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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We Got Trouble Right Here In River City!

We discussed the January, 1917 fire that destroyed the old Bass River Hotel and the surrounding buildings in the middle of New Gretna in the January 31st Blog. The headlines partially read  .    .    .

Business Section at New Gretna Swept By Fire

Post Office, Store, Restaurant and Pool Room in Ashes

Now, it's not unusual to expect a post office, store, or restaurant in downtown New Gretna, but a Pool Room in New Gretna  .   .   .   now that's a surprise!

While thinking about that pool room, a tune started playing in my mind, as my thoughts flashed back to one of my favorite musicals, The Music Man, and one of my favorite musical characters, Professor Harold Hill so ably played by Robert Preston. Professor Hill stirred up parents emotions of their boys getting in trouble by pursuits such as pool in order to sell band uniforms and instruments needed to start a town band that would keep their kids away from evil temptations, like pool, and thus out of trouble. Of course the uniforms and instruments were never suppose to arrive, as Professor Hill was a con man.

"Oh, Ya got trouble folks, right here in River City."
(Photo from Google Images.)

Here are some of the words that Professor Hill sang out about the evils of pool and its dastardly effects on the community  .   .   .

And all week long, your River City youth'll be fritterin' away.
I say, your young men'll be fritterin'.
Fritterin' away their noontime, suppertime, choretime, too
Hit the ball in the pocket
Never mind gettin' dandelions pulled or the screen door patched
or the beefsteak pounded
Never mind pumpin' any water 'til your parents are caught
with a cistern empty on a Saturday night and that's trouble.
Oh, ya got lots and lots o' trouble.
I'm thinkin' of the kids in the knickerbockers shirttails,
young ones peekin' in the pool hall window after school.
Ya got trouble, folks, right here in River City
with a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'

Mothers of River City, heed this warning before it's too late.
Watch for the tell-tale signs of corruption.
The minute your son leaves the house does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
A dime novel hidden in the corncrib?
Is he starting to memorize jokes from Cap'n Billy's Whizbang?
Are certain words creeping into his conversation?
Words like... swell? And... 'so's your old man'?
Well if so, my friends . . . Ya got trouble!

By now, you're probably wondering what this all has to do with New Gretna. Well, I'll tell ya my friends. A look back to some old newspaper clippings answers that question because  .   .   .  Ya got trouble right here in New Gretna, with a capital 'T' which rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'. 

The history of pool in New Gretna goes way back. Remember Franklin and Mary Ann Adams, the early proprietors of the Bass River Hotel? When they passed on, the hotel was run by Charles Deacon, their son in law. Charles married Franklin and Mary Ann's daughter, Elizabeth. Seems Charles may have been the first to introduce the game of pool to New Gretna sometime around the mid 1880's, as evidenced by the following one sentence item from the April 18, 1886 edition of the Mount Holly Herald - The rain on Tuesday and Wednesday flooded Charles Deacon’s oyster cellar and pool room. 

Well, a flood in a pool room sounds innocent enough you might say, but you're not heeding the words of Professor Harold Hill .   .   .   "Ya got trouble with a capital 'T' which rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'. "  Charles Deacon is not specifically named in the following New Gretna news item, but the locals knew where the finger was pointing, and they knew they had trouble.

. . . The war clouds are beginning to close in on a certain man that is running a pool-table. Husbands, fathers and sons have got to staying out late at night and members of the church neglecting their prayer meeting. It has caused the wives and mothers to declare was on all whom it may concern. One of them is enquiring [sic] how much a keg of gun powder will cost, another one says she wants to get dynamite like the Irish are trying to blow up old England with. Such is life down here. Mt. Holly Herald 9/15/1883

Charles Deacon's pool room was to remain a center of contention in town, as pool and demon alcohol were issues linked and raised in an October, 1887 court case involved with the renewal of Charles Deacon's Hotel License. Those warning words sung by Professor Hill ring out, again .   .   .   "Ya got trouble with a capital 'T' which rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'. "

A remonstrance was presented against the granting of a license to Charles R. Deacon to keep a hotel at New Gretna, and the court announced that it would hear the case at once:

The application was presented by Eckard P. Budd, Esq., who stated that it was properly drawn and contained the requisite number of freeholders.

Joseph H. Gaskill, who appeared for the remonstrants, said some of the signers had also signed Catherine McKeen’s application [Moderator's Note: Catherine McKeen owned and operated the McKeen Hotel and tavern adjacent to the Wading River Bridge in Bridgeport]. But the main objection was that the hotel had been kept in defiance of the law, and was not a necessity, also, that the applicant had sold liquor on election day, on Sundays and to minors.

Darius Cramer was the first witness. He lives at New Gretna, and said he procured liquor at Deacon’s before he was of age on several occasions in company with other minors, Jesse French, William Trueax, Godfrey Darby, and Jon Cramer’s son. Witness had played pool there. Witness was of age last April. He only remembered having but one drink there when he was under age. He couldn’t remember what it was he drank, whether it was beer, whiskey or “soft stuff.”

William Trueax will be of age next month, and couldn’t tell how long he had lived at New Gretna. He said that he had bought beer at Deacon’s hotel by the drink, also, “apple ginger,” but never “treated the house.” He had seen several minors drink there, but couldn’t tell how long the hotel was kept open on Saturday nights. Pool and dice were played there, and several time disturbances had occurred. Witnesses had played pool there with minors. He was unable to say whether he looked older now than he did a few months ago when he procured the drinks. The only time he saw Godfrey Darby drink there was when the latter sneaked a drink of apple ginger off the bar. Darby got his drink the night the band was there.

John F. Cramer a life-long resident of New Gretna, who said he had known Charles R. Deacon from infancy, then took the stand. He said he was not a Prohibitionist, and took a drink when he felt that he needed it. He had visited Deacon’s hotel and seen minors drink there. Jess French used to have his drinks smuggled to him by some one in the crowd, and after that Jess would go up and take his medicine like any one else. Witness’s son had also drank there; also a young man from Mount Holly by the name of Holeman; don’t know whether his first name was Ernest or not. One took beer and the other whiskey. Pool was played there by two men- one of whom assaulted the Methodist preacher.

Godfrey Darby is between 16 and 17 years old, and is quite boyish looking. Witness had seen drunken men around the hotel on Sundays. Alonzo Johnson and Blanchard Adams got that way and were stowed away in the hay mow one Sunday. At another Willard Adams got a bottle filled with something that looked like liquor. He thought Deacon’s hotel was not necessary; most of the people stopped at Lamson’s. Not long since one man went there drunk and came near turning Deacon out of the hotel and taking possession. Mr. Deacon has kept the hotel open until 2 o’clock in the morning.

Jesse French then stood up for the court to see how old he looked. Judge Black than said: “I should think he was thirty-five years old.”

Judge Black here interrupted Mr. Budd in his examination by remarking that the law against the sale of liquor to minors applied only to student of colleges and apprentices.

Mr. Gaskill insisted, however, that it was proper to show that minors had procured liquor there, as showing the character of the house.

“You have a feeling against Mr. Deacon haven’t you?” asked Mr. Budd.

“Yes, I had a little racket with him.” Answered the witness. The particulars, however, were ruled out by the court.

Samuel Johnson testified that he lived in New Gretna, and has a brother Alonzo, who is 19 years of age, and is a carpenter by trade.

Witness had worked for Mr. Deacon and had seen Alonzo drink there despite of his forbidding Mr. Deacon selling him liquor. The latter once said he would sell Alonzo what he wanted when he had the money, but afterwards Mr. Deacon said he would not sell him any more. Witness said Jess French and young Holeman sucked fancy drinks through straws on Sunday night; he didn’t know the name of the drinks. Last election day witness had a drink of rye whiskey there, but couldn’t tell whether it was paid for or not. Constable Cramer also had a nip that day. It was put down on the slate, as witness has an account there. Witness admitted that he had a difference with Mr. Deacon, and had threatened to have his license taken away.

Alonzo Johnson, 19 years old, said he had visited Deacon’s hotel several times, and drank there three or four hundred times during the last three months, and had spent about $35. Witness had the drinks taken out of his wages on Saturday night when he worked for Mr. Deacon; he had been drunk there, but generally kept on his feet. Witness had procured liquor there on Sundays of Mr. Deacon. The latter had asked witness how old he was, but witness refused to tell him.

Maja B. Mathis testified that he had seen people playing pool for drinks at Deacon’s and had seen the man losing the game pay for the drinks. John F. Cramer was engaged in a disturbance there once.

John O. Mathis was called by the defense. He said Deacon kept the best hotel that had ever been kept in the township, and he thought it was needed.

Joseph B. Cramer said the hotel was needed there, and was well kept. He denied Samuel Johnson’s statement that he had paid for liquor on election day.

Charles W. Cramer also thought the hotel there was a necessity, and had been well kept. He had heard Samuel Johnson threaten to have Deacon’s license taken away from him.

Jesse French testified that he never obtained liquor at Deacon’s hotel until he told Mr. Deacon that he was of age. Ernest Holeman, of Mount Holly had once offered Mr. Deacon $1 in payment of drinks, but the money was handed back to him.

Blanchard Adams denied the statements made by Alonzo Johnson that he had procured liquor there on Sunday.

Charles R. Deacon, the applicant, testified as to the accommodations for the public at his hotel. He admitted having sold liquor to Jesse French, but supposed him to be of age. He denied having sold drinks to Darby, and never allowed pool to be played for drinks.

The case was adjourned until Monday morning.

On Monday morning the concluding argument in the contested license case of Charles R. Deacon was made.

Judge Parker said a majority of the court had decided to grant the license, but wanted it understood that any future violation of the law would be promptly dealt with.

[ Transcribed by Pete Stemmer from the October 1, 1887 edition of the Mt. Holly Herald.]

I don't know when the old Bass River Hotel or it's pool hall finally closed down, but I do know that it was not the last pool hall in New Gretna. It is likely that the pool hall that was destroyed in the January, 1917 fire was operated by Fred Minor in the old Bass River Hotel building complex, as indicated by the following brief New Gretna news item  .   .   .
New Gretna: Fred Miner, of Green Bank, has opened a pool room here. Mt. Holly Herald 1/24/1914

Fred Miner's pool room was the last pool room that I am aware of in New Gretna. Some of you "old timers" out there may know of others. If so, let's hear from you. I've got a couple of boxes of old band uniforms that I can give you a good deal on. Now, where did I put my trombone?

Pete S

PS-  RS .  .  .  Did you notice that Professor Hill is wearing white shoes?


  1. I'm glad to see my relatives were so in favor of the hotel (pool and liquor notwithstanding). I refer to John O. Mathis and Joseph B. Cramer. Pete, are there by any chance any pictures of them extant. Thanks.
    Beverly Mathis (Robinson)

  2. Beverly,

    Sorry, but I don't have photos of either John O. Mathis or Joseph B. Cramer.

    Pete S

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