Judy Courter admires the late Fred and Ethel Noyes for their vision, hard work and perseverance.
The Absecon woman used these same traits to write her first book, a biography of the Noyeses titled "Fred & Ethel Noyes of Smithville: The Artist and the Entrepreneur." It is the first biography of the couple, who built the Smithville Inn and added the historic village. They also went on to build the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton in Oceanville and the Ram's Head Inn in Galloway Township.
"I saw Ethel as an incredible woman of accomplishment," said Courter, who also is a member of the Atlantic County Historical Society.
Courter, her husband, Joe, and family moved to Port Republic in 1972. Their house was near the Noyes home. Joe Courter was Port Republic's mayor from 1980 to 1990. He knew Ethel Noyes, but Judy Courter never did.
In 1998, Judy Courter was eating dinner at the Lantern Light Inn, one of the restaurants the Noyeses established in Smithville. Courter noticed pictures of the couple on the walls. Courter knew Fred and Ethel Noyes were interesting personalities who made significant contributions to southern New Jersey. She worried their story would be lost.
Courter, a retiree, started doing the interviews that led to her book. Among the people she interviewed was Ethel Noyes' sister, Bertha Lingelbach.
Everyone asked for an interview about the couple said yes, Courter said.
"You are doing it at the last moment in time when it could be done," said Courter, quoting what author and historian John Cunningham told her.
In the 15 years Courter worked on the project, some of the people she'd interviewed died. Courter is happy she was able to capture their memories of the Noyeses before it was too late. These contributors included Sid Ascher, who did publicity and promotion for the couple, and former employees, such as Mae Carrow and Steve Calvi.
Courter knew Ethel Noyes was the visionary businesswoman while Fred Noyes was a World War II veteran, a painter and a collector of decoys with a rambunctious personality. But she learned through her research how important Fred Noyes was in the complete picture of the businesses.
"He was very into what was going on in a way that wasn't obvious," Courter said.
When the couple first purchased the Smithville Inn in 1952, it was Fred Noyes, who did a great deal of the manual labor, including washing the dishes, cleaning the floors and cutting the grass while his wife handled all the money and the front end of the restaurant.
Ethel Noyes saw the Smithville Inn not as a dilapidated four-room house, but as a place she could restore to its late 18th-century heyday. The couple ran the Smithville Inn until it was sold to the American Broadcasting Corp. in 1974. The Noyeses re-entered the restaurant business with the opening of the Ram's Head Inn in 1976. Fred Noyes headed the building of the Noyes Museum in memory of his then late wife, who died in 1979. The Noyes Museum opened to the public June 12, 1983.
The book isn't just a love letter to Fred and Ethel Noyes. As a historian, Courter paints a balanced portrait reporting that some employees alleged they worked overtime without compensation, and Fred Noyes' bawdiness would have gotten him into trouble today.
"If he were alive today and acting the way he did back then, the Smithville Inn would be owned by the cocktail waitresses," Courter said.
When Courter was finished doing her research and interviews, she was able to attract the interest of the History Press in South Carolina, which also published Cathy Antener's "Discovering New Jersey's Pine Barrens," Patricia A. Martinelli's "The Fantastic Castle of Vineland and Sharron Morita's "Bridgeton, New Jersey: City on the Cohansey."
"I was interested in the story because Fred and Ethel Noyes were such an incredible couple and dynamic individuals. Rarely do you see such a huge impact made on a community by two people," said Whitney Landis, the History Press commissioning editor.
Over the years, Courter has given slide-and PowerPoint presentations on what she discovered about the couple.
In March 2012, Courter spoke at the Atlantic County Historical Society during a women's history month event. At that point, Courter said she would give no more presentations until the book was finished. She wanted to have it published before the Noyes Museum of Art celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.
The hardest part of the book process for Courter has been the past year, as she had to cut her original manuscript down because it was too long.
During the writing phase of the book, Courter spent at least a couple of hours per day writing, trying to finish at least 500 words at a shot. Courter found when she broke her foot, it was good for the project as it kept her housebound and made it easier to keep writing on the third floor of her home.
Michael Cagno, the Noyes Museum director, started reading Courter's book, but hasn't finished it yet.
"I am enjoying reading it because it really gives me a sense of context of how the museum was created. But even more importantly than that, the spirit and personality traits of those who created it, Ethel and Fred, and the principles, the core values, that helped to establish the mission of this organization," Cagno said.
Courter hopes her book finds a permanent niche in local southern New Jersey history.
"They did all three of these historic living legacies that are still with us carrying on with very fine people," said Courter about the Noyes, Smithville and the Ram's Head Inn. "Hopefully, for the businesses that are still thriving, people will appreciate their contributions."
Fran Coppola, co-owner of the Smithville Inn, said Courter's book includes a wealth of information.
"This is really great, stuff I never knew. She went all the way back to the grandparents. She did a great job. ... She went crazy. We didn't know a lot about them personally. We are from Philadelphia," said Coppola. "This (Smithville) was nothing but woods and barren land, and this is what they built. I just think that's so incredible. I still get shivers when I think about what they did and how they accomplished it. Anybody who reads it will want to come to Smithville."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
5 to 8 p.m. June 7 at the Noyes Museum of Art
of Stockton College, 733 Lily Lake Road, Oceanville.
5 to 7 p.m. June 26 in the Absegami Room
at the Smithville Inn,
1 North New York Road, Smithville.