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Maurice River Recollections Project
River Reaches
Debra A. Barsotti
Research Journalist
Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River
and Its Tributaries, Inc.

The Maurice River Reaches Project - River Recollections
Everett Turner
Looking Backwards

Everett Turner can still tick off the names of the residents of Millville's almost-forgotten island. The island is a memory; the last cabin was demolished in the 1950's. The Millville Bridge is now the landmark on that stretch of the Maurice River. But Turner still remembers how he "hung out" there when he was a young boy.  He described the crude cabins that floated on the edge of the island. They were built like that so the residents didn't have to pay taxes, he recalled.

"It was quite populated down there," Turner recalled. He and his friends used to fish and play on the island. "And we'd run errands for them," Turner said. 

The residents were a colorful bunch. "There was Chris Ranson, Alec MacBeth, Billy McBurg, Malen Wingersaul, Allie Madden, and his son Charlie," said Turner, adding with a sympathetic nod, "They had to have separate places." Turner talked about a man named Gabe. He was a glassblower whose name escaped Turner at that moment. And there was Harry Penn  - and his brother Nimble, who was a great baritone singer, Turner recalled.

Everett Turner has some really good stories to share. He loves talking about the Maurice River - and its tributaries. Not only is he familiar with many of the reach names, but he can add the little details that define the life along the shores. That's because he immersed himself in the landscape. Turner has been a bit of explorer, walking the land to search evidence of forgotten mills, forgotten cemeteries and forgotten enclaves of the early settlers. He's been an assistant archeologist, participating in official "digs" at known Native American campsites along the Maurice River. And he's been an historian, a founding member of the Maurice River Historical Society who worked to preserve lore and legend - and the East Point Lighthouse.

Turner was born in Port Elizabeth in 1926. When he was two years old, his family moved to "a bungalow right across from the road that goes back to the Yawp Shore." He doesn't know where that name came from, but he remembers walking over to the Yawp Shore. "Some of the old time fisherman used to haul shad there," Turner said. "We used to sit there and watch them when they'd come in. They did everything by hand. They'd go out with the boat and haul in the catch. They'd gut the shad, basically for the roe. Turner said that the fishermen would often discard piles of shad carcasses, leaving them strewn across the shore.

"So…," Turner began, with a twinkle in his eye that indicated there was a story coming. Turner's dad plotted out a one-acre farm on their property. Turner claims that they grew the best watermelon in the area - and his dad's secret was no fish story.

The story Turner tells: His dad worked as a maintenance man and night watchman for one of George Pettinos sand operations. On his way home from work, he'd walk along the Yawp Shore where shad haulers were harvesting the roe. He'd take some of the shad home to his farm - and use them for fertilizer. He'd place them on the ground and mound the sandy soil into small hills around the shad. Into the mounds he'd plant whatever he was raising that season.

"With those shad under the soil, he had the best produce you ever saw," Turner said with obvious delight. "We used to have people come from all over just to get our watermelons."

Turner sketched a picture of his childhood days: "My mom had a few chickens and she sold eggs. But for the most part, the families in the area bartered with each other. It was during the depression. We were kids; we didn’t realize it. We ate good and had a good time. Turner said his father earned $9.00 a week. His shift at the sand plant started at 5:00 PM, and he worked until 7:00 the next morning. Except for the weekends. On weekends, he'd just stay on the site, making the repairs and keeping watch over the place.

"When the weather was good, I'd go down there and spend the weekend with him," Turner said. "I think I cherish that more than anything in my life."

Turner shared some of his favorite memories:

When he was a boy  - "We use to have an old rowing boat. It was sunk when we first found it. We pulled it up, patched it. We used to have to paddle with a broom."

When he was a little older - "Key City was just a short distance off the Maurice River, south on Silver Run Road, a bit further on Dividing Creek Road, down to a hollow, up the hill. A fellow by the name of Key had a sand plant there before Pettinos. He built tenant houses. He put the little railroad through the village and  right back to the river. It must have been quite an advanced city because the community had its own water tower to supply water to the residents." Turner grinned, "We climbed the water tower." He confessed, "We weren't supposed to."

And when Cargill abandoned the granary and the grain elevator that sat on the high banks overlooking the Mauirce River - " Yes, Turner nodded. "After Cargill abandoned it, we used to go climb those towers. A beautiful site up there. You could look all over from up there."

Those may not be the stories of the "good old days" that Turner readily shares with the youngest of his grandchildren. He wouldn't want to give them any ideas.

When he was younger, an old-timer named Ned Stowman befriended Turner. "I gained so much knowledge from talking to Ned," Turner said. "I used to go down to Bivalve at night and just sit on the wharf. Ned would tell us stories."

Thinking of one of Stowman's stories, Turner asked, "Did you ever hear of Peak of the Moon? There are so many different conceptions about how it got its name." Turner smiled.  "Ned told me how it got its name. It was a good place for rum running during the prohibition days. During the peak of the moon, that was during a full moon, they could come up there at night - with no lights or anything, and make their trades for rum." He shook his head and lingered over the name, "The Peak of the Moon."

Turner was friends with Herb Vanaman, one of the area's local historians. Vanaman told some good tales, including the legend of DeVaul's Island. "Just below the Mauricetown Bridge, on the east side of the river, there was a place they called DeVaul's Island. Herb showed me where it was. There were legends that DeVaul was a pirate and had buried treasures on the big sand hill there."

Turner, Vanaman, Jean Jones and others enjoyed investigating the leads that took them along the Maurice River and its tributaries. On one adventure, Turner was helping Jones research the genealogy of the Jones family. Their search took them up along the Muskee Creek. Turner had discovered the remnants of an old saw mill that he believed was operated by Abraham Jones. He mentioned that to Jones and added, "There's a burial ground back in there. I can take you there blindfolded!" He knew the turf that well.

Turner liked walking the land. He followed in his father's footsteps, figuratively (the elder Turner used to walk miles and miles a day) and literally (Turner used to accompany his father on his many walks). On that walk with Jean Jones, Turner led her to the site he had mentioned.  They located not only the tombstone with inscriptions that identified it as the grave of Abraham Jones (who died in 1786) but also the graves of other Jones family members.

There's more to this story, Turner gleefully reported. "Dr. Sharp owned the land then - and the sand plant that he owned was encroaching on it." The way Turner tells it, Dr. Sharp (who lived there in Port Norris), was pretty concerned about it, saying that he didn’t like the idea of having people's bones going through his sand plant.

"He was serious," Turner remembered. "With his help," he said, "we got permission to take up the burials. Jean had papers where she was made 'temporary mortician.' That meant that we could legally dig up and transport the remains."

The descendents of the Jones family had a burial plot in Port Elizabeth that had space still available. Turner related the details: "We made arrangements with church, through Herb Vanaman, so that we could bury them there. We worked for two summers taking them out. We had to do it very carefully."

Turner has plenty of vivid memories. He recalls watching the barges traveling to the Cargill Granary. He liked how the tugs and the tides were used to turn the enormous barges around. He remembers the time a tug came too close to the shoreline and got caught up. "When it revved its motor to get loose, it left a big hole beyond Galetto's," Turner said.

Turner is one of the few who remember the windmill at Leesburg, too. "It was right where Jimmy Allen's steel company is today," he said.

And Turner is familiar with the reach called Fish Factory. The area was called Menhaden. It was located between Leesburg and Heislerville.  Turner said, "My dad worked there - before I was born - in the early 1920's." Turner recalled walking along the area as a youngster. "There used to be a chimney and some foundations." He said that those remnants are no longer visible. "But I can still recognize the site," he said.

Turner knows the lay of the land - and the flow of the waters. "I fished with my brothers - and with my boys," he said. "We fished up and down the Maurice River. I think we fished every place on the river, at one time or another. Fishing and clamming, but not for profit - for fun!"

Everett Turner has plenty of memories - but one that lingers sweet is the image of his parents: His father worked that long shift at the sand plant. He'd come home, do the farming chores and cut the supply of wood that continually fed their cook stove. Then he'd take a nap. He'd awaken everyday at 1:00. That's when his parents would spend time together.

"My mom and dad used to sit on the front porch," Turner said. "There was a program that came on  - a Reverend Hackett. He would sing the old Methodist songs. I can remember them singing along with him. I can still close my eyes and sing those songs…"