Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fort Dix and My Family Tree

When my 3rd great-grandfather, John R. Shinn, came out to California in the 1850s he left his family in Burlington Co., New Jersey behind and doesn't seem to have kept in touch with any of them.  Among the family who saw John disappear into the west were his many siblings, including his sister Jane.  Jane had married Joseph Deviny/Devinney and they had several children.  Their eldest, Charles Henry Devinney, had a daughter, also a Jane.  Jane S. Devinney was married to C(harles) Newell Harker, whose family owned some of the land that became what is now Fort Dix and the home that became the commanding generals' quarters.  Convoluted, I know, but the article is interesting nonetheless:

"Native Returns
Farmer Visits Generals

    An 85-year-old ex-resident of the farmland that now houses "the Home of the Ultimate Weapon" took a sentimental journey last week to the house in which he was born and raised.
    The spry octogenarian is C. Newell Harker, presently of Haddonfield, and the house has since been the home of the 26 commanding generals of Fort Dix.  Housing Major General Chase W. Kennedy in 1917, the white frame, two-story home was most recently occupied by Major General Reuben H. Tucker (1961-1962).
    It all started one evening in 1917, when the Harker household was visited by a mysterious group of men from the government.  The family was informed of a massive plan to help America answer the call to arms for World War I.  The designs, plans and maps that were laid out on the Harkers' dining room table months later had materialized into a bustling military reservation.
    Since then the five-mile tract of farmland has grown into the 55-square mile "military city" of Fort Dix.
    All of the Harker farmland, stables - including the 50-foot well that was dug by Harker and his father, has since been transformed but the house itself, aside from interior changes has remained about the same and can be seen set back from the General Circle, one of the entrances to the main post.
    Mr. Harker's birthplace always had a strong sentimental value attached to it, since his Haddonfield residence was built as an almost-exact duplicate.
    His recent visit to the old home satisfied the curiosity that had built up in the house's original occupant since he left it over 45 years ago.
    As he walked from room to room he unveiled the history of the 150 year old property, relating remembrances of days spent here he discussed everything from the cistern that used to be under the house to the eerie overnight disappearance of his mother's "store-bought teeth."
    His running commentary began as soon as he entered the building.  "So many things come to my mind... They've taken the partition out here (dining room); this used to be double doors.  Hmmm, enlarged the kitchen - used to be two rooms.  Look at that banister - still sturdy as a rock!  This was an open porch: it's been enclosed and cut off here... this grass area used to have a sidewalk through it."
    Through each of the rooms, the elderly guide led his touring party of friends and military escorts.  From the cellar ("There used to be a pork barrel and a ham barrel down here.") to the attic, which had been reconverted into finished rooms, ("It's lost its identity.") he smiled, joked, reminisced and remembered parts of his life that were unlocked along with the front door.

Private Puzzled
    After thoroughly touring the home, he left the building which he said "was certainly well cared for," and expressed his delight at being able to see it again after so many years.
    As his care drove out the driveway, a soldier who had been raking leaves from the lawn, lost control of his curiosity and asked, "Who was that?"
    "A gentleman who used to live her," was the answer.
    "Is he a general?" was the next question.
    "No, just a man who had long been looking forward to... looking back, so today he did just that."
    The puzzled private continued to rake the leaves off of the "grass that used to be a sidewalk.""

From page 25, Trenton Evening Times, 15 June 1962.

I'm sure this isn't my only familial connection to Fort Dix as it is both a major military installation (and has been for nearly 100 years) and also because of its location in an area where I have had family since before the county was formed in 1681 - this is just the only familial connection I've been able to uncover... so far.

Another interesting anecdote about the family is that Charles Henry Devinney's brother-in-law lost his business partner on the Titanic.


  1. I went to the Haddonfield Historical Society today to find out more about our Haddonfield house that we bought in 2011. It turns out that we live in the house that C. Newell Harker built and lived in! If they exist, I would love to see any pictures of what the house looked like in the 1920s as well as pictures of the house it was modeled after. What an interesting story!

    1. I would also love to see any pictures of the house!

  2. Leah, thank you for sharing this! I have been hearing of a connection to the Harker/Miller family my whole life, and this is the first connection I have been able to make. My connection is Martha Harker ( daughter of Samuel Harker, granddaughter of Whitten Harker) married my great grandfather Charles Miller. I don't know the connection to C Newell Harker though....


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