I'm very excited about this. My Dad came up with the idea last Summer to get the little alley that runs behind our house in Strathmere named in honor of Bertha Wittkamp.
Bertha was the 1st baby born in Strathmere. She was born in 1901, and she lived there year round, for her entire life until she passed away in 1991. Now, Strathmere is a little town. Less than 100 people live there year round today and in the early 1900s there were a lot less. Plus there was nothing there, no hospital, no paved roads etc. Very few people were actually born in the town and most moved away at some time in their life.
Bertha was born in a room at the West Jersey Cottage, a hotel that her parents built in 1895. Her brother was born 2 years later. They went to the town's one room schoolhouse. Bertha has a niece who lives in Strathmere today, making the Wittkamps the oldest family to live continuously in Strathmere for the past 115 years.
Bertha was a nurse who worked at the hospital in Sea Isle City. She was also a Red Cross nurse for many years. She lived her entire life in Strathmere sharing memories of her life growing up on the island, telling of when it was covered in beach plums and cows grazed freely. She also remembered when soldiers were stationed in Strathmere to patrol the beaches during both World Wars.
Bertha lived her entire life on Winthrop Road, first in the family hotel, then in the hotel annex next door, and then finally in the boathouse on the alley (which is the alley that we want to be named in her honor) behind the hotel after the boathouse was converted to living quarters. Over the years, many people in town referred to her as ‘Aunt Bertha’ and she rode in an antique car in the Strathmere 4th of July Parade, honored as being the first baby born in Strathmere.
In 1982 we bought Bertha's house and cottage from her (the original hotel was moved down the road and converted into a store) Bertha would only sell the house if she was allowed to remain living in the cottage. She lived the rest of her life in the cottage, on the street where she grew up and lived for 91 years. I still have her name on the front door of the cottage.
We made a petition requesting that the nameless alley be named in honor of Bertha, got the neighbors whose properties front the alley to sign the petition, and presented it to the township. The request was presented to the Upper Township Committee this week and it looks like it should be passed!
This story appears in the 3/31/11 edition of The Press of Atlantic City
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:16 am
Upper Township to name road after lifelong Strathmere resident Bertha Wittkamp
By MICHAEL MILLER - Staff Writer http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/
UPPER TOWNSHIP - The Township Committee plans to honor the late Bertha Wittkamp, one of the few people known to have been born and to have lived lifelong in Strathmere.
The committee is naming an alley off Winthrop Avenue for Wittkamp, who died in 1991 at age 89.
Local residents have been calling this road near the bay "Bertha's Alley" for decades, township resident and local historian Sam Baker said.
Wittkamp was the first known baby to be born in Strathmere in 1901. She was followed soon after by her younger brother, Harlan. Her family moved from Philadelphia to Strathmere in the 1880s because her father suffered from respiratory problems and the salt air was considered a good cure, Baker said.
Her father worked for the West Jersey Railroad, which at the time had a rail line that went to Strathmere. The family built a hotel called the West Jersey Cottage.
"He ran the hotel and worked as the railroad bridge-tender and station master for the West Jersey Railroad in Strathmere," Baker said.
In a 1988 interview, Wittkamp talked about growing up on an island without paved roads or cars, where goats grazed and she attended a one-room schoolhouse.
"We used to raise some pigs here when we were kids," she said. "And we had chickens. Oh, my heavens, did we have chickens. We had ducks and geese, too. And down toward the beach we'd go out and dig soft-shell clams."
Mayor Richard Palombo said while it is not unusual for people to grow up and settle down in Cape May County for their entire lives, this is unusual for Strathmere. About 100 people call this island their year-round home.
"To have been born and stayed in the same area is pretty amazing," Palombo said.
Wittkamp worked for 20 years at the Woodbine Developmental Center in Woodbine, a state home for developmentally disabled men, and as a nurse at a hospital in Sea Isle City.
She was a member of the Strathmere United Methodist Church, her obituary said.
Baker said living in Strathmere was not always as easy in Wittkamp's youth as it is today. The main road into town often flooded. Few businesses were open except in the summertime. To have lived there at the turn of the century through coastal storms and winter isolation is remarkable, he said.
"When winter comes, there's nothing there," Baker said. "Years ago, every store would close up. You had to travel inland to buy anything."
Baker said Wittkamp lived alone but was hardly a hermit. She loved going to parties.
"All her friends would stop in. Every day of the week, she'd have a half-dozen people stop in," she said. "People used to refer to her as Aunt Bertha."
"The Wittkamps are one of the original families who settled in Strathmere," the mayor said. "Basically people who grow up at the shore have sand in their shoes and never want to leave."
And that was the case with Wittkamp, she told a reporter in 1988.
"I love Strathmere," she said. "It's altogether different. But this is a friendly town and people always help each other. People like this town. They really do."
Press librarian Martha Zechman contributed to this report.
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