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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Levi Downs Reprized- Don Maxwell, etc.

I thought we would tie up a few loose ends, courtesy of Don Maxwell, regarding Levi Downs in today's blog and add a bit of information, as Levi was quite an important character in the history of New Gretna. 

Pete S


I think Levi Down's pool hall was were he had his barber shop or maybe close by. Seems to me I recently noticed his old barber shop sitting back from the New York Road (Route 9) where it used to be. Someone had to move it, as it used to sit adjacent to the road. It wasn't in his home next to New Gretna School. Maybe Benny Allen might know. 

There were two barber shops in town at that time, Levi's and Frank Azzorino's. I remember that Levi also had the house built next to Swarrow French's across from Mary Leek's Post Office. He lived there awhile and then sold it to his brother, Bill Downs. I think Norman Cramer's son, Jeff, lives there now. Then he built the one between the old Town Hall and Joe Potty Mathis. I am pretty sure Lewis Gerew was the builder of both houses.   

Don Maxwell

Levi was born June 22, 1884 in the family home on the corner of Turtle Creek Road and the Batsto-Bridgeport Road, Route 542, in Wading River.

Levi Downs, Sr. and his wife, Ella, with their children, Levi Jr. and William, in the front yard of their Wading River home. The girl in the photo is unknown. (Photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

Levi Downs, Jr.'s boyhood home in Wading River. (Map courtesy of Google Maps.)

It was here in Wading River that Levi developed his love for hunting.

Levi learned to hunt as a young boy in the woods and meadows around his Wading River home. (Photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

Levi married Ella Bozarth and eventually moved to New Gretna. They had three girls: Ann, Georgia, and Sabrina. Ann married Win Salmons, Georgia married Charlie Zeeb, and Sabrina married Tom Newell and Hank Horner. Levi and ella also had a son, William Loyd, who was born in 1909 and died at the age of two.

(l-r) Ella, Ann, Georgia, Levi, and Sabrina ("Tink"). Charlie Zeeb, Georgie's husband, in front. (Photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

For a photo genealogy of Levi Austin Downs, Sr. through the children of Levi Austin Downs, Jr. click here -

Levi was active in New Gretna for many years, living in many locations in town. He operated a variety of businesses, including a barber shop and real estate office, and held various Township offices, including that of Justice of the Peace, constable, and Tax Assessor. I've been told by some old timers that Levi used to ride by houses in New Gretna and do "windshield" assessments.

Following is a series of present day photos of the houses where Levi and his family lived:

Levi lived on North Maple Avenue, adjacent to the school. The David and Lisa McGeoch and their family presently live there. According to Bennie Allen, Levi had a barber shop in a small out building next to the house. This was his first barber shop. That building was moved by Bennie, for Bill Cottroll, to Frenches Lane in the late 1940's. It is now the garage in the back yard of Lenny and Nancy Oshman's home. (February, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Levi had a house built next to the Swarrow French house on New York Road (Route 9). He lived there for a while, then sold the house to his brother, Bill. It is presently the home of the Jeff Cramer family. (February, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Levi also lived in the house adjacent to the old Town Hall. Later the Town Hall became the Knights of Pythias Lodge. It was Hornberger's Bakery in the mid 1970's when I moved to New Gretna and was torn down in 1994. Levi's house still stands today, across the street from Sandy Bourguignon's beauty parlor, Magic Shears. (March, 2007 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Levi had a Real Estate Office in his South Maple Avenue home. His daughter, Sabrina "Tink" lived there for some time after he died. I don't know who lives there today. The house is across the street from Tiny and Betty Jean Keufer's home. (Circa 1940's photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

Levi relaxing in his the real estate office in his South Maple Avenue home. (Photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

The sign on Levi's house and the side of Levi's car reads, "Strout Realty." This is prior to Levi moving to South Maple Avenue, but I'm not sure which house this photo shows. I believe it is his North Maple Avenue house but am not sure. Can anyone help me out on that? Also, can anyone tell me the make and year of the car? (Photo courtesy of Tom Williams.)

Levi's second barber shop was located just west of the New Gretna House on New York Road (Route 9).

Levi's barber shop on Old New York Road (Route 9) was the central hub for New Gretna gossip for many years. (Photo courtesy of Norman and Ann Mathis.)
The pipe and cigar smoke in the tiny barber shop was so thick, some wondered how Levi could see to cut hair. Levi had a particular passion for fox hunting. I'm told that it was dangerous getting Levi to tell his fox hunting escapes while cutting your hair. It seems, he often talked with waving hands, and you never knew where the sissors or clippers were going to go. This resulted in some pretty imaginative hair cuts.

For the story "Levi's Barbershop and the Would Be Corpse" by the Herrintown poet that appeared in the August 2008 edition of the "Bass River Gazette", click here and go to page 8 -

After Levi's passing, I'm told that the barber shop was used as a paint and hardware store. By the time I move to New Grtna in the early 1970's, it had been moved to the back of the New Gretna House property and used for storage - See above photo. It has since been torn down. (October 1, 2004 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The following old post card is commonly seen around New Gretna, today. Few people;however, know that Levi is the second person on the left.

(l-r) Rye Allen, Levi Downs, and two unknown men. (Post card courtesy of Steve Eichinger.)

Levi was quite the fisherman. Here's another photo of him fishing with the boys at Allen's Dock in New Gretna.

(l-r) Max Quade, Chet Allen, Levi Downs, and Les Allen on Allen's Dock. The Bass River Bridge is in the background. They caught 84 fish that day, the largest being a 14 pound stripped bass. The photo was taken September 29, 1930.

Levi passed away on March 1, 1963 and his wife, Ella, on August 5, 1980. Both rest on the south side of the hill in Miller Cemetery, New Gretna.

February 12, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.

Levi was truly a colorful character who touched the lives of many in New Gretna and the surrounding communities. If anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere has a story about Levi, I'd like to hear from you.

Pete S


  1. Levi's barbershop was on the right half of the building in the picture. At one time the left half of the building was a display and sales department for the old village smithy. "Art In Iron" it was called. An old timer (I guess retired from somewhere else, I never knew his name) had a blacksmith shop across the street between Helen Carty's and the Smith's house. He made decorative iron things like andirons and railings etc. The shop is now a little yellow residence. The blacksmith lived in a house across RT 9 from the cemetary lane, once the residence of John T. Cramer. This house burned down around 1950. The building now there was next door and was Mike's Generator Shop. Anyone know the name of the "Village Smithy"? (don't think he had a chestnut tree there :) )

    Bob Mathis

  2. Just came across the pictures of my house as a real estate office! The article wonders who lives there now, so I thought I'd write in. My family are the Revacks/Norris'/Strubles from Little Egg Harbor. My mother is a retired teacher from the school there, and my aunt taught at Pinelands before she sister and I folllowed in the family business and we both teach in LEH as well. Growing up, I always loved New Gretna (the bakery was a regular stop) so I was thrilled to move here a few years back. Ray and Jo Bartlett were the former owners; they took down the other house on the property and added on to this one. Do you know anything about that house? Betty Jean told me it was one of the oldest houses in town. I have the bog iron foundation stones all around my yard, so I would love to know more :-)

    RobinJo Norris

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