Excerpts From The Correspondence Pertaining to the Purchase of the Shipman Property

“Dear Sir:

Mr. Franklin Jones of Beverly has handed me your name as being interested in a riverfront property, which I think I have one that is a real bargain at $10,000, five acres of ground, with a splendid frontage and not near the other neighbors.”

So begins a letter dated July 2nd, 1922 from Florence Nightingale Watson, local postmistress and real estate broker, to Joseph A. Murray, Philadelphia judge and a staunch Red Dragon, chairman of the committee searching for a new home for the Dragon since progress in the form of the Tacony-Palmyra bridge was claiming the famous lair of the beast in Wissinoming, PA.

This letter is the first of roughly 400-500 pages of correspondence between not only these two principals, but also to third party law offices, title companies, insurance companies, etc.

We owe possession of this correspondence to Judge Murray, who not only kept copies of his correspondence, but somehow also obtained copies between the other parties. We had all the letters retyped onto less fragile paper, (some are on very fragile onion skin paper) and those were put into a notebook. I do not know where the notebook and the original letters are, but they were in a box in the fleet room the last I saw them, many years ago.

It makes a fascinating story – not only the “long and arduous efforts” (which they were) – But the letters themselves tell a story of how business was transacted in another era. Regardless of the frustrations encountered, they were always polite and courteous to a fault.

One thing that strikes the reader is that on some days two rounds of letters were written and answered between Murray and Watson via the morning and afternoon trains. (Watson lived on Warren St, the second house from Woodlane where the Post Office was and located just behind the Edgewater Park railroad station) (Franklin Jones was the president of the Beverly Bank).

At the time of purchase, the property had been divided into six shares, which were now owned by three sets of heirs, living in Missouri and Arkansas. The property was referred to as “The Shipman property” in reference to Paul and Alice Shipman who occupied the property prior to our purchase

The house had been vacant for three years (per Judge Murray) and the property was so overgrown that they did not realize the privy was there until they began clearing out the weeds.

As a side note, during an open house we held in the 1970's a woman, Mrs Scott, came to see the clubhouse. She had lived on Warren Street during the time the Shipmans lived there, and had known the Shipmans as a child. She told me that all the kids called Mr Shipman ”Santa Claus” because he had a long white beard. She also said that the wall where the ship pictures hang in the hall had been all bookshelves, filled with books and that the Shipmans were seldom seen during the day and apparently worked mostly at n

The agreement of sale was signed on July 29th, 1922 but the letters already indicated possible trouble with the title. It seems that one of the heirs, Homer Freeling of Harrison, Arkansas, had a mortgage outstanding against his share of the property, and, according to the bank, Freeling had been negligent in paying the note and that “if they, (Freeling) should not get this money in the bank's hands, that we could not force them into a settlement.

During the interim, the members were allowed access to the property, although Freeling wrote that he wanted to be sure that no expenses would accrue to the heirs. His obstinence became obvious when he refused to accept the title company that Watson had chosen, saying that it was at her expense.

The following is a “brief” chronology of the events surrounding the purchase of the property. A lot of them were on thin parchment paper. I took these notes as I read each one and arranged them in chronological order. I thought it might be interesting to make this summary of what I considered the highlights.

Sept. 19, 1922 Another heir, Mrs Wisdom, wrote saying that since Freeling had mortgaged most of what he had coming, he didn't care whether it was sold or not. Also she wanted to make sure the proceeds were sent individually to the heirs since Mr Freeling would likely claim some charge for distributing the money. Also “ No telling what he would improvise and keep out of our shares before he would hand them to us”.

Sept 2 The bank holding the mortgage wrote asking that their claim be kept secret until the last moment of settlement in order not to ruin the deal. He also said Mr Freeling told him they had only been offered $6000 and the heirs had refused it. At this point Freeling did not know the bank was in contact with Watson.
Also in dispute was the cost of having the deed made. Freeling said the heirs would pay no more than $75 and had found someone to do it for $1. However, this was returned by Judge Murray as being “not only incomplete and has several errors in its description, and so wholly informal that no title company would pass it”.
During this period, Freeling was holding the copies of the deed prepared by the Land Title Company of NJ. They were repeatedly asking him to sign and return them to no avail.

Oct 23 Murray wrote to Watson complaining of the title company's not hearing from Freeling since the deeds were sent on Sept 5. He also commented that settlement could go beyond Dec 31. However she replied the next day that she was shocked to hear of the delay and was under the impression it was going smoothly. She sent Freeling a letter demanding an explanation.

Sept 9 The site committee reported to the club and in the report stated that the property had been vacant for three years.

Oct 22 Freeling wrote to Watson stating that he had an offer for $10,000, no commission andwants to know if the club had begun repairs on the property. At this point the title company said that they could not guarantee clear title until they had statements from all the heirs, or their heirs. Mrs Wisdom, one of the heirs provided the information to Watson. Oct 30 - The third heir. Georgina E, Rice Harrod of Joplin, Mo, wrote to Miss Watson that she agreed with Mrs Wisdom in all respects and urged a forced sale of the property. She expressed fears that Freeling had borrowed money on the property or had sold his share secretly. Freeling returned the deeds on Oct 26. Nov 6 - Murray states that the club will not make any expenditures toward renovation until theyhad better assurance that the sale would go through.

Dec 14 Freeling wrote stating that he is owed money by both the other heirs, and for expenses incurred in the sale of the property and threatens to tie up the sale if these debts are not satisfied.Dec 15 - Murray wrote to Watson telling her that the state had no record of riparian rightsgranted for the property which were a part of the agreement of sale.Dec 19 - The state wrote stating there are no riparian rights granted to the property.

Dec 19 Murray writes to Watson telling her she is not obligated to collect Freeling's debts. Also Watson tells Murray that Mrs Price had returned her copy of the signed deed.

Dec 21 Letter from Murray to Evans of the title company indicates deed of 1850 to Sylvester Keyser and Thomas M. Montgomery. Murray informs Watson of riparian rights problem.

Dec 26 Watson to Murray - copy of telegram from Mrs Wisdom stating her deed had been mailed. Also a letter from the bank in Arkansas stating that all is settled with respect to their mortgage to Freeling.

Dec 27 Watson to Murray – copy of letter from Freeling saying he will not return the deed until he is assured that all money will come to him so he can deduct what is owed to him.

Dec 28 Attorney Bartlett Cole of Portland Oregon tells Watson that he paid taxes on the property and is owed money at settlement. (Note: I assume this meant Freeling was owed money, but my notes do not make that clear)

Jan 4, 1923 Freeling tells Evans of the title company that his deed is being forwarded; also the deed signed by Mrs Wisdom was not valid and a new form was sent to her.

Jan 5 Freeling to Watson – he claims he is owed $3333.33 and his deed is in his bank and will not be released until he gets his money; Mrs Harrod and Mrs Wisdom tell Watson not to deduct any money from their share for Freeling; Wisdom writes to Freeling threatening a forced sale if he does not return the deed.

Jan 13 Watson sends letter to Murray from Arkansas bank saying they had forwarded Freeling's deed to a trust company in Camden, NJ telling them to release it only upon payment of $3066.67.

Jan 19 Letter from Murray to Watson outlining defects in the title, claiming the lack of riparian rights devalues property by $1800, the amount required to secure them, and also says the deed sent bt Freeling to the trust company in Camden was improperly executed. It was sent back to Arkansas.

Jan 20 Watson tells Murray she has another property on the river for sale, the Satterwhite property.

Feb 8 Watson sends Murray a copy of a letter from Mrs Wisdom and Mrs Harrod stating that they would prefer to deduct the price of riparian rights from the selling price and have Murray get themhimself.

Feb 9 Murray said he will settle for their offer and take the property less riparian rights for $8200.

Feb 13-18 Watson had engaged a lawyer to obtain the rights for Murray but had no authorization from either Murray or the heirs. Murray cautions her that she might incur expenses if the deal fell thru. Watson apologizes profusely and blames it on a case of grippe confusing her.

Feb 24 Murray tells Watson the trust company has Freeling's deed and all is in order

Feb 28 Freeling tells Watson that he sold the property as it stood and if Murray wanted it, he could pay the trust company his price.

---No correspondence found for March, 1923---

April 11 Murray tells Watson he has engaged a lawyer and wants to settle with Mrs Wisdom and Mrs Harrod and sue Freeling.

April 13 Murray is advised that Freeling has asked for his deed back. Watson tells Murray she has agreements signed by Mrs Harrod and Mrs Wisdom agreeing to go on with the sale of their shares.

April 20 Settlement date to be April 25

.April 25 Settlement is made; Murray suggests no one tell Freeling. Freeling will soon receive notice from Murray's lawyer.

April 27 Murray tells lawyer Carr to proceed against Freeling. Club will not occupy building until full title is clear. Davidson says deed to Freeling is defective (Note: Davdson was the maiden name of Mrs Shipman and one of he heirs But I don't know ho this is in refernce to) Murray thanks Watson and asks if she knows of any married couples willing to live as caretakers at the club; Ray Anderson of the Arkansas bank for the second time writes and suggests the sisters should buy Freeling's mortgage from his bank, foreclose, and then sell to Murray. Murray has been advising Watson to ignore Anderson's letters, he does not know of their settlement.

May 3 Report to club shows total cost of 2/3 settlement was $5209.67. Also that they are suing Freeling and it will take approximately three months to settle.

May 14 Lawyers Carr and Carroll advise Murray the defendants have until July 13 to reply or it will be sold ex parte.

May 16 Ray Anderson makes another offer on Freeling's behalf – settle for $2984.17.

June 14-17 Letters back and forth between lawyers, Carr and Carroll for RDCC and Claude Fuller for Homer Freeling. Fuller indicates he is still trying to get Freeling to “come across and settle this matter”

June 19 Letter received from Fuller to Watson trying to get heirs to agree on a price to be bid at a partition sale; Fuller suggests Carr and Carroll represent him in setting a price to bid. Fuller represents the Arkansas bank. Freeling et al still do not know of the other heirs settlement.

June 28 Carr suggests to Fuller that Murray might buy out the bank's mortgage at a reduced figure.

July 5 Carr to Fuller – offer by Murray to buy Freeling's and bank's share for $1500. Car tells him if the bank is going to bid high enough to protect the bank's interest, it will become owner of 1/3 of property.

July 10 Carl to Fuller – Murray offers $2000 to settle claim, final offer. Telegram – Fuller to Carr: bank refuses offer and will settle for $2600

July 26 Carl to Fuller – accepts bank's offer of $2250 from bank. (Note: No copy of the offer was found)

Aug 6 When Freeling's deed was checked at Central Trust Co, where his deed were sent, they were found to be incorrect.

Aug 13 Original deed lost.

Aug 25 Fuller to Carr – deed has been found

Aug 31 Committee reports to club that settlement has been made with all participants on Aug 30, one year and one day from the agreement of sale, total cost $7946.67 without riparian rights.

March 7, 1925 “The committee's assistance to the club since July, 1922 in finding the property in Edgewater Park, in arranging for its purchase, in acquiring an insured title to it after long and arduous efforts, in aiding in improving the house and grounds for the club's occupancy, and which work is brought to a successful conclusion by the organization of The Red Dragon Colony, Inc., has been a source of gratification to its members. Your committee renders these services to the Club with the appreciation of the confidence which your members reposed in it, at every step of its efforts, and now asks for its discharge” dragon