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Friday, September 4, 2009

Clif Brown Remembers Dan's Island & Clint DeWitt

Oak Island, also known as Dan's Island, was featured on the Friday, August 14th Blog entry. Clint Dewitt, a descendant of the Great John Mathis, was the last person to live on the island and is remembered as quite a character. Click on the link below to see the Friday, August 14th Blog entry:

I got an email from Clif Brown about his recollections regarding Dan's Island and the unforgettable Clint Dewitt. I've added a few photos and thought I would share it with you here at the Blog.


I'm back. Just completed a month long trip to the CA & OR coast then to Utah visiting family & friends. Tried to stay current with the blog but motel lobby computers with others waiting to use is not conducive to reading blogs. Thanks, it’s nice to be missed.

My exposure to Clint and Dan's Island is somewhat limited but will share what I have experienced.

I visited Dan's Island in the Fall of 1936 with my brother, Bill Reynolds, and Bud Steele. Bud, who lived at the Wigwam, was our guide, and it's beyond me now how this adventure materialized.

The Wig Wam was a gas station that sold refreshments and cold drinks to the passing motorists on Route 9 which was the main route from New York to Atlantic City.

Ad from a 1940's New Gretna School PTA minstrel program, circa 1940's.

Satellite map showing site of the old Wigwam in New Gretna. (Map downloaded from Bing maps.)

The present Route 9 site of the old WigWam is the remains of a derelict gas station that was run by Ann McMichaels in the 1980's. (May 27, 2005 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Bill Reynolds lived on East Greenbush and from his home there was a sandy road that ended near the Wigwam. His father had a tractor which needed gas which why we rode it to the Wigwam.

While getting the gas Bud suggested hiking over to the island. With Bud leading the way, we passed Jobs Creek onto the meadows and followed a deer path that was very wet and soggy underfoot. I stumbled on to a reed which caused my nose to bleed. Bloody but undaunted, I marched on, finally reaching a gravel road.

Going down the road we came to a barn past which was a house. Both seemed to be in good condition. Inside the barn was several wagons and farm implements but no livestock and no Clint.

We then went down the road to the house. The door was locked, so we looked through the windows and could see furniture inside.

Bud described the man who lived on the island. Pausing to wonder what to do next, someone shouted "CLINT IS COMING". I started running up the road, followed by the others. It’s possible we ran all the way to Route 9.

We enjoyed the adventure but who knows what would have happened if we had not run?

When I was in the 7th Grade, Clint came to the New Gretna Grammar School looking for Miss Margaret, who was then Overseer of the Poor, for help. Dressed in his usual garb, he attracted a lot of attention from the students. Close examination established that the tobacco drippings did not come from a hole in his cheek, that rumor was put to rest.

Miss Margaret and Clint DeWitt made quite a pair. Miss Margaret was always prim and proper and Clint . . . Well, Clint was Clint. (Miss Margaret photo courtesy of Steve Eichinger. Clint DeWitt photo courtesy of Norman and Ann Mathis.)

Completing his business with Miss Margaret, Clint appeared at the window of Miss Smith's classroom, somewhat angry, and demanding the return of his walking stick. Apparently, some mischievous student had hid the stick. Miss Smith quickly dispatched the 8th grade boys to locate the missing item, which they did almost immediately. With his walking stick he departed shaking it at us as he passed the classroom windows.

Elsie Smith saved the day by having some of her students find Clint's walking stick so that he could be on his way. (Photo courtesy of Steve Eichinger.)

Clint's younger brother, known as Tom Dewitt, lived at the corner of East Greenbush & New York Rd. It was a small one story house, with weathered cedar siding and full porch across the front. It was located approximately where the drive-in is today.

Tom Mathis, Clint DeWitt's brother, lived in a small house on the north-west corner of Route 9 and East Greenbush Road. The Patio Drive In occupies that property, today. (September 9, 2004 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Tom was small in stature while his wife was considerable taller. Somewhat like the Grant Wood painting of the farmer and his wife. He usually wore a black bowler hat and collar was always buttoned and always seemed to be sitting on the porch watching the passing traffic. They had an open well close by the house with bucket, rope & pulley, hooked on top was a dipper or community cup. They were nice people.

I rode my bicycle by their home, very often stopping and talking, and getting a drink of water which they gladly offered. I mention them as the odd & eccentric in a family always seem to get the attention as the good and decent are overlooked.

I am curious about Booter’s ownership of Oak Island. Was it by inheritance, purchase, bought in tax sale and etc.?

That’s it Pete - Always good to stroll down memory lane.

Clif Brown -8/31/2009

Clif, Thank you for that stroll down memory lane. It sure makes history come alive when told by someone who lived it.

Pete S


  1. My best memory of Clint was going to Clarence Mathis' corner store on a day when Clint got his pension check and rowed over from Dan's island to get his groceries. He practiced phrenology (the prediction of character traits by study of the bumps on your head )on the kids who came. It was a little scary, and Mom always cautioned we would get "Cooties" from the experience. The morning after, Clint could often be found passed out on Curtis Maxwell's frontlawn, having spent the evening with a bottle from the tavern next door.

  2. Thank you for the history lesson. As one of the owners of the PatioDrive In, I love to hear from those who remember the past! I welcome anyone who has memories of Old New Gretna to come in and share them with us. Some of our customers have brought us old photos and we have a large arial shot from the the past hanging on our dining room wall.