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Friday, January 23, 2009

Old Route 9 Houses and a Post Office Fire - Bob Mathis

In Tuesday's Blog, I posted a photo (See below) of New York Road, now Route 9, and asked if anyone could identify the houses in the photo. 

The Suwarrow and Elizabeth French house looking North, on New York Road (Now Route 9) toward the Maple Avenue intersection. Probably pre 1920. Can anyone identify the other houses on the street?  (Photo courtesy of Paul Steinhauer, Jr.)

Bob Mathis responded with the following comments . . . 

Referring to the photo looking north on rt 9 (really to the East) with the French house on the left:  The house beyond that with just the porch showing was owned by Walt "Ditty" Loveland, and I think his family before him.  He later turned it into 2 apartments and we lived 5 years in the upstairs one.  Beyond that you can see the top of the New Gretna House.  The New Gretna House acquired "Ditty's" property after he died and tore down the house and garage to make parking space.  The one directly across the street from the French house is where Mary Leek lived when I was a kid.  She was very old then and ran the post office from her front room.  Some time before that (as Pop told me) it was struck by lightning and the whole top half burned off.  They put a roof on it and it was then only a story and a half.  Another thing to note:  Only telephone poles run down the street.  No electric in new Gretna at that time.

Bob Mathis

Thanks for the input, Bob. The following photo shows those houses which you have identified. That leaves three houses (numbered on the photo below) on the right side of the road unidentified, so we can use a little more help out there.

Old New York Road, northbound but actually looking East, probably prior to 1920, with houses labeled according to Bob Mathis' comments. (Photo courtesy of Paul Steinhauer.)

The Mary Leek house, across the street from the Swarrow French house, was indeed the Post Office. Prior to our current New Gretna Post Office, the Post Offices were located in the houses or, earlier, the taverns of the Post Masters. Mary Leek was the New Gretna Post Mistress from June, 1929 through June, 1944 and ran the Post Office from her house.

New Gretna Post Mistress, Mary Leek. (Photo courtesy of Helen Sears Carty.)

You pop's (Walter Mathis) story about the Post Office being struck by lighting with the top floor being burned off is accurate. The incident occurred on Monday, May 23, 1939. Following is a photo and article that appeared in the May 25, 1939 edition of the Tuckerton Beacon. The article is chock full of familiar old New Gretna names, including Charles Lang who owned and operated the Esso Station diagonally across the street from the Post Office. I wonder whose motorcycle is parked out front?

Mrs. John Q. Post who lived two houses from the Post Office was stunned by the lightning bolt. (Photo courtesy of Naomi Post Maurer.)

Bennie Allen was an eye witness and a participant in the incident. Seems, he was on his way to a movie in Tuckerton when the fire and the resulting excitement started. Being a civic minded individual, Bennie pitched in as part of the bucket brigade formed to fill the fire trucks' water tanks. Unfortunately, between the rain storm and the deep puddles of water they were scooping up from the street, his wool suit became soaked and shrunk as it later dried. He still laments that he was never able to wear that suit again. I asked him if he remembers the movie that he finally attended.  He responded that, with all the excitement of the fire, he can't remember the name of the movie. 

The two and a half story house was rebuilt as a one and a half story house, so it looks much different than the house before the 1939 fire. The architecture has completely changed.

The "Mary Leek House" today is presently owned by Earl Cramer. (1/22/09 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Oh, and postage back in 1939 was  .    .    .

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at another New Gretna Post Mistress.

Pete S


  1. A good guess on the motorcycle parked in front of the old burned postoffice would be the State Police, who used to ride Harleys. Note the little box on the back fender. Could be a radio.