Artist Cathleen Engelsen’s Focus Is on Her Grandfather, Photographer W.C. Jones

Apr 25, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Cathleen Engelsen with a photo her grandfather W.C. Jones made of Tuckerton Creek.

Surf City artist Cathleen Engelsen is the granddaughter of W.C. Jones, a Tuckerton man who 100 years ago was the town’s photographer, jeweler, drug store and movie theatre owner. Engelsen has inherited all of her grandfather’s negatives and has developed many of his prints of Tuckerton Creek, Tuckerton streets, Lake Pohatcong and Tucker’s Island. She uses these primarily as subjects for her historical paintings.

Many collector of old Post Cards know of W.C. Jones because he sold black and white postcards of Tuckerton from his drug store—indeed they were still for sale at Bowers’ Pharmacy into the 1960s.

On Saturday, April 21 she gave a talk for the Tuckerton Historical Society at the Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum that drew a full house. Ocean County Historian Tim Hart and Long Beach Island Historical Association President Ron Marr were among the crowd; such is the power of Engelsen’s story and her grandfather’s photos.

W.C. stood for William Clarence and it was the middle name that made Jones choose to go with his initials. “He hated Clarence,” said Engelsen. Jones was born in Hammonton, New Jersey and started his photography company with his father. “They went from Hammonton to Tuckerton by horse and carriage, taking people’s photos for their portrait business,” she said.

“Somehow, by doing that, he realized what a wonderful town Tuckerton was and started the W.C. Jones Drugstore in the center of town. He also owned the movie theater and my aunt ‘Pep’ used to play the piano for the silent films. My mother used to tell me it was her job to sweep out the theatre.”

Jones had married his high school sweetheart from Hammonton and the couple moved into a house on Clay Street in Tuckerton in 1910.

And he started to document town life. In particular he loved boats, said Engelsen. “He would go to Willow Landing on Tuckerton Creek (at the foot of Clay and Willow Streets) and take pictures of the catboats, the garveys and the sneakboxes—all boats that were created here on the Jersey Shore.”

“I have no idea how many cameras he had but I know he had a long, panoramic lens.”

As she showed some of his pictures on a screen, apologizing for the disorganized way they showed up, “Someday, John (Yates, Vice-President of the THS) and Donald (Castellli, THS President) can show me how to make a better power point demonstration, she described the Lakeside Hotel and the WWI monument that was first placed there and then moved to a cemetery on Green Street. A photo of Lipman Gerber’s general store on Main Street reminded an audience member of ‘The Wall,’ a low sandstone fence that teens used to sit on to pass their Saturday nights. This corner of town was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s. A photo of the old Methodist Church with it’s distinctive round steeple also brought back memories; it too was destroyed in the same disastrous fire.

Engelsen’s favorites of her grandfather’s photos of Tuckerton were panoramic views taken from the towns’ highest vantage point, the water tower, which stood for years behind the Tuckerton Liquor Store (which used to be the bank). Her grandfather must have been brave to take his equipment up on the narrow steel deck that ran around the tower. One photo shows the back of the Carlton House, the town’s premier hotel and the backyards of houses on Main Street including their trash piles, outhouses and grape arbors.

Her grandparents bought a house on Tucker’s Island, a cottage affectionately called “Skeeters.” Engelsen has painted this cottage with the family standing outside and it’s one of her best-selling prints.

She showed many photos of the doomed Island—completely taken back by the sea with erosion starting in the 1940s. But when her grandfather was vacationing there it was a thriving island getaway: Bond’s Hotel was still standing, as well as a church, a school, many cottages and the Tucker’s Island lighthouse with the keeper’s house attached. There were also huge dunes that the family and guests climbed on and then posed for her grandfather. “He was adept at getting in the picture,” she added. “He would set up the camera, then hurry up and jump in picture.”

These photos of men and women dressed for an early spring romp on the beach in their best clothes are telling of the times. Ron Marr said the age of the women in the photo was related to the length of their dresses. Girls who had not yet graduated high school had dress lengths to their calves, older women’s dresses covered their ankles and they always wore elaborate hats. The plumes in one of the lady’s hats date the photo to before the ban on egret hunting for their feathers.

Boys also wore “short pants” before leaving high school and boys up to the age of 4 wore dresses until they were potty trained. “That’s why it (potting training) was called ‘breeching,’ said Marr. “That’s when they got to wear short pants.”

Cathleen’s grandmother holds her mother in one of the Tucker’s Island photos.

Both Cathleen’s parents graduated from the old wooden schoolhouse (demolished) on Marine Street in Tuckerton. “My mother always had a camera,” she said.

Her mother’s parents built her a cottage in Surf City, the home that Cathleen lives in today and has her studio. Her father owned a boatyard on Tuckerton Creek, “Sid Pearce’s Boatyard and Marine Railway,” said Engelsen. It was located at the present site of GEB Marina and the Dockside Café on Tuckerton Creek.

Engelsen has his original ledger from the boatyard in which he noted what he did every hour of the day – the better to estimate his jobs on various boats. “Look,” said Engelsen, “Here’s the ‘Miss B’Haven,’ on this day he replaced the bilge pump on her. I love the names of some of the boats … here’s the ‘King Fisher.’”

When she was 14 Engelsen (and her brother) were sent to work at the boatyard in the summer and they did various chores like scraping barnacles off the bottom of wooden boats.

During the school year, Engelsen attended the Beach Haven School. “It’s a lovely building still standing today. It had three floors with the lower grades on the first floor and big windows that faced the ocean. I was never allowed to sit by the windows; I guess I was a daydreamer, but I think it was the early exposure to the ocean through those windows everyday that influences the color of ocean in my art work – my ocean blue.”

Two years ago, Engelsen was honored by the Ocean County Historical and Cultural Commission for her contribution to the arts and local history.

She began her painting career using her grandfather’s photos to paint murals in the McDonald’s Manahawkin. The franchise owner was so pleased he had her paint murals in all his stores at the shore. Today, her mural of Tucker’s Island is on display in the recreated Tucker’s Island Lighthouse at the Tuckerton Seaport; one of her paintings of Barnegat Light graces the Barnegat Light municipal council room; another seaside mural is on display in the Maritime Museum in Beach Haven and her paintings and prints of local and historical scenes have delighted the public.

Engelsen opens her home on 19th Street in Surf City for the LBI Open studio Tour every year (June 30) and is proud to share her family’s heritage in the form of her art; “Keeping History Alive, One Painting at a Time” is her slogan.

—Pat Johnson



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