948 North 26th Street

The Pavonia House had already been established as a saloon and small hotel when it was purchased by Henry and Sophia Strahle in 1912. They had been operating a small bakery at 27th and Hayes Avenue prior to buying the bar. 

The bar and hotel business proved successful, and the mortgage was paid off in 1920. Henry Strahle passed away in 1925, after which his wife and children operated the bar through at least 1947. The bar is listed as Strahle's Grille in the 1947 Camden City Directory. The bar was sold in the late 1940s, and Sophia Strahle moved to 3055 Carman Street in East Camden in the late 1950s. She died on December 12, 1960. 

The bar is shown in telephone books of the 1950s as the Pavonia House. An ad from a banquet program dated April of 1959 indicates that the owners were George and Rudy. Francis J. "Champ" Donato later became involved in the bar. He owned & operated The Pavonia House, known then as Donato's Pavonia House with his wife, Helen Selah Donato until his death in 1977.  After his death, Helen Donato and daughter Gloria "Jean" Donato McShane ran the business until about 1980. 

The Pavonia House remained in business into the 1980s, when it was demolished after the building was heavily damaged by fire. It was being operated by Billy and Marge Eckel at the time of the fire, according to sources still residing in the neighborhood. 

Sophia Irle's aunt, Sophia Walz Irle, owned with her husband Charles L. Irle Sr., a saloon in the next block, at 949 North 25th Street, the corner of North 25th and River Avenue. 

Henry Strahle's Hotel - circa 1920
Click on Images to Enlarge

Henry Strahle’s Pavonia House

Donald Henry Strahle
30 September, 2003

Henry  Strahle was born on September 11, 1875, in Holzheim, Wurttemberg, Germany, the 11th of 13 children of Andreas Strahle and Margarethe Leyrer. He was the first of his immediate family to leave Germany for America, followed subsequently by one brother and two sisters. His German Emigration Passport was issued on 20 September 1890, and stated that he was to travel at the end of October from Holzheim via Antwerp to Philadelphia. He was 15 years old at the time. Like many young Germans of that era he left to avoid conscription into the Army. He traveled alone, under his own name, with very little money. The family in Germany did not appear to be well off, and dreams of striking it rich in America were widespread. His emigration documents state that he was a baker, and list the following personal characteristics: age, 15; height, 1.58 m; stature, slender; face, oval; complexion, healthy; hair, blond; eyebrows, blond; eyes, blue-gray; nose, straight; mouth, regular; cheeks, half round; teeth, good; legs, straight.

His first job was as a baker in Haddonfield, earning $2 a week. He later moved to Trenton and married there at the age of 25 (a year after he was naturalized in 1900). He spent his wedding night in the State Prison, which his best man and several friends arranged as a joke. (The warden was a guest at the wedding.) His new bride, Sophia Walz, was still a bit put out by this when she told the story to her granddaughter many years later. 

Henry & Sophia Strahle
Henry Strahle, aged 24
Photograph from about 1899
Sophia Walz Strahle, aged 18
Photograph taken in Philadelphia PA
Click on Images to Enlarge

After their marriage they opened a bakery in a new suburb of Philadelphia. It failed because of a lack of customers with money, since all the neighbors were busy paying off their homes. They then opened a bakery in the Cramer Hill section of Camden, New Jersey, employing two other bakers.  While living there Henry was initiated as a Mason into Mozart Lodge #121 on 11 February 1908 at the age of 32, although he does not appear to have been very active in that organization. 

In June, 1912, he and his wife bought the Pavonia House, several blocks away from their bakery. (The $11,500 mortgage was paid off in 1920.) This was a combination saloon and small hotel. (Two of his wife Sophia's aunts were married to saloon owners.) The building had originally been a one or two room structure, but over the years one room was added here, another there until it became quite a large place housing the saloon, family living quarters, about half-a-dozen rooms for boarders and a dining area where daily lunches were served. It had electricity, and was heated by a coal furnace, which the older son Henry was assigned to look after, keeping it supplied with coal and removing the ashes. There was a large lawn, many rose bushes, and a large adjacent barn in which the two children and their friends enjoyed playing. The younger Henry kept his pigeons there. The barn was used as a garage later when the family owned an automobile. 

Just before the First World War electric trolley car lines were introduced, with tracks laid in the street right by the tavern, and the gravel roads paved. Camden at that time was a very prosperous town, and the trolleys were crowded with passengers going to work at the shipyards. German was the language of the household until the First World War. Both parents and their sons were, however, very fluent in English. The oldest son, Henry, went to German school on Saturdays where he learned how to write German until the arrival of the war. The atmosphere in the neighborhood was very anti-German during the First World War, so the use of German was not looked on favorably by the customers, although many of them were German. As a result the two boys soon lost their ability to speak it fluently.

Henry Strahle Sr.

Circa 1925

Henry is the man leaning
on his elbow, with a hat on.


His younger son, Fritz told his children stories of the effects of Prohibition (1920-1933) on the operation of the saloon. Since alcohol was prohibited, the beer taps would only produce low-alcohol "near-beer" from the barrels in the basement below the bar. However, if the taps were pulled all the way down, real beer was delivered from "special barrels."

There were about 32 saloons in the city of Camden at the time. Two were owned by Masons, one of which was Henry. The local Congressman was also a Mason. Whenever there was a police raid looking for illegal alcohol, the two Masonic saloons never seemed to be caught. (The penalties were severe - the offending saloons had all their equipment smashed.) When the tip-off of an impending raid came, the "real" beer barrels were buried beneath the coal in the basement, and the hard liquor was hidden in the barn on the property. Illegal whiskey was not difficult to get for the saloon, which would have gone out of business without it. There were many bootleggers and illegal stills operating. The whole justice system was compromised, either by payoffs to police or by judges turning a blind eye.

Henry's older son Henry, remembers driving the family car, a large, roomy vehicle, to pick up bottles of raw moonshine at thirty dollars for a six-gallon jug, a lot of money in those days. The moonshine was put into wooden barrels which had contained real whiskey, which significantly improved its flavor. 

Henry was a Lutheran, but not a very religious man, although he did send his sons to Sunday School. He donated a stained-glass window to his new stone church when it was built in Cramer Hill, probably in the early 1920's. The window was still there in the 1970's. The previous church, in which his sons were christened, was an old frame structure on Sherman Avenue in Cramer Hill. 

His older son remembers Henry as a very dapper man who dressed in expensive suits. Photographs taken of him as a young father show a very well-dressed man of middling height and weight. (He was about 5'8" tall.) Later pictures in middle age show a portly man with dark hair and eyes and a medium complexion. He was a good singer, and performed as First Tenor with the Germania Maennerchor, the local German club choir (about forty singers). The group won a number of prizes and made a recording, but it was never released. 

Henry was also interested in hunting. At this time there was plenty of game locally, such as deer and rabbits. He would bring it home for his wife to cook. The rabbits frequently required considerable work to remove the shotgun pellets. On one occasion the pellets had to be removed from his heavy hunting coat, as he was on the receiving end of an overzealous effort by a fellow hunter. 

He was a staunch Republican in his politics, as were most residents of Camden at that time. The Democrats were perceived as supporting ideas related to social services which were not of interest to the small shopkeepers and businessmen. His oldest son recalls that it was an absolute disgrace to have a member of your family in the bread-line. The family was supposed to take care of that. 

He died at the age of 49 at his home, the Pavonia House, at 26th and River Avenue after being treated for several years for cancer of the colon. The whole family's reaction was one of relief, since, although he was a marvelous man, he had suffered terribly for two years.

His wife Sophia Walz was born at the home of her parents, 241 Elizabeth Street in Philadelphia. She married at the relatively young age of 17, 8 years younger than her husband. According to a newspaper announcement of her marriage, she was "exceedingly popular among German circles." 

She helped her husband Henry run his bakery and subsequently his saloon until his death in 1925. Despondent because of his death, she decided to visit her husband's family in Germany in the summer of 1926 with her son Fritz. Her older son Henry, 21 at the time of her trip to Germany, was left in charge of the saloon. He remembers that she ran the business very conservatively, and he decided to run it in a more flamboyant manner, decorating it with banners celebrating the U.S. sesquicentennial, which was a big event being held in Philadelphia at the time.  However, when his mother returned to Camden, she wanted to run the business in the same conservative, old-fashioned manner as her husband, while her son Henry wanted to run it in a more wide-open, contemporary way. 

Dealing with Prohibition and the attendant pay-offs to police and politicians must have been an interesting experience for her. Her grand-daughter remembers sitting with her watching the presidential election returns which brought John F. Kennedy to office. Sophia was outraged, and could not believe that the son of "that crook" was now President. Evidently Joe Kennedy, the President-elect's father, had made his money by smuggling huge quantities of illicit booze during Prohibition.

The saloon was witness to some technological firsts in the neighborhood. Sophia's son Fritz built a small radio receiver which picked up early broadcasts. Enrico Caruso's singing was a big hit, and the headsets were passed from hand-to-hand among the patrons in the bar of the saloon. Soon after World War II one of the first television sets in the area (with a 6-inch screen) was mounted above the bar. Patrons would stare for hours at nothing more than a test pattern. 

Their older son Henry remembers his childhood as quite normal. The neighborhood bordered on riverfront communities, where some rather shady characters lived. Sometimes it was necessary to fight your way through the area, and he recalls that there were more fist-fights among both kids and adults than is now the case. There was very little serious crime however, and no-one ever felt the need to lock their doors. Baseball was extremely popular. There were baseball diamonds everywhere, and both kids and adults played. Every town had its own team.

The first big event that he remembers was the sinking of the British passenger ship Titanic when it struck an iceberg off the south coast of Newfoundland in 1912. There were very few radio stations at that time, and all the news came via newspapers. He recalls paperboys on the street calling out "Extra! Extra! Titanic Hits Iceberg!" The story was an absolute sensation. 

He was about ten or eleven when he learned how to drive his father's Overland automobile, receiving his license in 1918 at age thirteen. The reason for such precocity was quite pragmatic - in common with the accepted mores of the time his father drank a lot and was frequently in no condition to drive. There were very few automobiles then, and the change from horse-drawn to powered vehicles had a tremendous impact on the way people lived. It created its own set of problems initially. Roads were poor, breakdowns frequent, and gasoline stations few and far between. Spare cans of gas were carried in the car. It took seven hours to travel the sixty miles or so from Camden to Trenton. 

The outbreak of World War I also remains a sharp childhood memory. There was a great deal of pro- and anti- German propaganda at that time and considerable sympathy for Germany in the German-speaking community, where this was viewed as a terrible event. People went wild, stirred up by propaganda, and there was harassment of German-speaking students in the schools. 

Another event that made a tremendous impact was the solo flight of Charles Lindbergh from New York City to Paris in 1927. Henry recalls that starting in 1928 the transatlantic voyages of the German dirigible, the Graf Zeppelin, turned heads all along the eastern seaboard as it flew overhead. 

In the late 1920's there was a Cramer Hill neighbor who was a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, Freddy Heimach. He came into the saloon one night about 10 o'clock when Henry was tending bar, bringing one of his teammates with him, Babe Ruth. There was pandemonium. Ruth wanted to buy everyone drinks, and everyone wanted to buy Ruth drinks. The Babe was a big, burly fellow who looked as though he was top-heavy.  

The Purple & Gold
1923 Camden High School Yearbook 
Click on Image to Enlarge

Henry graduated from Camden High School in 1923, and got a job at Broad and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, paying $18 a week. He commuted by trolley from his home to the ferry docks in Camden, took the ferry to Philadelphia, walked to the subway surface train station, and took the train to Broad Street. He worked all day, then four evenings a week he left work and walked twenty-seven blocks from 15th and Chestnut to 42nd Street to attend evening courses at the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. After classes he then returned home to Cramer Hill late at night. He did this for a little over a year and was doing well, but then had to drop out because of a severe case of typhoid fever, one of about seven or eight cases tied to Philadelphia water that year. This caused him to lose all his hair and confined him to bed for six months. He didn't drink water for years after that, confining himself primarily to beer.  After his bout with typhoid he attended Temple University.

However it was at this time that he received a job offer, as office manager and private secretary to a general contractor named Verga, paying $50 a week plus a year-end bonus (big money in those days). It was in the newly-built Wilson Building in downtown Camden. The company built roads, streets, sewers and similar structures. Henry loved his work, and eventually became vice-president of the company.  With the financial assistance of his mother, he bought Verga's construction company in the early 1950's when the owner retired and renamed it "Straco Construction Company."

His brother Fritz continued to work for his mother, helping her to operate the saloon until the start of WWII (when he went to work in the New York Shipyard). He hated the times he had to fill in for an absent bartender. At one time there was a Grand Jury probe into vice in Camden. All the saloons and hotels in the city except four were raided and closed. The Pavonia House was one of the four that remained open. Unfortunately, all the riffraff were driven into the open ones. Twenty-five to thirty people were in the bar at one time, some of them real toughies. Fritz had to run out the drunks. He was "happy to have a nice shiny service pistol in back of the bar."

Sophia sold the saloon in the late 1940's and moved to a comfortable middle-class neighborhood of row houses on Carman Street, near Woodrow Wilson High School, where she lived until her death in 1960. She was a short woman, about 5 feet tall, of medium complexion, with dark hair and eyes, and rather stout (as were all of her female relatives that the writer remembers).  On her deathbed she finally relented and gave one of her oldest friends the recipe for her special cheese spread, used for years in her saloon. Fortunately, her granddaughter overheard the conversation and copied the recipe down. It is still used in the family.

Frederick A.

Behind the Bar
at Strahle's Grill

Click on Image
to Enlarge

The Night Babe Ruth Came to Cramer Hill
as told by Don Strahle

My uncle, Henry C. Strahle, the oldest of the two Strahle brothers, told me that in the late 1920's a Cramer Hill neighbor, Freddy Heimach, was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. He came into the saloon one night about 10:00, bringing one of his teammates with him, Babe Ruth. There was pandemonium. Ruth wanted to buy everyone drinks, and everyone wanted to buy Ruth drinks. The Babe was a big, burly fellow who looked as though he was top-heavy.

Fred Heimach Babe Ruth

I have many fond memories of the place as a child growing up. There were many customers of German background who loved to play cards. I remember my grand-
mother cleaning up the place every Sunday. The tables were sticky with beer. I used to sneak the leftover pretzels from the glass bowls, even though they were frequently soggy with stale beer.

-Donald Strahle

Francis J. Donato - known to most as "Champ", (my grandfather) served in the US Navy, later worked and retired from Campbell Soup. He also owned & operated The Pavonia House, known then as Donato's Pavonia House, at 26th & River Road. He married my grandmother Helen Selah, in the early 1940s. She was one of the children of Mary & Joe Selah, also of Cramer Hill. Champ died at about age 55 in 1977. After his death my mother, Gloria "Jean" Donato McShane, and grandmother held the business for a few years - selling it in about 1980. My grandmother Helen died in June 2004.

Michelle McShane-Frankewich


Camden Courier-Post
February 24, 1938

Eagles Hall
Washington Street



Hi-Hat Club - Bridge Cafe - Kernan's Cafe- Harry's Taproom - Clancy's Cafe - Big Ed's Place
Larry's Cafe - Lynch's Cafe - Morgan's Cafe - Nittinger's Cafe
Big Horn Cafe - Jack's Grille - Cooperson's Auto Body - Scotty's Thist'es
Vari's Cafe -
Davalo's Cafe - Bush's Cafe - La Victoria - Shantytown Cafe - Billy's Cafe
Phil Hart's Cafe -
Pavonia House - White Owl Inn - George's Grill - Dick's Rendezvous
Dragon Inn - Royal Inn -
Bismark Cafe
Ginger's Cafe - Daly's Cafe - Kenure's Cafe - Knauer's Cafe - Oaklyn Inn - Bellevue Inn
Fourteenth Ward Democrat Club - Blanche's Cafe - Duke Gartland's - Regan's Cafe
Bettlewood Cafe - Mulvihill's Cafe - Barrington Cafe - Chews Landing Hotel - Blackwood Cafe
Laurel Inn - Starr's Cafe - Gruber's Inn - Welcome Inn - Somerdale Bowling Alley

Drink Up!
The Bars, Taverns, and Clubs of Camden