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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The White Oak Inn

Last Saturday, we listed telephone numbers from a 1956 New Gretna telephone directory that brought back many memories of New Gretna old timers who are no longer with us. One of the telephone numbers, for the Oak Lawn Country Club on New York Road, presently Rt. 9, was a puzzlement to me, and I asked if anyone could help me identify the establishment. I got one Blog comment and an email from Don Maxwell. Both said that they thought the Oak Lawn Country Club was the old White Oak Inn.

I believe that they are correct; however, it would be nice to see some documentation regarding the building's use as the Oak Lawn Country Club. And what type of establishment was it? I suspect that was just a fancy name for a local watering hole. Hopefully, someone out in the Blog-O-Sphere may recall stopping in for a libation and maybe even remember who ran the place. If so, I'd love to hear from you.

The old Inn likely functioned as a speak easy during prohibition in the 1920's. I know that rum runners were prevalent in the area, according to some of our local baymen who may have also dabbled in the nefarious practice and always seemed to keep their boats just a little faster than the revenuers. There never seemed to be a scarcity of booze in New Gretna during prohibition. That's for sure!

Unfortunately, I don't know much about the origin of the old building. I've been told that the original structure was the farmhouse of old Sea Captain Dellwyn P. Crowley who was the grandfather of Delilah Crowley Cramer. My only recollection regarding Captain Crowley was his donation of the bell to the New Gretna School in the late 1800's as documented by the bell and accompanying plaque on exhibit in the school's foyer. It is likely the bell was placed in the school when it was built in 1899.

Capt. Dellwyn Crowley's old ship and farm bell is on display in the foyer of the Bass River Elementary School. (January 22, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Sometime after the turn of the century the old Crowley farmhouse became the White Oak Inn. I haven't a clue as to how and when this transformation occurred.

The White Oak Inn, circa 1929, was originally the farmhouse of Captain Dellwyn P. Crowley. (Photo courtesy of Franklin W. Gray.)
When I first moved to town in the early 1970's some older locals told me that "some years ago" the White Oak Inn building belonged to Father Divine, a black missionary preacher from Philadelphia. They called it one of his Heavens which was a boarding house where his teachings were practiced and where his followers could obtain food and shelter as well as spiritual and physical healing. During the Depression residents of the Heavens paid the minimal fee of 15 cents for meals and a dollar per week to sleep.

No one specifically told me when Father Divine was involved in New Gretna; however, I got the impression that it may have been in the late 1930's or early 1940's when he was living in Philadelphia. I am uncertain as to whether Father Divine ever personally visited New Gretna, but it is likely that he had due to its proximity to Atlantic City.

It is uncertain if George Baker, aka Father Divine, ever made a personal visit to his Heaven in New Gretna. (Photo from Google Images.)

My only experience with the old White Oak Inn was remembering it as an apartment house, on the north-east corner of Route 9 and East Greenbush Road, in the late 1980's through 2004.

The old White Oak Inn building in 1983. It functioned as an apartment house through the fall of 2004. (Photo courtesy of Sara Mathis Guertler.)

In September, 2004 the old White Oak Inn building was demolished. Following are some photos taken on September 9, 2004, just before it was torn down. A few of the photos show some interesting architectual accents. It must have been something to see in it's hayday!

Ready to rumble.

Front view.

Back view.

Attic window.

Gingerbread and a tin rain spout.

Closeup of tin rain spout.

Today, the lot where the Crowley farmhouse, later the old White Oak Inn, stood is empty. Nothing remains to indicate that a part of New Gretna history once stood here.

The empty lot where the old white Oak Inn once stood. Perhaps we can get my history buddy, John Yates, to stop by with his GPS and record its exact location for posterity. (Map from Google Maps.)

The empty lot on the north-east corner of Route 9 and East Greenbush Road where the White Oak Inn once stood. (June 29, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

That's about all I know about the old White Oak Inn. It sure is a project that needs more research. Hopefully, we'll be revisiting it in the future as more information surfaces.

Pete S

PS- Click on the links below to read more about Father Divine.


  1. 39.59372 -74.43662

    If you cut and paste the above coordinate line into the search box at and click on "Search Maps" it will take you there. Look for the green arrow. (the red push pin seems to be just a closest address... google seems to keep changing things). Be sure to click on "Satellite" map and zoom in/out as needed.

    Have GPS, will travel,

  2. Remember the 1950's TV Western "Have Gun, Will Travel" with Richard Boone as Paladin? We'll have to get John a black outfit.

    Thanks, John.

    Pete S

  3. Yup. I was a fan of that show and that is why I signed the above comment that way. I'm pleased you caught the reference!

  4. Pete,

    Father Devine lived part time in a building across Bass River and a little South of Ruby's boat yard, He also had a yacht moored on Bass river at about the same spot.This was in the mid fortys.

    Dave Kalm

  5. Dave,

    I believe you are referring to the old Great John Mathis house that was eventually torn down in the mid 1960s. Your comment is the first reference I have heard regarding a yacht belonging to Father Divine.

    Pete S

  6. Pete:

    Yes! their was a black man who lived/owned as you indicated GJM home.His first name was John and I am still trying to remember the last name. His occupation was a ship Captain. To best of my recollection he was not Father Devine. Property records should further identify him selling to the initial boatbuilder owner.

    Clif Brown

  7. Pete,

    Father Devine didn't live there as owner, but he was there some of the time. He did own the yacht, (cant remember the name). It eventually sank and sat along the bank for quite some time.

    About the white Oak Inn - In my early days at New Gretna Grammar School it seems there was a young girl named Suzanne Stanford who lived there. In 1964 a friend of ours, Ferne Smith and her Daughter Lori lived there. Lori should be in he forties now and maybe she will read this and could tell more about the White Oak Inn. They were from Tuckerton.

    Dave Kalm

  8. There was a guy named Garret lived in the GJM place. 1950's or 1960's I guess. A black man drove a big 1950's Buick. Don't know if he owned the place or was just the caretaker.

    Bob Mathis

  9. Dave: By any chance was the yacht named "Thetis"?

    Clif Brown

  10. Clif,

    It sounds somewhat familiar. I thought maybe it was Pegasus.

    Dave Kalm