Morgan Memories – The Robert E. Lee Inn
Those of us who grew up in post Great Depression/World War II Morgan knew it as The Robert E. Lee Inn. It was located on the northwest side of the Cheesequake Creek channel where the creek emptied into RaritanBay. Fewer of us knew it was previously called Cady’s House of Sea Food when it was built in the mid-1920’s by James H. Cady – including his grandchildren. My mother knew it however. I found out in an odd way which I’ll cover in a bit.
When I first saw the Alfred S. Landis picture post card of Cady’s House of Sea Food, it confused me since it looked just like the Robert E. Lee Inn and appeared to be located about where the Robert E. Lee Inn used to be located – even though the roads shown were different than the present day roads. The roads were different before World War II than they are today. The post card shows the “Shore Road” intersecting with what later known as Old Spye Road. At the time it seemed to be known as either Route 4, Main Street, Keyport Road or the Amboy-Keyport Road. The bridge over Cheesequake Creek shown in the post card was removed after the current bridge was opened in 1943. You’ll note that there is no sign of the Jersey Central Traction trolley line which also crossed Cheesequake Creek on this bridge. That line went out of business in the summer of 1923.
A fact I learned only recently to the date of the original posting of this topic was that a co-worker of my mother’s at Rutgers University Bookstore, the lady I knew when I went there as Betty B., was more than just a co-worker to my mother. Betty was and remained a life long friend to my Mom until Betty passed away on April 24, 2011. When my mom was a child, her parents would take my uncle and her to Morgan Beach in the summer starting sometime in the 1920’s. They were among the hordes of people from the northern NJ cities who would flock to the JerseyShore in the summertime. Morgan Beach was essentially the first beach the Northerners would encounter while going southward and was conveniently located near a railroad station. The first thing my mother would do when she got to Morgan Beach was to cross over the drawbridge (shown on the postcard) and go see her friend Betty Cady. When I told my mom about the Cady’s post card, she nonchalantly said, “Oh yes, it was originally called Cady’s”. That is also when she told me that her close friend Betty’s maiden name was Betty Cady. Of course I was floored that all my life that information was known within my family yet I had no clue.
So the beloved Robert E. Lee Inn started out as Cady’s. They mystery regarding when Cady’s was built was demystified when I read the April 23, 1926 issue of the South Amboy Citizen newspaper. We now know that the restaurant was built during the winter of 1925/26 and opened on Thursday, April 22, 1926! The article also confirmed something mentioned by Diane Norek Harrison, author of the “Remembering the Past” columns for the Atom Tabloid & Citizen-Gazette website. Diane indicated that Cady’s Dining Hall was listed as a 1922 Morgan business. This article mentions that Mr. Cady’s previous restaurant was located near Morgan Station, the railroad station in Morgan where what is now known as Old Spye Road crossed the New York & Long Branch Railroad, just a few hundred feet away from the site of Cady’s House of Sea Food/Robert E. Lee Inn.
The “House of Sea Food,” considered to be one of the most modern and best located restaurants on the Jersey Coast was opened at Morgan yesterday by Mr. J. H. Cady. Mr. Cady formerly was located at Morgan near the railroad crossing. The building is located on the Shore Road near the Morgan bridge and was built during the past winter.
The dining room has a capacity of seating over two hundred people and everything in the way of fixtures is entirely new. By the time the bathing season opens Mr. Cady expects to have a number of bath houses constructed and a gasoline station will be located on the property. The building is in a nice location overlooking Raritan Bay and Cheesequake Creek. Shore and fish dinners are a specialty at the new place and will, according to Mr. Cady, be as good, if not better than those which have earned for his establishment a reputation that is more than state-wide.
Mr. Cady, per his grandsons Peter Bunting and David P. Weldon, later opened up a small business further north on the side of the road off of Route 35 toward Perth Amboy called Cady’s Clam Bar. He had a smoke house out back where he smoked whiting, eels and other fish and lived in a small place near by. Mr. Weldon used to ride with him to and from Barnegat to obtain fresh supplies for the clam bar. The Clam Bar was also a hot topic on the Facebook Group “You Knew You Grew Up in Morgan if” in June of 2013. Because of this Facebook chatter, one time Morgan resident Beverly Moline identified the exact location and current Morgan resident Jim Whoski Maciejewski provided a map which helped pinpoint the location to have been on the north side of Route 35 just below the intersection with Kath Street. Another Morgan mystery solved!
When the Cady family owned what later became the Robert E. Lee Inn, they lived on the upper floors. At that time, Morgan was rather remote and had very little in the way of a year round population. The bungalows at Morgan Beach were mostly seasonal. Most of the present day Morgan residential housing came later during the housing boom of post World War II but in the 1920s, near as I can tell with information I have found thus far, most residences were mainly on the streets nearest the bay or along present day South Pine Avenue. It is rather cool that some members of the Cady family do still have and use some of the original tables, plates, dishes and chairs from the restaurant!
Thus far I don’t really have any information regarding the Inn portion of the building. I know the building contained a restaurant and a bar. Debbi J. is a long time Morgan resident who used to live in one of the World War II Army surplus barracks which were acquired then placed next to the Robert E. Lee Inn (REL) by then owner Don MacRae. The barracks were originally intended for summer rentals for people from New York City per Theodore Douglas, Mr. MacRae’s grandson. Later, people lived year round in them. Debbi and her mother worked at “The Lee”; Debbi eventually married one of their co-workers.
Debbi provided us with the photo showing most of the painting of the Robert E. Lee Inn; there used to be post cards of this painting such as the one at the top of this. The painting was created by Frances Wynegar, daughter of and one of three children (Mary Lou, Frances and Richard “RJ”) of previous owners of the REL, Dick and Gladys Neubold. Frances went by the nickname “Snooky” – let’s call her the original Snooky of the Jersey Shore! Thank you to Diane Wynegar Griffin for the update about her mother Snooky (especially the correct spelling), grandparents, aunts and uncles.
In the painting you see two levels of windows along the channel. Debbie wrote me that she “was told the tavern was downstairs, the second floor was a banquet hall, the third floor was where the owners lived, and there was also an apartment on the fourth floor. One day supposedly a nor’easter flooded the bar and that is when it was moved to the second floor where the bar and restaurant existed until the day it burned down.”
In my childhood time in Morgan, boaters from all over the area, including across the bay from New York, would stop at The Robert E. Lee Inn for lunch or dinner. Here is a Robert E. Lee Inn menu from circa 1972! Local kids, including my brother, Doug, would work the small docks on the channel tying up the boats for tips. Doug also learned the fine art of “shucking” clams and oysters at the Robert E. Lee Inn. Shucking uses a roundish blunt knife to first cut open the mollusk then to separate the muscles and soft tissue of the creature from the shell. This was done just before being served to the dining patrons so they could have clams or oysters on the half shell. Doug is a pretty amazing schucker.
Our school bus stopped there to pick up kids who lived either in the REL or in the bungalows (i.e., the Army surplus barracks). I recall one named Joe, from my Jesse Selover Elementary School days, lived in the Inn and another, named Dave from my Sayreville War Memorial High School and drum corps days, who lived in one of the bungalows.
Since the opening of the current draw bridge across Cheesequake Creek during World War II and the corresponding reconfiguration of the roads in support of the bridge, access to the property can only be gained via Route 35 south.
Sadly, as had happened to some of the buildings of nearby Henry Luhrs Sea Skiff, Inc. (see the to-be-reposted write-up) and the Old Spye Inn previously located on the other side of the railroad tracks, the Robert E. Lee Inn burnt to the ground one fateful morning taking with it both Snooky’s Robert E. Lee Inn painting and a giant painting of a riverboat named the Robert E. Lee. According to my records, this fire occurred in the early morning hours of April 22, 1986 (though I see another reference which indicated the fire occurred in February). The News Tribune reported it was a “3:45 am fire” and that the structure was “79 years old” (wrong). The Star-Ledger got it right when it indicated the building was a “70-year-old Sayreville restaurant and bar” at the time of the fire. Though Charles Ludwig, the owner at the time, hoped to rebuild the structure, fate did not concur. Mr. Ludwig lost the property in 1991 and died two years later.
During the mid to latter 2000’s, the Borough of Sayreville, through the Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Agency (SERA), tried to redevelop the 4-acre property along with 8 “riparian” acres intended for a marina on the west side which boarded the western jetty. Per the Suburban Newspaper from November 8, 2007, three companies submitted statements of interest to SERA. Hopefully this is still an active project. At the time, this was being lead by Mr. Raniero Renny Travisano, whom I remember from local politics and the Morgan Hose and Chemical Company (see the to-be-reposted write-up) before I moved to California.
How this possible redevelopment fits in with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s report of contaminated areas with extremely high levels of lead around the western jetty near Cheesequake Creek and at the small beach area north of the jetty in Sayreville (i.e., the Robert E. Lee Inn site), I don’t know (see the to-be-reposted write-up). As a minimum, it will likely delay any redevelopment plans for a number of years, if not decades.
From what I have found so far, here is the list of owners. If you have any further info on the correctness of this list, please contact me!
- James Cady
- Don MacRae
- John Millroy
- Richard E. Millroy (John’s son)
- Dick and Gladys Neubold
- Charles Ludwig (Ramble Realty Co)
The September 23, 2003 issue of the Newark Star-Ledger indicates that “The Robert E. Lee was named for the property’s original owner, Robert E. Lee Morgan, who bought it in 1904 and constructed a marina and an inn.” I don’t know if that is true. I do know that Robert E. Lee Morgan descended from the original Morgan family and owned property adjacent to the site so he probably also owned the property on that site.
There is an excellent photo of the Robert E. Lee Inn available for purchase which would look great in a frame in your house or office. This photo was taken by Joe Tanski shortly before the fire. Joe and his wife Gail have an excellent photography studio off South Pine Avenue in Morgan. Not only do they do weddings and portraits, they offer some phenomenal images of the Raritan Bay area. I especially like the one of the Great Beds Lighthouse. When you end up buying one of the Robert E. Lee, please let them know that you read about it on this web site.
Here is an image taken shortly after the fire which destroyed the Robert E. Lee Inn.
Here are some other images of the Robert E. Lee Inn from a private individual.
Certainly what is written here is only partial information about The Robert E. Lee Inn. If you have any additional information or corrections please don’t hesitate to let us know via a comment below. The great thing about a web site is the ability to update it.
On a final note, Betty was the one who told my mother there was an opening at the RU Bookstore and that my mother should apply. This came in mighty handy when I went to RU since as a dependent of a university employee, there was no tuition – just some student fees. Thank you, Betty!