How to add a posting below . . .

To add a new posting, send an email to me at with a comment, question, story, photo, observation, etc. It will be posted below, shortly after the email is received. To comment on an existing posting, click on the "comments" command below the posting and type your comment. Your comment will show up immediately.   Pete Stemmer

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jumbo Shrimp and the Beacon Museum

Jumbo shrimp is a familiar oxymoron, today. I wonder if such was the case back in the early 1900's. I got to thinking about it while reading a brief news item from the Decemebr 6, 1906 Tuckerton Beacon (See below).

Oxymorons aside, Joseph E. Burton, from Tuckerton, came across an amazing find while clamming in the bay. He tonged a Jumbo shrimp measuring 8 inches in overall length. Now, that really redefines the meaning of Jumbo. Imaging ordering a shrimp cocktale made up of these babies! That would be some appetizer! Beats anything advertised at Applebees or Fridays, today.

What I find especially interesting is the last comment regarding Mr. Burton giving the Jumbo shrimp to the Tuckerton Beacon museum. Evidently the popular weekly newspaper had a museum of local curios. This was the first reference to a local museum that I have come across. It gets me to wondering a few things: (1) When and where did the museum operate? (2) What type of items were housed in the museum? and (3) What happened to the museum items when the museum eventually closed?

The old Tuckerton Beacon Office, circa 1890, was located on North Green Street. This is probably the office where the Beacon Museum was located and Joseph Burton's Jumbo shrimp was put on display. The house before the Beacon Office is now the law office of Howard Butensky. (Photo courtesy of the Tuckerton Historical Society.)

The location of the old Beacon Office Building on North Green Street (Route 539) in Tuckerton is now a parking lot for the adjacent law office of Howard Butensky. (Map courtesy of Bing Maps.)
If anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere knows anything about the old Beacon museum, I sure would like to find answers for those questions.

Pete S

PS- Can anyone identify this modern day Little Egg Harbor clammer who strives to beat Joseph E. Burton's Jumbo shrimp record? I'll give you a hint. He's Ricky "White Shoes" cousin and a regular Blog reader. I wonder how close he's come to the record ? Nice shirt!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Little Stevie Eichinger Loses His Tonsils

Keeping with the medical theme of last Monday's Blog entry, I came across the following brief news item in the July 11, 1940 edition of the Tuckerton Beacon.

When I first read the news item I was not sure if it referred to Steve Eichinger having his tonsils removed or his younger brother, Lee, who was known as "Chubby." I called Steve who confirmed that, indeed, it was he who had his tonsils out in 1940.

Little Stevie Eichinger

Steve remembered the incident as if were yesterday and related an interesting bit of information to me. As he remembers the episode, he was six years old and about to start school in New Gretna. He remembers being placed on a table, a cloth mask placed over his nose and mouth, and ether being dripped on the mask. He woke up in a hospital bed where they plied him with ice cream and sent him home.

As Steve tells it, everyone starting school at that time had to have their tonsils out, much as we now have requirements that children have certain shots before entering school. That seems rather harsh to me and somewhat unbelievable, but Steve was insistent it was true. Does anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere remember having their tonsils removed in order to be enrolled in school?

Pete S

Monday, October 25, 2010

Old Medical Anecdote

Sometimes, when reading old newspapers and journals, I come upon a humorous item. Such was the case when I was reading an 1879 edition of The Medical And Surgical Reporter. I thought I would share the item here at the Blog. Hopefully, you will also get a chuckle out of it as I did.

Pete S

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Gretna 1939 School Attendance Awards

School attendance was considered very important in "old time" New Gretna. Periodically, those with perfect attendance were recognized by the posting of the students names in the Tuckerton Beacon.

Below is a January 11, 1940 Tuckerton Beacon news item that recognized perfect attendance and punctuality for the month of December, 1939, including two of our Blog readers, Dave Kalm and Donald Maxwell, along with my history buddy, Steve Eichinger. I guess those boys really loved school and their teachers or, perhaps, their parents were strict about seeing that they attended daily and on time. I'm not sure which. Maybe, they can enlighten us.

It sure was a simpler time back then. Note that there were only three teachers covering grades 1-8: Margaret Adams, Leola Hickman, and Elsie Smith. They may be seen in the photo below.

I wonder how many of our Blog readers had any of these teachers during their New Gretna School careers? It would be interesting hearing from them.

Pete S

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To Bee or not to Bee- Spelling that is!

While flipping T.V. channels the other day, somehow I ended up briefly watching a spelling bee. As I watched student after student correctly spell strange words I haven't heard of, my mind flashed back to my Spelling Bee days in elementary school. Suddenly, I broke out in a cold sweat, as the memories of an unsuccessful Spelling Bee career flooded over me. Remember the kid in your class who was so poor in sports that no one wanted him on the team? When teams were chosen in gym class or on the playground he was always the last to be picked. Well, that was me during our weekly Spelling Bees. Always the last one chosen! Thank goodness for spell checkers on today's computers!

You see, I'm not the best speller in the world. In fact, I may be the world's worst speller. This was reinforced when Jackie bought me a tee shirt (See below) some years back. She couldn't help laughing as I looked at the shirt with a puzzled look, not quite getting it. I faked a mild chuckle as she explained it to me.

Don't laugh! You'd have a grumpy look on your face too, if you spelled as poorly as I do. (Photo by Jean Boston.)

You're probably wondering what all of this has to do with a history blog. As John Wayne used to say, "Well, I'll tell ya Pilgrim." I was looking through some old clippings from the Tuckerton Beacon and stumbled upon a photo of Tuckerton High School Spelling Bee winners in 1938. Memories of my inadequate spelling bee days suddenly resurfaced, as beads of sweat formed on my forehead.

Viewing the photo and caption, I found that two of the champion spellers were from New Gretna - Naomi Post (now Maurer) and Jean Schropshire (now Harris), both now good friends of mine. They sit, as bookends, in the first row.

Wow! Two of the winners were from little old New Gretna! How do you explain that? This was a disproportionate number considering the small number of New Gretna students attending Tuckerton High School. I figure it must be the water. If so, maybe there is still hope for me. Pardon me while I go for another drink.

Pete S

PS- New Gretna born and raised Jean Shropshire went on to claim addition fame as a champion speller in her Junior year at Tuckerton High School. I wonder what her tee shirt says!

Tuckerton Beacon - March 7, 1940

PPS- A special thank you to my history buddy, Shirley Whealton, and her husband, Les, who clip out old Beacon news articles and ads and drop them off to me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Yacht Columbia Revisited

Last Wednesday I posted a photo and caption of the Columbia anchored by the Bass River bridge in New Gretna (See photo and caption below as it appeared on the October 13th Blog entry.).

The Yacht Columbia wintered on the Bass River, just a stone's throw from the Bass River Bridge which can be seen in the background. Thomas A. Mathis captained the Columbia, owned by financierJ.P. Morgan, for eleven years after its America's Cup victories and was known as Captain Tom since that time . The bronze hulled Columbia was cut up for scrap in 1913 at the Hawkin's Yard in City Island, New York.

Eagle-eye John Allen, up in New Hampshire, noticed some errors in the caption. Seems there were three Columbias which were built in 1879, 1899, and 1978. Unfortunately, I got them confused when writing the caption. The bronze hulled Columbia, built for J.P Morgan and scrapped in 1913, mentioned in the caption was the second Columbia built in 1899. Captain Tom commanded the first Columbia which was built 21 years earlier in 1978.

John sent me the following information and photo of Captain Tom's Columbia, the one built in 1879:

The Yacht Columbia was a wooden centerboard schooner, designed and built in 1871 by Joseph B. Van Deusen in Chester, Pa. for owner Franklin Osgood of the New York Yacht Club. Skippered by Andrew J. Comstock, Columbia won the first two 1871 America's Cup races against Livonia. It was beaten by Livonia in the third race, in which Columbia, damaged from the second race, was skippered by Horatio Nelson "Nelse" Comstock. Columbia was further damaged in this third race and was unable to compete in the final race. The yacht Sappho substituted and won the America's Cup for the second time for the U.S. Columbia ended its racing career in 1908, when it was dismasted and used as a houseboat in Brooklyn Harbor on the East River. Three years later it was rebuilt and sailed as a cruiser out of Newport News, VA. In 1920, Columbia was bought by a fisherman. It was declared lost in 1923.

Columbia, winner of the 1871 America's Cup, as it appeared in the 1890s.
Photograph by John S. Johnson.

Thanks to John for setting The Blog straight. I've corrected the erroneous caption on the October 13th Blog posting. We strive for accuracy and appreciate any corrections.

Pete S

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Captain Tom's Quilt

A few days ago I received a copy of the October, 2010 edition of the Ocean County Historical Society's newsletter "The Society Scroll." I always look forward to reading this excellent newsletter for its wide variety of historical articles and its vivid color photos. I was not disappointed by this latest issue. You can visit their informative Web Site where you can read back issues of "The Society Scroll" by clicking on the link below:

The Ocean County Historical Society is located at 26 Hadley Avenue, Toms River, NJ. They have a great history and genealogy library that's worth a visit. (Photo courtesy of the Ocean County Historical Society.)

A short article in the October, 2010 edition of "The Society Scroll", reproduced below, immediately caught my attention as it dealt with Thomas A. Mathis who was born in New Gretna and later moved to Tuckerton and, eventually, Toms River where he became a very predominant political leader in Ocean County and New Jersey state politics. I thought I would share the article with you, along with a photo of the quilt that he made as a young seafaring man.

Thomas A. Mathis was born on June 7, 1869 in New Gretna. He attended public school in New Gretna. At the age of 16, he left school to go to sea. His father had been a sea captain and Thomas soon followed in his footsteps. He was considered a master mariner and held master's licenses for any ship, steam or sail, in any sea. He retired as a sea captain in 1916. As a young boy during one of his early voyages at sea, Thomas sewed the "T" design quilt that is displayed in our museum. The fabric that was used was purchased at the New Gretna store of Levi French. Thomas later went on to become a New Jersey State Senator and New Jersey Secretary of State. He died in 1958.

Tom Mathis, the son of Alfred and Abigail Loveland Mathis, was born in a Hammonton Road house on the bend at Sherman's Corner. (Courtesy of Bing Maps.)

The Hammonton Road house where Tom Mathis was born is now owned by Ron Vorhees, Jr. (April 27, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The 1880 Bass River Township Census shows that Thomas, the eleven year old son of Alfred (a 44 year old sailor) and Abigail Mathis, lived on the family homestead along with three sisters, Abigail (age 16), Mary (age 14) and Daisy (age 2).

Thomas made the quilt that is hanging at the Ocean County Historical after he left the family's Bass River home as a teenager and went to sea.

The quilt made at sea by a teenage Thomas Mathis hangs at the Ocean County Historical Society in Toms River, NJ. Notice the "T" theme in each square. (Photo courtesy of the Ocean County Historical Society.
Quilting was a popular past time in the 1800's. I wonder how many quilts sewn by old New Gretna families still exist. If anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere are aware of any, I would like to hear from you.

The following clipping from the November 11, 1951 edition of the "Asbury Park Press" highlights some areas of Thomas A. Mathis' nautical career.

Secretary of State Thomas A. Mathis, who was honored by more than 1000 persons from all sections of New Jersey at a testimonial dinner at the Ambassador Hotel, in Atlantic City, last Saturday night is shown above, left, as he was presented with a model sailing ship, the "Columbia", by former Governor Harold G. Hoffman, who acted as toastmaster at the affair. The "Columbia" was the first ship which Secretary of State Mathis, a licensed captain, had command in 1896. Secretary of State Mathis also was presented with a wrist watch at the testimonial which was given under the auspices of the United Republican Committee of Ocean County. [Tuckerton Beacon - January 19, 1939]

The Yacht Columbia, captained for eleven years by Thomas A. Mathis, wintered on the Bass River, just a stone's throw from the Bass River Bridge which can be seen in the background. It was a wooden centerboard schooner, designed and built in 1871 by Joseph B. Van Deusen in Chester, Pa. for owner Franklin Osgood of the New York Yacht Club. Skippered by Andrew J. Comstock, Columbia won the first two 1871 America's Cup races against Livonia. It was beaten by Livonia in the third race, in which Columbia, damaged from the second race, was skippered by Horatio Nelson "Nelse" Comstock. Columbia was further damaged in this third race and was unable to compete in the final race. The yacht Sappho substituted and won the America's Cup for the second time for the U.S. Columbia ended its racing career in 1908, when it was dismasted and used as a houseboat in Brooklyn Harbor on the East River. Three years later it was rebuilt and sailed as a cruiser out of Newport News, VA. In 1920, Columbia was bought by a fisherman. It was declared lost in 1923. [Note: This is a corrected caption. See the October 17th Blog entry for an explanation.]
I transcribed the following biography which presents the life of Thomas A. Mathis through 1945 from "Prominent Families of New Jersey by William Starr Myers, 1945, pages 221-2.

THOMAS A. MATHIS—Prominently Identified with public life and activities in Ocean County and in New Jersey for nearly forty years, Captain Thomas A. Mathis of Toms River, New Jersey has held many official positions, both elective and appointive since 1916. In that year, retiring from the sea which he followed for many years, he settled down at Toms River and engaged in the automobile business, later entering real estate and bonding as commercial activities, while generously devoting much of his time to public service.

Thomas A. Mathis was born at New Gretna, Burlington County, New Jersey, on June 7, 1869, the son of Alfred H. and Abigail (Loveland) Mathis, both of whom were born at New Gretna, New Jersey. Alfred H. Mathis followed the sea for many years, holding his master's ticket, while at home he was active in his community as a member of the Republican party.

After attending the public schools of New Gretna, Burlington County, New Jersey, Thomas A. Mathis followed his father to sea and became a master mariner, holding master's licensee for any ship, steam or sail, in any waters. He retired from the sea in 1916 and for a number of years engaged in the automobile business at Philadelphia and at Toms River, New Jersey, and subsequently became interested in activities concerned with real estate and the bonding business. A member of the Republican party and always deeply interested in the welfare of his community, upon making his permanent residence in New Jersey he began to devote himself very generously to the public welfare, beginning a career in public life which has already exceeded thirty-five years. The captain's first public office was that of member of the State Board of Pilot Commissioners, to which position he was appointed by Governor Stokes in 1906 and then in 1909 he was first elected to the New Jersey Senate to serve out the unexpired term of Senator William J. Harrison, while in 1913 he was elected for a second full term, as he was again in 1922. During the sessions of 1924 and 1925, he was chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee while, in 1925, he was once again elected to the Senate be a very large majority and in 1928 he was nominated without opposition and again elected by the largest majority ever given a candidate for the Senate in Ocean County. In the 1928 election, he was chosen majority leader by unanimous vote of the members of the Senate and, according tn long established rule, was elected president of the Senate (1929), being the first Senator from Ocean County ever to have been chosen for that high honor. On July 7, 1931, Senator Mathis was appointed Secretary of State for New Jersey and was reappointed to the office for a second term of five years on July 7, 1936, and while serving as Secretary of Sttate also was appointed lieutenant commander of the Naval Militia by Governor Moore in 1932 and captain of the Naval Militia on December 6, 1934. After these many years in State office, Captain Mathis on January 1, 1942, was elected county treasurer of Ocean County for a term of five years while, at the present time he is a candidate for his seventh term in the New Jersey State Senate. A member of the Tuckerton, New Jersey, Presbyterian Church, the captain, who is an honorary member of the Thomas A. Mathis Republican Club, belongs to the Toms River Yacht Club and holds thirty-second degree rank in the Mason fraternity, his memberships including all bodies of the order as well as the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.

Thomas A. Mathis married on November 15, 1897, at Tuckerton, New Jersey, Helen S. Steelman(1), who was born at Tuckerton, New Jersey, and is the daughter of William S. and Eliza A. Steelman, natives of Absecon, New Jersey, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, respectively. Captain and Mrs. Mathis have become the Parents of a son: W. Steelman who was born at Tuckerton, New Jersey, on December 1, 1898, and, after graduating from the Toms River High School, attended Peddle Institute and the Peirce Business College at Philadelphia. Having thus completed his education, he entered the newspaper business and became the owner of the Sun Publishing Company at Toms River, and the editor and publisher of the "Ocean County Sun". Following his father into public life, he was elected to the New Jersey State Senate although, when the United States entered the Second World War, he resigned from the Senate in order to enter the United States Coast Guard. While a Senator, he was appointed as a member of the New Jersey State Fish and Game Commission.

(1) Steelmen was misspelled as Stellmen in Myers biography.

From "The Jersey Shore", Vol. 3 via Shirley Whealton

I don't know much about Captain Tom after 1945. Strangely enough, the internet has a dearth of information on his life, except for a Route 37 bridge, completed in 1950 and named after him, which spans a portion of Barnegat Bay connecting Toms River with Pelican Island on the way to Sea Heights.

The Thomas A. Mathis bridge, built at a cost of six million dollars, was opened in 1950. It is the taller eastbound span paralleling a westbound span called the J. Stanley Tunney Bridge which opened in 1972. (Photo courtesy of Google Images.)

Captain Tom committed suicide in 1958, at the age of 88, two days after his release from the hospital where he had been dealing with a circulatory ailment in his legs. He had put a gun in his mouth and shot himself. He is buried in the family plot in Riverside Cemetery in Toms River.

Pete S

PS- A special thank you to Frank Parks, a member of the Ocean County Historical Society's "The Society Scroll" staff who shared the quilt photo and text with the Blog.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Pine Barrens Book

Karen Riley has produced another great book with a New Jersey Pine Barrens theme - "The Pine Barrens of New Jersey" published by Arcadia Press.

Karen at an April 23, 2009 talk on her second book "Voices in the Pines", at the Tuckerton Historical Society. (Photo by Peter H. Stemmer.)
The forward to the book was written by local historian and Pinelands' archeologist, Budd Wilson.

Budd Wilson
(April 17, 2004 photo by Peter H. Stemmer.)

The book follows the theme of the Arcadia's Images of America series which presents a series of high quality photos with informative captions. The photos are divided into a variety of categories including Agriculture, The Industries, Labor and Seasonal Work, People and Places, Rails, Proud to be a Piney, and Gone But Not Forgotten. It is an excellent companion book to Karen's first two books - "Whispers in the Pines" and "Voices in the Pines".

Karen, along with Budd Wilson, launched the book with a book signing at Buzby's General Store in Chatsworth yesterday afternoon.

Buzby's General Store in Chatsworth.
(April 28, 2005 photo by Peter H. Stemmer.)

I can't think of a better venue to showcase a book on the New Jersey Pine Barrens then Buzby's General Store in Chatsworth, the unofficial capital of the Pine Barrens. Marilyn Schmidt, the owner-proprietor of Busby's, as always, was the perfect hostess.

Stop by Buzby's and say hello to Marilyn.
(April 28, 2005 photo by Peter H. Stemmer.)

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to some health issues, but Jackie went and reported that it was a wonderful afternoon with the book well received by a large crowd of Pine Barren's history fans.

I would recommend Karen's book to all you Blog readers. It is available at Buzby's in Chartsworth and on It would make an excellent Christmas gift.

(Buy two or more and get free shipping.)

Hope you all enjoy the book! I know I did.

Pete S

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Gretna Donkey Baseball

I was looking through some old Tuckerton Beacon Ads recently and came across an ad for Donkey Baseball sponsored by the New Gretna Presbyterian and Methodist churches as a fund raiser. The ad was undated, but I believe it was from the 1950's.

The ad sure brought back some childhood memories, as I remember my parents bring me to donkey baseball games in the mid 1950's in North Brunswick, N.J. where I grew up. Those games were sponsored by the local fire department and drew large enthusiastic local crowds and lots of laughter.

My good friend and history colleague, the late Almira Cramer Steele, wrote a brief comment (below) about her memories of Donkey Baseball in an article called "Old Sumertime Fun" in the October-December 2000, edition #8 of the "Bass River Gazette."

I remember Donkey Baseball played on the baseball diamond beside the old school where the new school addition is now located. Some of the young men would get on the donkeys and try to run the three bases. Well, they hardly made first base before they were bucked off and landed on the ground. The men tried hard to stay on, but it was almost impossible. It was hilarious to watch, especially if you had someone on the donkey you knew. I remember the night Calvin Wilson was on one of the donkeys, and he put on such a good show that his wife, Georgie, said Calvin made his debut the night of the donkey baseball game.

Does anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere remember donkey baseball in New Gretna and can anyone tell me where the New Gretna Ball Park was? Would that be the field next to the old school that Almira spoke of? Surely Dave Kalm, Clif Brown, or Donald Maxwell remember New Gretna Donkey Baseball and would know where the New Gretna Ball Park was. Perhaps, they would have some memories and some photos that they would share with us.

Also, I bet there are others who remember Donkey Baseball in the town where they grew up. Let's hear from you too.

Pete S