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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Gretna Old Home Society

Two weekends ago, New Gretna celebrated another Memorial Day in its unique way. Most towns have parades and dedication services honoring the many veterans who sacrificed so much in the service of their country in wars from the American Revolution through our present conflicts in Irag and Afghanistan.

We have over 150 veterans buried in our cemeteries. Four lost their lives in the service of their country and are honored on the War Memorial located between the Fire House and Municipal Building on North Maple Avenue.

The War Memorial honors Bass River Townships fallen heroes - Orval Gerew (1894-1918), WWI; George Heun, Jr. (1894-1919), WWI; John H. Sears (1919-1945), WWII; and William F. Ayres (1938-1966), Vietnam. May 22, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.

New Gretna has a unique Memorial Day tradition which centers around it's cemeteries and is run by the organization, the New Gretna Old Home Society, which owns and operates New Gretna's two largest cemeteries, Miller and Hillside Cemeteries. This sure is an odd name for an organization that owns and operates cemeteries. It sounds more like the name of an old age home.

The cemeteries were originally owned and operated by the two churches in town, the First Presbyterian Church of New Gretna (Miller Cemetery) and St. Paul's United Methodist Church (Hillside Cemetery). Over the years, the churches had difficulties maintaining the cemeteries and a group of concerned citizens with old New Gretna family roots got together in the early 1920's and formed an organization to maintain the cemeteries.

They called the group the New Gretna Old Home Society because New Gretna was their old home. The purpose of the organization was to maintain the cemeteries and to gather together at least once a year at Memorial Day at the "Old Home" town. It was called Old Home Day, to keep the old family ties alive through future generations and to honor the veterans in the New Gretna cemeteries.

I found the following three newspaper articles about some of the early Old Home Day meetings. They were all day affairs attended by hundreds of people with New Gretna family and cemetery ties and consisted of a dinner cooked and served by the ladies of New Gretna, baseball games, programs, and a Society meeting. Reading through the articles many familiar New Gretna names will appear. Many of them are ancestors of some of our Blog readers.

New Gretna Old Home Day Drew Visitors

New Gretna, May 30.—Several hundred former residents of New Gretna, now living in Atlantic City, Philadelphia, New York, and other places, gathered here today to cele­brate Old Home day, the tenth an­niversary of the New Gretna Old Home Society. This society numbers 450 members, the larger number of them living away from this but natives of New Gretna.

The day included exercises at the two cemeteries which are kept in fine condition by the society this being the original purpose in the formation of the association. A chicken dinner was served from 12 P.M. to 2:30 P. M. in the Community building by the women of New Gret­na and none left the table hungry. In the afternoon there was a busi­ness meeting in the hall, and on the school field next door was a base­ball game. In the evening, after supper, was put on an unusual fea­ture. Photographic slides had been prepared by Prof. Moore of Atlan­tic City, from old pictures showing the old homesteads and other old scenes in New Gretna, and were flashed on the screen. Prof. Maja Mathis, supervisor of schools at Florence, N. J., described the pic­tures and gave bits of history about the families who formerly dwelt in the homes.

At the annual meeting officers were chosen as follows: President emeritus, Leonard K. Algar; presi­dent, Kirk Loveland; vice president, Samuel H. Headley; treasurer, Hir­am Mathis, all of Atlantic City; sec­retary, Mrs. Lela F. Hilliard, of Manahawkin; assistant secretaries, Miss Margaret Adams and Mrs. Helen Mathis of New Gretna.

Directors were re-elected as fol­lows: Harry Headley, Joseph B. Cramer, Augustus Cramer, Wm. E. Mathis, C. Stanley French, Russell Adams, S. Crowley Loveland, Rollin A. Cale, Augustus R. Miller, Joshua Hilliard, Arnold Cramer, J. H. Leek, Norris Sears, Thomas A. Mathis, Maja Mathis, John S. Mathis, Rich­ard M. French, Thomas A. Cale, George Leek and P. K. Hilliard.

The treasurer's report showed a balance in current funds of $384.80, and receipts for the year of $697.20. The endowment fund amount to $2419.03, and there are also shares in both the New Gretna and Atlan­tic City, amounting to several hun­dred dollars.

Remarks were made by City Com­missioner Harry Headley of Atlan­tic City, Kirk Loveland, Samuel Headley, Maja Mathis, George Leek, Miss Margaret Adams, Norris Sears, Postmaster R. A. Cale of Pleasant­ville, and Wm. H. Fischer of Toms River.

Dr. Joshua Hilliard of Manahawk­in gave the historical review of the society. He said about ten years ago Mrs. Hilliard and Kirk Loveland got some old time New Gretna friends together to clean up the ce­meteries in that village. The result was this society. Five years ago it was reorganized, and since then had been incorporated and had flourish­ed. It now has 450 members scatter­ed all over the United States - some of them descendants of old New Gretna families, who have them­selves never been in New Jersey. The society has lost 35 members by death.

Mrs. Hilliard, R. A. Cale of Pleas­antville, Maja Mathis and others are gathering historical data, and carry­ing out the genealogies of the old families.

The society the year round meets once a month for dinner on Satur­day nights, in summer at New Gret­na, and in winter at Atlantic City.

Transcription from a June 5, 1931 Toms River Newspaper
Editor's Note: The glass slides mentioned in the above article, prepared by Professor Moore and discussed by Maja Mathis, were found in the attic of F.A. Gray on Route 9 in New Gretna. Unfortunately they were not labeled and there were no notes with them. Steve Eichinger and Budd Wilson took photos of the slides which were then scanned into my computer. We were able to identify most of the the scenes, homesteads, and people in the slides, but about a half dozen homesteads have not been identified. It is likely that they no longer exist. Perhaps at a future Old Home Society dinner we will show the old slides and see if anyone can identify the mystery homesteads.
An example of an unknown homestead from Professor Moore's glass slides.

Here's another of the glass slides, one that we were able to identify. Can anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere identify the four people?

New Gretna Old Home Society
Held 15th Reunion Sat.
Annual Memorial Day Gatherng Most Successful
in History of Organization

The New Gretna Old Home Society held its Fifteenth Annual Reunion in New Gretna on Memorial Day, Saturday, May 30, 1936, and it proved to be the most successful in the history of the organization which was found­ed in 1921.

More than 300 people came to New Gretna to take part in making the occasion such an outstanding; success and to renew old acquaintances.

The program for the day was as follows:

Dinner 12:30 to 3:00 in the New Gretna Civic Hall, sponsored by the New Gretna Civic Society.
Brief Memorial Services.
Election of officers of the organiza­tion for the ensuing year.

In the evening the entertainment was presented by the New Gretna Civic Society and was in the form of presentation of plays which received the hearty approval of those assem­bled.

The officers and directors of the organization were re-elected and the only change in the official staff was for the office of Assistant Secretary with Mrs. Laura Loveland assuming the duties which had been previously car­ried on by Mrs. Hiram Mathis.

The officers and directors of the organization are as follows: Leonard 11. Algar, President Emer­itus; Kirk Loveland, president; Sam­uel H. Headley, vice president; Hiram Mathis, treasurer: Mrs. Lela F. Hil­liard, secretary, Manahawkin, N. J., Mrs. Laura Loveland, assistant secre­tary.

Directors- Harry Headley, Joseph B. Cramer, Augustus Cramer, C. Stan­ley French, Russell Adams, C. Crow­ley Loveland, Augustus R. Miller, J. Hilliard, Arnold Cramer, J. H. Leek. Norris Sears, Thomas A. Mathis, Maja Mathis, John S. Mathis, Richard M. French, Thomas A. Cale, George Leek, P.K. Hilliard.

Transcription from Tuckerton Beacon - June 4, 1936

1939 news article

Last Sunday, May 30th, the 89th Annual Old Home Day was held at St. Paul's United Methodist Church. It's still held in the old tradition. It has been scaled back, however, to a catered dinner followed by a Memorial church service to honor our New Gretna veterans and the acknowledge those with New Gretna ties who had passed away since last Memorial Day, and the Annual Society business meeting. Forty eight people attended, renewing old acquaintances and reminiscing about old New Gretna.

The present Trustees and Officers of the New Gretna Old Home Society are listed below. Most have old family ties to New Gretna while others have relatives buried in New Gretna Cemeteries.

Helen S. Carty
Steven Eichinger
Franklin A. Gray
Jean Harris
Murray T. Harris
Betty Jean Keufer
William Keufer
Ann Mathis (Emeritus)
Elaine Mathis
Brian Maxwell (Emeritus)
James McAnney
Carol Kauflin Nicklow
John Sears
Jane Shuff
Woodley E. Shuff
Peter H. Stemmer
Howard Ware

Woodley E. Shuff, President
Stephen Eichinger, Vice President
Peter H. Stemmer, Secretary/Treasurer

Anyone who has family ties to old New Gretna, relatives buried in New Gretna cemeteries, or an interest in helping to maintain our cemeteries is welcome to join the New Gretna Old Home Society and/or to attend our annual New Gretna Old Home Day on Memorial Day Sunday. Anyone interested can contact me through the Blog comments or email.

Pete S


  1. I added another photo to the Old Home Society Blog. See if you can identify the people.

  2. Sam wondered if the older lady with her arm across her chest was the school teacher named Maggie Jimmie.

  3. Phyllis,

    Yes, that's Miss Margaret Adams, known as Maggie Jimmie. She was a teacher and principal at the New Gretna School for many years.

    Pete S

  4. Pete: As all your blog readers probabely know that the 3 ladies in the photo were schoolteachers, and taught at New Gretna Grammer School for many years. Its logical to assume the gentleman also was a teacher. In those days schoolteachers and preachers only wore suits. I believe the gentleman was Mr. McConnell, I forget his firstname, who also was the principal. His daughter, Helen was a English teacher and librian at Tuckerton High School starting in the 40's. I was fortionate to be in many of her classes and indebted to her for my interest in literature. They lived in Pleasantville.

    Clif Brown

  5. Pete: A comment on a comment. I am amazed in the year 2010 a nickname orginated over 90 years ago is used to indentify a person in a photo. Is that still a custom in New Gretna? If so, they should be outlawed same as the "N" word. After a period of time they are disrespectful

    Clif Brown

  6. Pete: William F. Ayres name appears on the War Memorial by the firehouse. I am aware records indicate he was born in New Gretna in 1938 and the same information is listed in the Vietnam Memorial web site. As a favor to a former New Gretna resident during that period I draw a complete blank on Mr. Ayres. Perhaps you can give information regarding his time spent in New Gretna. Many others might be interested. Thanks

    Clif Brown

  7. I'll have to respectfully disagree with the "anonymous" who disliked the nicknames used in New Gretna. No one thinks they are disrespectful at all. My own grandfather was known all his life as "Boot" Mathis and still is referred to as such. Small towns have their hallowed customs and in New Gretna, nicknames are one of them. Not so anonymous, Beverly Mathis Robinson

  8. Clif: I don't remember Billy Ayres either. Must have moved away as a young child? His father was here in the 1950's and drove a truck for the sand plant in Port Republic. His Brother Eddie also lived here. Could be this was listed as his home address by the Army. Bob Mathis

  9. My great grandfather Joseph Kirkbride Mathis had the nickname 'Joe Potty' around New Gretna. My parents tell me that 'Joe Potty' and 'Boot' were half brothers.

  10. Cindy: If you are referring to my grandfather "Boot" Mathis, he and Joseph K. Mathis were not half brothers. He had a sister; Pauline and a half-sister: Ida Elizabeth French. His father was: John Oliphant Mathis and his mother: Ida Elvina Allen. After John O. died, Ida remarried Suwarrow French.
    Beverly Mathis Robinson

  11. Message to Cindy Gray Dickey: Joseph K "Joe Potty" Mathis was my gggrandfather (ggrandfather: Harry Clinton Mathis; grandfather: Harold Hilliard Mathis).

    Curious if you have any stories you can share about "Joe Potty"? Happy to connect offline,

    -- Don

  12. Hi Beverly. My mistake. I checked with my parents and they said Joseph K. and Harry 'Kid' Mathis were half brothers through their father Joseph Sr.
    They also said Joseph K. and Nelson 'Huckleberry' Cramer were half brothers through their mother Ludell Mathis Cramer.

  13. Hi Don. Mom and Dad said Joseph K 'Joe Potty' and Harry 'Kid' were half brothers. Their father was Joseph K. Sr--- Looks like you and I are third cousins.

  14. Hi Cindy,

    You're right, spoke with my father and he confirmed this. He knew 'Joe Potty' quite well, as his Great Uncle. But because 'Joe Potty' was 14 or 15 years younger than my ggrandfather (Harry 'Kid'), my Dad felt 'Joe Potty' was more like his own uncle. I know that my grandfather (Harold Hilliard Mathis) was also close to 'Joe Potty', his uncle, and credited him in part for getting his career started in the Merchant Marine.

    Appreciate the info.!


  15. Nice article and I want to appreciate you for sharing about Professor Moore's Glass Slides. Your article is amazing and interesting I hope you keep updating and sharing about new things :)