business Section at New Gretna

Swept By Fire

Post Office, Store, Restaurant and Pool Room in Ashes: 

Result of Mid-Night Blaze




The population of New Gretna were given a shock Friday night when at about 10 o’clock the store of Milton Cramer caught fire. The fire started from some unknown cause after Mr. Cramer closed for the evening and when discovered was beyond control, citizens who gathered to witness the spectacle were helpless to combat the flames as the zero weather had cut off the water supply and with practically no fire-fighting apparatus little could be done to save the property.

The fire quickly spread to the old hotel building and the post office and with the store all were reduced to ashes in less than two hours.

For some time it looked as if the big K. of P. [Knights of Pythias] Hall would be destroyed but heroic effort of a volunteer force of firemen saved this building. It caught on fire on several occasions.

The store owned and occupied by Mr. Cramer, was an old land-mark of New Gretna and was built by the late Levi French more than a half century ago. In the building Mr. French carried on a general merchandise business for many years. Later the business was taken over by Francis French, then Burr French and Howard Mathis. Later Mr. Mathis and his brother Ashley formed the partnership firm of Mathis Brothers and when this firm dissolved the business was continued by Ashley Mathis until his death, when the property was bought by the present owner.

The old hotel property is also an old land mark with an interesting history and many gay times have taken place there that can be recalled by the older residents of that town.

This old building was erected by the late Frank Adams and later owned by his son-in-law, Charles Deacon. Since then it has had a long string of occupants in different lines of business. At the time of the fire the building was occupied by Levi Downs and was owned by Fred Miner.

The post office building was owned by Howard Mathis. The store and stock was covered by $2,500 insurance, the hotel $1,000 and the post office was a total loss, there being no insurance.

[Transcription of a 1/10/1917 newspaper clipping by Pete Stemmer.]

Today, the scene at the old New Gretna Hotel site is quite different.

Munchies Deli is now located on the old Bass River Hotel site. (March 6, 2007 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Can you imagine Hoppie riding up to Munchies, today, tying up his horse on the newspaper vending machine, and going inside for a hoagie? I bet they don't even sell sarsaparilla. Ah, where has all the romance of the past gone?

Pete S


TRIVIA QUIZ: Can you name any other cowboy stars from the early 1950's television shows?

WIN A SPECIAL PRIZE! We've talked about Miss Margaret Adams here at the Blog. Figure out the relationship of Miss Margaret to Franklin and Mary Ann Adams, the old hotel proprietors, and win a Special Prize from the Blog. Must be 16 years of age or older to enter.


  1. Ones that come to mind are: The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry.
    If you would like to really get into history, try to name the radio cowboy and indians shows.

  2. You forget that a Google search can come up with just about any info. in a hurry. Cassidy's horse's name was Topper. I had forgotten it altogether.
    Beverly Mathis (Robinson)
    PS: the above comment is mine, too. I had trouble with the #*%!!! dialup.