MULLICA TOWNSHIP — When Mullica’s unofficial historian, Louisa Mazetis, was born in 1925 — in the big stone Butterhof Shady Brook Farm on Route 30 — the glory days of local wineries were already in the past.
But she learned a lot about them, and a lot about wine, she said. That’s because the house where she was born had been the center of her grandfather’s Butterhof Winery, she said. It had a 13-foot-high wine cellar.
“There were more than 30 vineyards in the area,” Mazetis, 87, said of the countryside in and around Mullica Township and Egg Harbor City in the 19th century. Egg Harbor City had a sign across the pike that said, “The Wine City,” she said.
But problems with insects, and then Prohibition, pushed many farmers out of the wine business, she said.
“Mullica Township has no wineries now,” she said.
She hopes the rest of Mullica’s history doesn’t disappear like the wineries did.
Mullica Township, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, doesn’t have a home or a budget for its historical society, which meets monthly in Town Hall. But it will be celebrating with a bigger-than-usual Community Day on June 1, Township Clerk Kimberly Johnson said.
“We’re doing it all without a budget. It’s slim to none,” said Johnson, who is working to line up entertainment and vendors for the day.
Many of the buildings that mark important parts of township history are long gone or threatened.
“Amatol is our big claim to fame,” Mazetis said on a recent tour of historical spots.
Amatol was a munitions plant built and operated briefly in Mullica in 1918. It brought a sudden influx of hundreds of new residents to its 600-plus buildings on 6,000 acres. Most of the people left just as suddenly when the war ended later that year.
Only two buildings remain from Amatol. One is now a private home on Route 30, and the other is the two-story former State Police Barracks on Route 30 near the border with Hammonton. It sits vacant and decaying behind the State Police’s South Regional Laboratory.
In 1926, Charles M. Schwab opened the Atlantic City Speedway, a 1.5-mile wooden oval auto racetrack that accommodated 60,000 fans, in the Amatol area. It remained open for seven years, but no trace remains now.
“You’ve heard of a Boardwalk?” Mazetis joked. “Well those boards walked,” she said of stories that locals tore up the track and built homes from the wood.
Mazetis worked at her family’s Butterhof’s feed store from 1944 to 1954, riding all the back roads to collect payments from farmers and assigning trucks for delivery.
“I knew all the old roads,” she said.
Then she got married and traveled with her husband, John, who was in the military, until 1960. They settled back in her hometown, where she raised her children and started selling the World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door.
“God gave me a gift of gab,” she said. “I talked for a living.”
Later she got her college degree at then-Glassboro State College, and her master’s in library science, and retired as a reference librarian from the Atlantic County Library in Mays Landing in 1994.
She’s still a Fuller Brush saleswoman, she said.
While raising her children in the 1960s, she often took them to the outdoor movie theater on the White Horse Pike, which is another site left crumbling. There had been interest in renovating it a decade or so ago, but because of Pinelands restrictions on sewerage hookups, that fell through, she said.
The Hilda S. Frame School on Route 542, and the old Agricultural School on Darmstadt Avenue (later named Gertrude Lauer School), are two-room schoolhouses built in 1900 and 1910, respectively, that are up for sale or rent. They had been used for a time by the Egg Harbor School District for preschool classes, Mazetis said.
She would love to see the Frame school become a home for the historical society and the collection of documents and artifacts she and others have put together over the years, but that would require an almost miraculous donation of funds, she said.
Mazetis remembers her younger sister, Rita, attending the Agriculture School in about 1940.
“Mrs. Beebe was the school teacher. She called my mom when Rita was just 4 years old and said, ‘Please send her now so I can have a class.’ There were only a couple of students signed up.”
The school still had no indoor bathroom.
“My sister had to use an outhouse,” Mazetis said.
One of the best known places in Mullica since the 1920s was the Sweetwater Casino restaurant on the river at Seventh Avenue, but it burned down in June 2008 and has not been rebuilt.
Other landmarks are faring well, such as the 1763 Old Batsto Church (now the Pinelands United Methodist Church) on Route 542 near Nescochague Lake.
Nearby on Pleasant Mills Weekstown Road is the graveyard of the earliest Catholic Church in Atlantic County, called St. Mary’s of the Assumption. The church, built in 1827, burned long ago.
The only property in Mullica Township that is on the National Register of Historic Places is the site of a 19th century cotton mill, then paper mill, in the Pleasant Mills section, also on Pleasant Mills Weekstown Road. The more intact part of the old mill was used for a time in the 1950s as a playhouse, which Mazetis frequented to see traveling off-Broadway plays.
The property is privately owned, overgrown and crumbling.
But Mazetis remains optimistic that the mill can be renovated. It sits facing a similarly historic structure, the Kate Aylesford Mansion, which was built in 1762 by Revolutionary War Col. Elija Clark. It, too, is privately owned but in pristine condition.
A historical novel written in 1855 created the fictional Aylesford, based on the real Honoria Read, who lived in the mansion. It has recently been released by Plexus Publishing, Mazetis said. Called “The Heiress of Sweetwater,” the book was out of print for a century before being rescued by Plexus, the publisher of Nelson Johnson’s “Boardwalk Empire” and other books about New Jersey.
It would be great to see a similar rebirth for the mill, Mazetis said.
If you go:
The Mullica Township Historical Society meets at 7 p.m. on
the third Tuesday of the month at Town Hall, 4528 White Horse Pike. The next meeting is May 21.
Mullica Township Community Day starts at noon June 1 at the Recreation Field on Elwood Weekstown Road. There will be Civil War re-enactments, entertainment by the Mullica Township Elementary School Jazz Band, vendors and food. For more information, contact the Township Clerk’s Office
For more on Amatol, visit http://amatol.atlantic.edu/index.html
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post: