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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reflections of Our Past

We often complain that we don't honor history in this country. Jackie and I visited England and Scotland a dozen or so years ago. We were both struck by the reverence paid to the long history of those countries through the preservation of many ancient buildings that reflected a long and proud history.

We need to just look around New Gretna today to see the American attitude toward history. There aren't many old buildings left to remind us of our local heritage. Other than the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, which date back to the mid 1800's, I can't think of another historic building in town. We lost an abandoned New Gretna House to a fire and the old Knights of Pythias Hall to the wrecking ball, since Jackie and I moved to town in the early 1970s. There seemed to be little concern when they were gone.

Apathy seems to be the rule when it comes to our historic treasures. 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.

We don't even appreciate or, often, recognize the little history we have left to remind us of our forefathers who developed our town. We all seem to be too busy to stop and reflect on the many people and families who worked, played and worshipped here in New Gretna over the generations. I must plead guilty myself.

I've worshipped in the New Gretna Presbyterian Church on North Maple Avenue many times and still attend a Prayer Meeting every Wednesday morning. Over the years, I've taken it's uniqueness and character for granted, not bothering to think about the history that was enveloping me.

We've all heard the expression "If only walls could talk." Well, they can, if we take the time and effort to listen. A look around the walls of the old church shows a kaleidoscope of colors that stream through the stained glass windows in the bright sunlight. The colors dance and highlight the names of many people who were an important part of our town. It's history reaching out and speaking to us!

Right about now, you're probably thinking, "Wait a minute. This guy is nuts! Windows can't talk." Maybe or maybe not. If a tree falls in a deserted forest with no one to hear, does it make a sound?

The brilliant colors dance in the sunlight.

Closeup of central artwork.

I would venture to guess that many of you out in the Blog-O-Sphere are related in some way to the people memorialized in the stained glass. If so, please let us know. It's important to reaffirm and share our connections with the past.

Jean and Murray Harris wrote about these precious windows in Issues 6 and 7 of "The Bass River Gazette". Click on the web links below to read their entire articles and see old photos of many of the people who are calling out from the stained glass.

I've taken excerpts from the Harris' articles and combined them with colored photos of the base of the stained glass windows. Won't you join me in a journey back in time to meet some of the people who were once an important part of our community? Their stories reflect through the windows, just waiting to be heard.

Window #1- Mary Ella Mathis &
Anna F. Loveland

The first window to attract our attention has the names of two Cramer sisters, Mary Ella Mathis and Anna F. Loveland. They are two of the eight children of John Franklin and Mary Ann (French) Cramer. Mary Ella was born in 1856 and married Rollin Ashley Mathis in 1895 as his second wife, his first wife having died in 1893. Rollin was the son of Zebulon Montgomery Pike and Achsah (Cale) Mathis. Mary Ella’s sister, Anna (Cramer) Loveland, born in 1863, married in 1893 Caleb C. Loveland, son of Charles L. and Anna (Young) Loveland. She died in 1895, just two years after her marriage. Another sister was Nellie/ Ellen M. Cramer, born 1865, who married Chalkley C. Sears in 1887. Chalkley and Nellie were the parents of Eugene H. Sears, born 1893, the father of Helen (Sears) Carty, one of the present-day members of the church. Thus Mary Ella and Anna were the sisters of Helen’s grandmother and so were both her great-aunts.

Window #2- Maja B. Mathis Family

The second window is inscribed with the name Maja Berry Mathis. Maja is the son of Ellis and Mabel (Mathis) Mathis and was born in 1823, died 1891. He married Phoebe Sooy in 1846. They had five children. Their grandson was Maja Cowperthwaite Mathis, who was a teacher in the Mathistown School and later was the principal at New Gretna.

Window #3- The Ladies Mite Society

The third window is credited to the Ladies Mite Society, a missionary society formed by the women of the church. Its name was derived from the “widow’s mite” in the story told by Jesus in Mark 12:42. A mite was a small Hebrew coin worth only half a farthing. Records are found of organizations called “Mite Societies” going back as far as the early 1800s. They existed in Baptist and Methodist congregations as well as Presbyterian. It is not known when the New Gretna Presbyterian Mite Society was founded, but it is mentioned in the Mt. Holly Herald in 1888 as giving an oyster supper in the church, and it was still active at least until 1932.

Window #4- Abagail W. Mathis

The fourth window memorializes Abigail Woolstan Mathis, who was the daughter of Maja B. Mathis, named on the second window. Abigail was born in 1851 and died in 1898, unmarried.

Window #5- Ernst Kretschmer

The fifth window has the name of Ernst Kretschmer, who was born in Germany in 1856. He was a sailor who sailed to New Gretna several times on the schooner Lizzie Belle and who decided to settle in our town when he left the sea. He became sexton of the Presbyterian Church, and truant officer and janitor at the New Gretna School. At one time in his career he tried to have six-year-old Walter Mathis put in the infamous Mount Holly Jail for truancy, but Walter got off with a reprimand. Ernst died in 1931 and is buried in Miller Cemetery. Unlike most of the people whose names are on the windows, Ernst was still alive when the windows were installed in the church.

Window #6- Francis & Anna M. French

Window number six is dedicated to Francis and Anna M. French. Francis, born in 1802, died 1852, was the son of Thomas and Hannah (Johnson) French. His wife Anna Maria was born in 1804, died 1878, and was the daughter of Daniel and Phoebe (Smith) Mathis. Francis and Anna had eleven children, one of whom was Levi French, whose name appears on window twelve and also on the church bell.

Window #7- Rev. S.G. Webb

The seventh window contains the name of the fourth pastor of the church, Reverend S. G. Webb. He was installed in 1888 by the Monmouth Presbytery and served until 1896. Rev. Webb increased the size of the congregation and the Sunday School, and during his leadership the manse was built.

Window #8- Six Church Elders

Window eight memorializes six former elders of the Church: Joseph P. Adams, Robert C. Blow M.D., Charles P. Cramer, Benjamin C. Mathis, Daniel E. Mathis and Ellis Mathis.

• Joseph Perkins Adams joined the church, coming from the Bass River M.E. Church, on 14 March 1875 and died in 1891.
• Doctor Blow was admitted to the church in 1897 by letter from a church in Beverly, N.J. He died in 1898.
• Charles Pitman Cramer, born in New Gretna in 1850, died 1923, married first Ann Eliza McCollum. He then married Jerusha/ Rusha L. (Gale), widow of Watson W. Cramer. Charles and Anna had two children, Samuel P. and Ida. Ida married Mark Endicott of Port Republic.
• Benjamin Churchwood Mathis, born 1837 at New Gretna, died 1913, was the son of Daniel and Elizabeth (White) Mathis, and the grandson of the Daniel Mathis discussed under window #6
above. Benjamin married Mary Walton. They are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Tuckerton. They had nine children.
• Daniel Edward Mathis born 1840, died 1913, was the brother of Benjamin Churchwood Mathis. He married first Charlotte A. Cramer and second Lois H. Eldridge. Daniel and Charlotte are
buried in Miller Cemetery.
• Ellis Mathis was the son of Maja Berry Mathis discussed under window #2. He married Jane Mathis and they had Maja Cowperthwaite Mathis. Maja C. married Marietta Loveland, daughter of Marshall Loveland named in window #16.

Window #9- John & Mary A. Cramer

The ninth window has inscribed on it the names of Elder John Franklin Cramer and his wife Mary Ann (French) Cramer. John was a merchant in a well-to-do family, and he and Mary Ann had eight children, two of whom, Mary Ella and Anna, had their names inscribed on window No. 1. The other six children include: Albert F., a Captain on a barge, who married first Mary Elrena Mathis and second Elizabeth J. Endicott; Ellen/Nellie who married Chalkley C. Sears, Jr., a cook on a tug boat; Charles Harold/Harry, Captain of a merchant vessel, who married Annie Sarah Cramer (see also window 15); Eugene Russell who married Helen Darwood; Frances; and John Franklin Jr., who was Captain of the New Jersey Fish and Game boat. A sea-going family altogether.

Window #10- Hiram French

Elder Hiram Elbridge French’s name is inscribed on window number 10. He was born in 1838, the son of William and Phoebe (Mathis) French. Hiram married Mary E. Sears, the daughter of Jesse R. and Lydia (Mathis) Sears. Three of their children died young and are buried in Miller Cemetery.

Window #11- Arthur H. & Mary J. Cramer

Window 11 contains the names of Elder Arthur Hiram Cramer and his wife Mary Jane (Mathis) Cramer. Arthur was the son of Joseph Baker and Sarah (Thompson) Cramer, and Mary Jane was the daughter of Thomas and Mary (Cale) Mathis. Arthur and Mary Jane had five children: Ambrose, who died when only a few months of age; Arthur Hiram Jr., who married first Mary Catharine Conover and second Rachel (Conover) Cranmer; Sarah Sooy Cramer who married Augustus R. Miller; Helena L. Cramer who married Captain Edward Kirk Loveland, the son of Marshall A. and Marietta (Crowley) Loveland; and Joseph Baker Cramer who married Hannah Rejessa Webster. Rejessa Hannah Cramer, the daughter of Joseph Baker and Hannah, married Frank Cramer who built and operated the Rustic Inn on the main corner in New Gretna.

Window #12- Levi & Julia A. French

The twelfth window names Levi and Julia (Adams) French. His parents werelisted in the discussion of window six, and Julia is the daughter of Joseph and Ann (Brush) Adams. Levi’s name is also on the bell in the church steeple. They had eight children: Daniel Webster; Levi C.; Julia Florence; George W. A.; Clara R.; Lela M.; Richard M.; and Charles Stanley French.

Window #13- Mrs. Mary M. Garrabrant

Window thirteen is inscribed Mary A. (Mathis) Garrabrant, the wife of Dr. Clarence Garrabrant and the daughter of Zebulon M. P. and Achsah (Cale) Mathis.

Window #14- Sarah E. French

The name on window number 14 is Sarah E. (Jones) French, the daughter of Lloyd and Elizabeth (Ivins) Jones, innkeepers on Long Beach Island, and the wife of Livingston B. French. Their children were Minnasota, Walter L., Laura P., Mary A., and Irena French.

Window #15- Mrs. Charles H. Cramer

Window fifteen is inscribed Mrs. Charles H. Cramer. She was the daughter of Marmaduke and Mary Lavinia (Cramer) Cramer, and the Annie Sarah Cramer mentioned with her husband in the description of window number nine. Charles and Annie Sarah had five children: Dora Lizzie, Walter F., Alice Emma, Harold K., and Mary Ella. Alice Emma married first ______ Knight and second William Kumpf. Alice Emma and William operated the Carlton House in Tuckerton. Mary Ella married Walter Wright .

Window #16- M.A. Loveland and Family

At the base of window 16 is inscribed Marshall A. Loveland and Family. Marshall was a sea captain and lived in the house on the corner of Route 9 and Amasa’s Landing Road. He was the son of John and Rachel (French) Loveland and was born in 1840. He married Marietta Crowley, daughter of Samuel Crowley. Their children were: Edward Kirk, who married Helena Cramer; Marietta, who married Maja C. Mathis, the grandson of Maja Berry Mathis whose name is on window number two; Carrie, who married Phineas K. Hilliard; Rachel J.; and Henry P. Loveland.

Window #17- Mrs. Howard Mathis

Window number 17 is in memory of Mrs. Howard Mathis, whose maiden name was Harriet Stinger, the daughter of John and Sophie Stinger. She married Howard, the son of Zebulon M. P. and Achsah (Cale) Mathis. Their five children include Howard Zebulon Mathis who married Bess Cramer. Bess was the organist of this church and the mother of Jack Mathis and Mildred (Mathis) Kauflin. Another child of Howard and Harriet was Clarence Gerew Mathis, who succeeded his father Howard as the proprietor of New Gretna’s grocery store.

Window #18- William C. & Josephine Irons

The eighteenth and final stained glass window memorializes William C. and Josephine Irons who are both buried in Miller Cemetery. William sold 180 acres to the State of New Jersey in 1907 that was later to become a part of Bass River State forest. Their son was Joseph Wallace Irons, born 1880.

Well, I hope you learned something about our New Gretna ancestors. Stop by the Presbyterian Church for their 10 AM Sunday Morning Service or the 10 AM Wednesday Prayer Meeting and spend some time listening to both the Word of God and voices from the past filtering through the beautiful stained glass windows. You'll be the better for it!

Pete S

1 comment:

  1. I've always admired the beautiful stained glass windows in the Presbyterian Church. The inscriptions were there, undeciphered, until now thanks to your excellent and time consuming reporting.
    Phyllis Briggs