Dennisville, NJ has been home to retired sawmill owner George Brewer since he was nine years old. Founded in 1726, the area is known historically for shipbuilding and lumbering, and the Atlantic white cedar timber that is both standing and submerged in its swamplands. Early settlers used the swamp cedar for many purposes – shingles, flooring, furniture – and in George’s hands almost 1,500 picnic tables.
George was born into a farming family in 1935 in Woodbury, NJ. Eighteen years later he graduated from Middle Township High School in Cape May County.
His first job was as a carpenter. Between his junior and senior year in high school George and his father built a house. In 1958 George left carpentry and went to work in his dad’s sawmill in Dennisville. They mined standing cedar from swampland they owned and milled it to fill custom orders. “The mill was no further advanced than one you could have found in the early 1900s.” They became partners in both the mill and a small campground his father owned called Cedar Lake. George took over the businesses when his father retired in the 1960s.
George employed one person to help him fell the trees and haul the logs to his mill. The Brewer Sawmill supplied cedar planking for boat docks, duck and bird decoys, and for other purposes where it will be called on to resist rot and insects. Indeed, the mill provided the cedar to build some of the surf boats used by lifeguards on the East Coast for rescues. George built over 1,000 picnic tables for local campgrounds in the 1980s. “I appreciate a nice stand of cedar; it’s a renewable source that has to be used.”
In 1999 George shut down the sawmill and sold the campground. He recently developed a piece of wooded land he owns into a residential subdivision in Dennisville. He has been married to Joyce Brewer for 66 years and they have two children.
There is more to George’s story than wetland muck and staggering screws in two-by-fours. His family is armed with knowledge of two of George’s ancestors with ties to the Civil War era. The first is his great-grandmother’s brother Josiah Franklin who served in the 12th NJ with training in Woodbury. The second is his great-grandfather William P. Schellenger of Clementon, NJ who, as a second class fireman aboard the USS Montauk on April 25, 1865, guarded the body of one John Wilkes Booth before and after his autopsy. Mr. Schellenger stood eight feet away from the carpenter’s bench where Booth lay on the monitor. The ironclad was anchored in the Anacostia River off the Washington Navy Yard, D.C.
George, an Old Baldy member for 8 ½ years, has visited Vicksburg National Military Park and the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. He is a member of the General Meade Society and a 20-year member of The Civil War Roundtable of Cape May County, NJ.
Profile written by Kim Weaver