Jim reached under his chair and produced a large brown envelope, as the waitress poured my first cup of coffee. The others at the table - Pete Dunn, Gary Nisley, Bill McLennan, Carl Joorman, and Ricky Steele - noticed the heightened excitement and focused their attention away from their breakfast to Jim and me. They knew something was up.
Jim drew an old postcard out of the envelope and handed it to me with a smile of satisfaction on his face. "Boat Basin: New Gretna, N.J." was printed on the bottom. It showed a small part of the Bass River with the Township Dock, where many of the old timers kept their clamming garveys, in the foreground. Allen's Dock, looking much different than it does today, could be seen across the river.
This is the postcard Jim claimed to show the Great John Mathis house.
Jim's Polaroid photo shows Allen's Dock in the 1960's with the Great John Mathis house around the bend and across the Bass River. It was located where Viking Boat Works operates today.
This closeup of an area from the Polaroid photo clearly shows the Great John Mathis house on a small rise adjacent to the Bass River. The right side of the house faces the river.
You can count the windows and see the chimney and front porch of the Great John Mathis house in this super blow-up of Jim's Polaroid photo.
I was able to spot the Great John Mathis house on the Polaroid. It was obvious. Jim then placed the postcard and Polaroid photo next to each other and was able to convince me that the Great John Mathis house was indeed on the postcard. The enlargement, below, of a section of the postcard clearly shows the outline of the house roof and chimney. It looked, at first glance, like a blur on the original postcard. That Jim McAnney sure has eagle eyes! Sherlock Holmes would be proud of his observational powers.
The house on the postcard and Polaroid photo, probably built in the 1730's, is the second of Great John's homes in what is now Bass River Township. His first house, built around 1716, was located on Biddle's Island, now called Oak or Dan's Island, a patch of trees in the meadows visible from the Job's Creek bridge.
1920 aerial map showing the location of the two houses that Great John Mathis built in the Bass River area. Notice that the Garden State Parkway, Viking Yacht, and the Bass River Marina have not been built yet.
The Great John Mathis house stood on the rise overlooking the Bass River from the mid 1700's to the mid 1960's when Viking Yachts began developing their boat building complex. Viking offered to donated land and move the house a short distance so that it would be preserved. The Great John Mathis Foundation was formed by a small group of concerned citizens to raise money to restore the dilapidated house. Leah Blackman's "The History of Little Egg Harbor Township" was republished by the group to raise money to save the historic structure. Most people just didn't care or were too busy to get involved. It's often said that we vote with our pocketbooks. Such was the case here. Sadly, the efforts failed, and the house was finally demolished.
Following are a few photos of the second Great John Mathis house from various eras. It sure had changed over the years.
This circa late 1920's photo is the oldest photo that we have of the Great John Mathis house. It's rather modest digs, by today's standards, for the richest man in the Little Egg Harbor-Bass River area. (Photo courtesy of Franklin W. Gray.)
William Augustine, a photographer who traveled with Henry Beck throughout South Jersey, took this photo of the Great John Mathis house in the 1940's or 1950's. It may be found after Beck's preface to Leah Blackman's "History of Little Egg Harbor Township" that was reissued by the Great John Mathis Foundation in 1963.
This front view, circa 1950's, of the Great John Mathis house shows some the the extensive renovations that were done over the years.
The Great John Mathis house, in the late 1960's, after it had been moved to make room for the construction of the Viking Yacht facility. (Photo from a slide courtesy of Naomi Post Maurer.)
Unfortunately, I am aware of only one piece of furniture belonging to Great John Mathis that came out of Great John's house - a grandfather's clock. It is doubtful that such a fine clock graced many houses in Bass River's early days, and it speaks volumes regarding Great John's accumulation of wealth. It has remained in the family through all these generations and still keeps perfect time.
The grandfather clock belonging to Great John Mathis stands by a modern interior doorway which tells us that it is about 6 1/2 feet tall, short by today's grandfather clock standards. This would be consistent with the low ceilings found in early American homes. (May 28, 2003 photo by Pete Stemmer.)
Speaking of clocks, it's time for me to thank Jim McAnney for the postcard and Polaroid photo of the Great John Mathis house. I now have a good idea of it's location and orientation to the Bass River, something that has puzzled me for some time.
An enlargement of the Allen's Dock section of the "Boat Basin: New Gretna, N.J." postcard
An enlargement of the Township Dock section of the "Boat Basin: New Gretna, N.J." postcard. Today that area is owned by Caldwell Diving.