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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Tragic Tale of Little Pearl Barton

Now and then I find myself looking through back issues of the Tuckerton Beacon. It's a good way to learn about the everyday life of previous generations. The other day I noticed a brief front page account in the September 13, 1917 Beacon of a tragic accident involving a little Bass River Township girl that tugged at my heart. Eight year old Pearl Barton was killed in an accident on the Bass River Bridge while walking home from school with her younger brother, William.

I couldn't help thinking of the pain that must have been suffered by those touched by the accident. As I read the 82 year old account, my heart went out to Pearl's parents, William and Ada Barton, young William who witnessed his sister's death, and Charles Atkinson who found himself in an unavoidable nightmare. They all had to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.

On page 5 of the same newspaper, I spotted an advertisement placed by Charles Atkinson for his automobile and bus service that ran from Tuckerton to Absecon. I glanced at the schedule which showed that one of his "automobiles" would be passing through New Gretna on that fateful afternoon; however, it was his school bus that was involved in the accident. Today, Pearl and her brother would not have been in harms way on the narrow Bass River bridge. The bridge has been replaced with a wider bridge with adequate sidewalks, and bus transportation to and from the New Gretna School is now provided for the East Greenbush Road area.

The Atkinson family ran a variety of transportation services in the Tuckerton area for many years, including busing New Gretna School children. One of my favorite old New Gretna photos is of an Atkinson horse drawn bus stopped at the original Mullica River bridge.

Before the advent of the automobile, the Atkinson family ran a bus service from Tuckerton to various towns in Atlantic County. Above, an Atkinson horse drawn bus is stopped on the Bass River side of the original Mullica River Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Charles and Patricia Atkinson Richmond.)

A review of census data showed that William and his wife, Ada, lived on Tub Street in Port Republic with their 10 month old daughter, Pearl, in 1910.They had been married for 2 years and lived next door to William's parents, John and Kate Barton. William's occupation was listed as a "Sawyer". They moved to Bass River Township sometime between this 1910 census and the tragic September, 1917 accident.

Ben Allen, who was born December 10, 1917, just 3 months after the accident, remembers the Barton family and hearing about Pearl's tragic death. He told me that the Bartons had a farm on East Greenbush Road. It was on the east side of the road, just before the present day Bass River Township yard that was previously the Burlington County Mosquito Commission yard. Ben remembered that they had a son, William, and that Mrs. Barton moved back to Port Republic, probably after her husband died. He, also, told me that the old farmhouse was since destroyed by fire, but couldn't remember exactly when. Mrs. Barton moving back to Port Republic and the fire had to have happened after 1930; however, as I was able to find William Barton, age 48, and his wife, Ada, age 40, living on East Greenbush Road in the 1930 Bass River Township census which is the last census to be published. William, Jr., who would have been 19 years old, was not living with his parents at that time.

My genealogy records showed that Pearl was buried in New Gretna in the family plot located in the West Section of Miller Cemetery in New Gretna. A trip to her grave site was clearly in order and showed a small, lonely stone.

Pearl's tombstone simply reads "Pearl K. Barton" with the dates "July 9, 1909 and September 10, 1917". (September 18, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The only other stone on the Barton family plot was for Pearl's brother, William, who was on the Bass River bridge with Pearl on that tragic day, and his wife, Esther. Some quick math regarding the 1911 birth date on the tombstone and the September, 1917 accident date tells us that William was about 6 years old when he witnessed his sister's death on the Bass River bridge.

William was reunited with his sister, Pearl, in the family cemetery plot. (September 18, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

There were no other stones on the family plot. Either Pearl and William's parents, William and Ada Barton, are buried here without a stone, or they are buried at another location. Unfortunately, there are no cemetery records that can tell us if the former is the case. Should anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere have any knowledge about where they are buried, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Well, that ends the sad tale of little Pearl Barton. It may be inconsequential in the history of Bass River Township, but it spoke to me. That's the beauty of having one's own Blog. I can write about whatever inspires me at the time. Today, it was Pearl! Tomorrow, who knows?

Pete S


  1. Pete,

    I was trying to reconcile the age of 8 with the dates on the tombstone for Pearl Barton. I think you want to change the picture caption to say July 3, 1909 and not 1903.


  2. Brother John,

    Thanks for catching my mistake regarding the birth date on Pearl's tomb stone. The caption should read "July 9, 1909" for Pearl's birth date. Actually, I made two errors, one on the day and another on the year. I've made the correction.

    Pete S

  3. Pete: This story brings to my memory of another girl who was killed on the Bass River Bridge in the 1933/34 timeframe . Her last name was Kelly. Her father was the Mess Sargeant at the CCC camp.
    She was buried in the Pleasantville cemetary. I would appreciate if you can find some more details on this accident which I faintly remember.

    Regards - Clif Brown

  4. Pete,

    I remember another person killed, not on the Bass River bridge but on the east side of the bridge, by a public service bus. It was Bill Allen, Benny Allen's uncle, sometime around the late 30's or early 40's. He was riding a bicycle and was totally deaf from birth. The State highway men working there at the time said he didn't hear the bus coming and the horn blowing and cut right in front of it. They saw it coming and waved frantically to him, and he just waved back unaware of the bus coming off the Bass River bridge behind him.

    Don Maxwell

  5. Pete,
    While looking for someone else in the WWII "old man registration", I found John A. Allen of Port Republic listing Ada Barton as point of contact. In the 1930 census, he was was a boarder with the Bartons. I also found William P. Barton, 19 in 1930 listed twice in the census. Forked River Coast Guard Station and Monmouth Beach Coast Guard Station.

    John Allen

  6. John,

    Great detective work! I was wondering why William wasn't living home with his parents.

    Pete S