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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chalkley Cramer and the Pink Corset

Chalkley Cramer and his family were an important part of New Gretna for many years, as they ran the Cramer General Store in the center of New Gretna from the late 1800's through the mid 1950's. Not many old timers remember Chalkley, as he died in 1929. Most remember his daughter, Theora, who ran the store after Chalkley's death until the mid 1950's.

The following information on Chalkley's family is from Jean and Murray Harris' book, "The Descendants of William Cranmer of Elizabethtown, NJ".

Chalkley Sears Cramer, son of Darius and Sarah Ann (Cramer) Cramer, born 2 May 1856, died 22 March 1929 at New Gretna, married 14 July 1879 Frances Caroline/Carrie Johnson, daughter of John W. and Sarah (Adams) Johnson, born 5 February 1857 at Port Republic, died 1 September 1936. Carrie was a Sunday School teacher and a piano teacher and was known as Aunt Carrie to all the children in New Gretna. She was also an Elder in the New Gretna Presbyterian Church, one of the first women in New Jersey to be elected to that position. Chalkley operated a general store in New Gretna next to their home, and was the Registrar of Vital Statistics for Bass River Township. Their daughter Theora ran the store after Chalkley's death and also took on the job of Registrar of Vital Statistics. She later sold the quaint old store and it was put on display at the Village of Smithville. Chalkley and Carrie are both buried in Miller Cemetery, New Gretna. Their children:

i Theora B. Cramer, born 24 August 1882, died 26 March 1975, buried Miller Cemetery.

ii Bessie May Cramer, born 25 September 1888, died 17 October 1973, married Howard Z. Mathis. They are burried in Miller Cemetery.

iii John Emery Cramer, born 1 May 1891 at New Gretna, died 4 March 1931 at Trenton, married Mary Martha Quick.

Chalkley, Carrie, and son, John Emery, on the steps of their New York Road (now Rt. 9) home. (Photo Courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles, the daughter of John Emery Cramer.)

(l-r) Carrie Cramer with her son, John Emery, and daughter, Theora. Grandson Newton Mathis is in front of Emery. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles.)

The family home and General Store were on New York Road, now Rt. 9, two houses west of the present day Post Office. Ruth Cramer Soles, Chalkely's granddaughter, told me that Chalkley built the house, which was an exact copy of the Johnson house in Port Republic where Carrie was born and raised, shortly after his marriage to Carrie Johnson so that his new bribe would feel at home. Now, there's a thoughtful, caring man.

If anyone out there in the Blog-O-Sphere knows if the Port Republic home of the Johnsons still exists and where it is located, I would love to hear from you.

The Cramer home in 1942. A portion of the store can be seen to the right of the house. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles.)

The Cramer General Store in 1942. The sign above the door reads "T.B. Cramer General Store". "T.B." is Theora, the proprietress. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles.)

The Chalkley Cramer house, today, has been lovingly restored by its present owners, Barbara and Tom Repsher. (March 29, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The empty lot to the right of the present house was the location of the Cramer General Store. For you GPS aficionados, I emailed a history buddy, John Yates, the map location, and he tells me that the GPS coordinates for the empty lot where the store once stood are Latitude: 39.59123 Longitude: 74.45736. (Photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Theora helped her dad out in the family store and took over its operation in 1929 when Chalkley died. She ran the store until the mid 1950's when it was sold to Fred and Ethel Noyes who were developing the village of Smithville in neighboring Galloway Township.

Theora Cramer as a young woman. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles. )

Moving the General Store from New Gretna to Smithville was quite a project. It was exciting to watch, but also sad to see the old store leave New Gretna. The following photos were taken by Betty Mathis who married Jack Mathis, a grandson of Chalkley through Chalkley's daughter Bess who married Zeb Mathis. Betty grabbed her brownie box camera and took photos of the store being moved. She followed behind the store, in her car, as it was moved from New Gretna to Smithville.

The store being placed up on blocks in preparation for its move to Smithville. The roof is being cut off, so that the structure can pass under the Port Republic exit bridge of the Garden State Parkway. It was reassembled later on site at Smithville. (Photo courtesy of Betty Jean and William "Tiny" Keufer. Betty Jean is the daughter of Betty Mathis who took the photos.)

The roof of the store being removed for the store's journey to Smithville. (Photo courtesy of Betty Jean and William "Tiny" Keufer.)

Theora, in the driveway, watching the store leave on its journey to Smithville. (Photo courtesy of Betty Jean and William "Tiny" Keufer.)

The General Store just after passing under the Port Republic exist bridge on the Garden State Parkway. You can see why it was necessary to cut the rood off the structure to make it under the bridge. (Photo courtesy of Betty Jean and William "Tiny" Keufer.)

The General Store on the Port republic exit ramp of the Garden State Parkway. (Photo courtesy of Betty Jean and William "Tiny" Keufer.)

The Cramer Store was reassembled in the Smithville village on the main entrance street across from the Smithville Inn. It operated for many years as the village's General Store. I remember buying some items there when Jackie and I first moved to New Gretna in the early 1970's. What a quaint little store!

The Cramer General Store at Smithville Village, circa late 1950's. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles.)

Poster courtesy of Ruth Cramer Soles.

I haven't been to Smithville in years, so I decided to stop by last week and take a photo of the old General Store. Good thing that I knew its location, because I would never have found it. There is only a small sign to the right of the front door (see below), unreadable from the road or sidewalk, to identify the origin and nature of the building. Sadly, it doesn't even mention Chalkley or Theora.

June 5, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.

Was I in for a surprize! The old store, now yup-a-fied, is a boutique called "The Pink Corset."

The old Cramer General Store, across the street from the Smithville Inn, has been transformed into a modern boutique called the Pink Corset. (May 29, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

While Chalkley probably sold a corset or two in the old General Store, as evidenced by the waist on the above photo of Theora, you can bet that he never sold a pink one. He must be spinning in his grave! But then, again, maybe he's smiling. He was said to have a sense of humor.

Pete S

PS- Interested in reading more about the Chalkley Cramer family and the old General Store? Click on the links below.

• Carrie Cramer recipes and photos of the family, by Elaine Mathis, on page 4 of the January, 1999 edition of the Bass River Gazette:

• "The Chalkley Cramer Family of New Gretna", by Ruth Cramer Soles, on page 1 of the June, 2004 edition of the Bass River Gazette:


  1. I was named after Frances Caroline "Carrie" Cramer, my great Grandmother. I was named Frances Caroline Kauflin.

    Carol Kauflin Nicklow

    Editor's Note: Obviously, Carol does not use Frances, her first name, preferring to use her middle name which she shortens to "Carol".

  2. Hi Pete: This geneology thing gets me more and more confused. In the June 2004 gazette there is a long article devoted to the Chalkey Cramer family. A Caroline Johnson is mentioned several times. Is this the same Caroline Johnson who was a daughter of my Great Aunt Caroline Adams Johnson, married to Clark Johnson? We need a few more Cramers, Adams, Mathis and Johnsons to add to my confusion. ;-)
    Beverly Mathis Robinson

    1. Beverly, I don't think this is same Caroline. this Caroline was born. Johnson and married into the Cramer family. Her family was from Port Republic, NJ. Her parents were John W. and Sarah (Adams) Johnson.

  3. I was in the old "chock" Cramer store one time. My grandfather was looking to buy a Barlow knife, and being near the end of WWII, good steel knifes were hard to come by. Pop said they might have some left in this store. I think Theora was selling everything out. She had a bell wired to a button at the front door and it rang in the house. She would come over and see what you wanted. I don't think she had any either. Seemed like most stuff was aready gone. I probably was about 5 years old or so. That would make it around 1943 I guess.

    Bob Mathis

  4. As I type this I am in the Cramer house in a bedroom that my mother in law Barbara Repsher tells me was once an office where people came to get marriage licenses.My late father in law Tom Repsher restored this beautiful home with his wife Barbara. Tom was a great man and an amazing carpenter. He loved history and loved this home. Anyone who has visited this house since he restored it immediately can see the love he poured into his family, work, and this home. I am starting to learn the history of this property and feel priveleged to be able to visit here and to have been accepted into Tom's family. Happy Thanksgiving Thomas Repsher, we all miss and love you dearly.Your love, hard work and craftsman ship will forever live on within these walls. -Mark Tomczyk husband of Melissa Lyn Repsher,Tom and Barbara's daughter.