Selma Paxson

Selma Steward Paxson is seen here in the restaurant at Paxsonville, probably in the 1940s. Selma and her husband, Ivo 'Bubby' Paxson, ran an Absecon motel complex commonly called Paxsonville from 1947 to 1962, when it was wiped out by a storm.

Photo provided by Paxson family

In its day, Paxsonville was a real place.

On a map, it would have been just a dot on the White Horse Pike near the eastern edge of Absecon, right outside the Atlantic City line.

But Paxsonville had its own fire department, its own gas station and, for a while, even its own zoo. By the time Ivo and Selma Paxson took over the family operation in 1947, though, both the zoo and the giant gas station were long gone. The main business was a motel made up of cabins, with a restaurant, a private bay beach, a gift shop and more attractions.

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When a massive northeaster blew through New Jersey in March 1962, Paxsonville was pretty well wiped out. Another family member tried to run the motel, but Selma and Ivo and their kids, Jimmy and Margaret, moved farther into Absecon. The business didn’t last another year.

So by the time Selma Steward Paxson died last month, at 94, Paxsonville was barely a dim memory — except in her own family.

Jim Paxson, her son, is now 73 and retired himself. In his Absecon home, he has albums of family pictures going back to 1900 — including page after page of Paxsonville shots. There’s one of his mom as a young woman with a big, customer-friendly smile in the restaurant. There are more of the Paxsons’ big home in the middle of the complex.

When Paxsonville closed, the family moved out and moved on with their lives. Ivo — or Bubby to his buddies from Atlantic City, where he and Selma were high school sweethearts — went into real estate and politics. He was 86 when he died in 2003.

Politics was in the Paxson bloodlines — Bubby’s father, Joseph, was an Atlantic City commissioner back in the “Boardwalk Empire” days. So the guest list for Bubby and Selma’s wedding included the “Boss of the Boardwalk” himself, Nucky Johnson, says their daughter, Margaret Cassidy, now of Williamstown.

Years later, after the family left the motel, Selma became a medical secretary for Dr. Earl Kanter, of Margate. Kanter remembered Monday that Selma inherited that job from her daughter, when Margaret got married and left in the 1960s. Selma stayed close to 25 years.

“She was very organized — she ran three medical offices,” Kanter said. “She was very nice and courteous. She had a basic knowledge from her experience as a motel owner, but in the medical area, she was mostly self-taught. And she was a very good student.”

After Bubby died, Selma sold their Absecon house and moved to her daughter’s home.

“She was still in good health,” Cassidy said. “She had all her faculties while she was here.”

And after Selma died, there was one fewer person who remembered that once, there really was a place called Paxsonville, and it really did have its day.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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