Mary Crilly

The George Allen Mansion, now known as The Southern Mansion

I love the Jersey shore.  Many of my happiest childhood days were spent there, and I feel a strong connection to it.  Now that I’m older I am there quite often.  Last week I was sitting on the beach, wondering  what it looked like 400 years ago, when there  were no towns up and down the coastline, no boardwalks, no “Ocean Avenue”, “Dune Drive”or  “Beach Avenue”.  I often think of such things, but this time I wanted to find out more, and visited the Cape May County Museum  on Rte. 9, near Cape May Courthouse.

I had a personal tour of the museum, which is the former estate of the Holmes family, dating back to the 1700’s.  I love looking at old things, knowing that a real person created or used them.  When I touch an object that’s very old it’s almost as if I’m making a connection in time with its original owner.  If such items could speak, what stories might they tell of what they’d seen over hundreds of years?  Anyway, I purchased several books.  Among them was one called “Cape May in Vintage Postcards”.  When I returned home I continued my “research” of old Cape May, and came upon a postcard with a caption that read:

“Washington Street, c.1912.  Shown here is the home across from the present post office and (never shown)  George Allen house”.

My husband and I spent two nights at the George Allen mansion, now known as the “Southern Mansion”.  (In my reading I discovered that the mansion is supposedly haunted, but we didn’t know that at the time and therefore didn’t notice any ghosts.  Imagine that).  I wanted to find out the meaning of the words “never shown”, so I went online to see what I could find out.

I never did find out why the George Allen house was never shown in pictures, but I did find at least two different versions of the mansion’s history.  The story begins the same way in both.

The Southern Mansion was built as a summer home for Mr. George Allen and his wife in 1863.  The first account I read didn’t mention that the home was as much a business headquarters as it was a getaway for the wealthy Philadelphia couple.  The Civil War had begun in 1861.  New Jersey is a northern state, but Cape May is below the Mason Dixon line.  It was the perfect location for Mr. Allen to do business with both the Union and Confederate armies.

The Allen family enjoyed the use of the estate for 83 years.  Mr. And Mrs. Allen had no children, so when they died the estate passed into the hands of their niece, Ester Mercur.

Here is where the accounts begin to differ.

Story 1:  Ester and her husband, Ulysses Mercur had no children.  He outlived her, and was so distraught at her death that he sold the estate in 1946 for $8000.00, far less than it had cost to build.

Story 2: Ester was an alcoholic party girl who was very unhappily married to Mercur.  He blamed her for the fact that they had no children.

What is known is that the house was sold to Daniel and Mary Crilly for $8000. Apparently it was  a belated wedding gift from Daniel to Mary.  They had two children, young Daniel and Maryann.  The story began to capture my imagination at this point.  The perfunctory accounts didn’t even say who bought the mansion….only that it was turned into a flop house, architecturally ruined on the inside, fell into disrepair and was eventually all but abandoned, because the city of Cape May revoked the boarding permit.  By the  time the current owners bought it the roof was caving in, the structural supports we’re decaying and it was full of trash.

I decided to dig a little deeper and, aided by information I was able to find, imagined a more tragic, but softer story.

Daniel Crilly bought the estate as a wedding gift for his wife, Mary.  They moved in there with their two children, Daniel and Maryann.  They soon found though, that the maintainance on such a large house was beyond their means.  The grand ballroom was divided into six rooms, and working class boarders were taken in.  Then Daniel passed away, followed two years later by Maryann, who died of cancer.  Some time later, son Daniel also passed, leaving Mary Crilly alone.  These facts alone broke my heart for Mary Crilly.  I can’t think of anything sadder than outliving your entire family.  Yet, she went on.

The Southern Mansion as it appeared when owned by the Crilly’s

She just couldn’t keep up with the necessary repairs required by so massive a house  as the years went by, and once the city of Cape May  revoked the boarding permit she had no means of income, and the house fell into greater disrepair.  Mary was eventually removed from the house against her will, and lived in a nursing home well into her 90’s.

I found a relatively recent description of her personality online:

“In September of 1991 I met my neighbor, Mary Crilly, who lived across the street in a grand house on 1.3 acres of land.  Little did I know then how she would impact my life.  Mary lost her husband and children.  She lived by herself, and had a few people that also lived on the premises with her.  Our relationship developed as I was making the transition to move to Cape May.  She was always there to give me guidance and help in searching for a better life.  She now lives in a nursing home at the age of 93, and I miss our teas and chats.  Thanks Mary, for our friendship.”.                                                                                                  Deanna Brown, Yuletide 1995.

After reading what I could find of her, Mary started to become real to me.  I don’t think she and her husband ran a riff raff boarding house, or we’re only in it for the money.  I think they were a young couple with big dreams, and ultimately, a hard life.

Can you see that there’s a story here?  A tale to be told?

Can you write one?

You try, and I’ll try.  I’ll get back to you after I’m able to reach the proprietor of The Antoinette  Guest House in Cape May, New Jersey, Ms. Deanna Brown.

Jane Rivera, August 17, 2012, All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: I do not believe in ghosts nor in the validity of occult practices such as seances.  However, some of the most historically informational sites were those of “ghost hunters” and mediums. (Imagine that).  Therefore, I have included them in my references.


18 comments on “Mary Crilly”

  1. Fascinating history – a very interesting read! And what a beautiful house it is!

  2. Just heard back from Deanna Brown. She says there IS more to the story. I’m hoping to book a room at her inn in late October and hear the story.

  3. I am so very happy to see someone who didn’t even know Mary Crilly come to her defense! Mary was the kindest person you could ever hope to meet! I lived with her in 1971 and reconnected with her in the early 90’s. At that time I visited her as often as I could get to Cape May and phoned her several times a week

    • Kathleen, I would love to hear more stories about the Crilly’s. My husband was Maryann’s son Freddie. We do not know much about the Crilly family so again would love to hear more!

      • . Lisa I am aware, that is awful Fred and Dan lost there mother my grandfathers sister at such a young age. I know they were all very fond of her and that she was a nurse just like her mother also that her and my grandfather were really close. I know my dad was good friends with you’re husbands brother Daniel who passed away at a young age also.Dan’s daughter and widow we spent a good amount of time around growing up. Dan’s daughter Jackie even went to the same high school, as myself brother and sister. The only reason I cared to comment on here is because as a young man I saw first hand kindness displayed by my great grandmother who has since died and my grandfather who took care of her who was very close with her until he also died.I spent a great deal of time around her at a young age and for that I’m very grateful. That is really a shame that you’re Fred had to go through that as a young man. Remarried within the same year?? Not to be judgmental but I’m sure my great grandparents didn’t think highly of that. I know they were pretty devote Catholics.All this is really really sad, I remember my dad taking us to visit granny at the house a lot also her coming up for Christmas dinner a few years in a row he was very close with her. I’m not sure about any of the estate stuff I know there were few people who took advantage to put it nicely.It upsets me to think of what you’re husband had to experience with his mother and the responsibilities my father Joe had to take on at such a young age. I have done quite a lot of research I have also gotten help from my fathers relatives one in particular Tom McFadden and the Crillys who were the grand children of my great grandfather Dans eldest brother Marc.The apple doesn’t seem to fall too far from the Crilly tree. Everyone puts other people and God before themselves we all have great athletes,singers,politicians, business people, war heroes,doctors lawyers. Even our relatives from Ireland who I have reached all kindhearted and genuine people. Its really sad that people have turned there legacy into a tragedy, Dan Crilly Sr.15th infantry mountain division guarded the docks on NYC harbor at the start of ww1 and successful business man who sold business machines for bf cummins of Chicago,Granny and her brothers were in the same orphanage as babe Ruth, her family sold horses in the civil war and her father was a union solider. My grandfather Dan terrific athlete got an offer to pitch for the oriels and played semi professional football was a successful salesman and care taker of not just my great grandmother but of the handicapped.Not to mention the people who knew him still talk about him as if he was an icon. As for my father he loved granny we saw her all the time because of him, I’m thankful we have so many great memories of her.
        Happy Saint Patrick day everyone, I’m sure I’m sure granny was at star of the sea church in spirit today.

        Bradford Crilly

  4. Kathleen, I would love to talk with you and hear the whole story! My email address is Thanks for commenting!

    • Thank you so much for commenting! Everything I’ve heard about Mary centers on how kind she was. I would love to hear more about her!

  5. Mrs. Crilly let me stay most of one summer in the Widow’s Walk on top of the house, it was the early 80’s. This is a place that was the city did not allow this kind of arrangement so no lights at night! I had many meals with Mary and her old German shepherd, her faithful companion. There were others who lived there as well. I recall a couple of life guards and a French woman who had a great studio/green house. I was an artist as well and recently graduated from PAFA. I was working at Freemans Auction in Philadelphia when I first met her. She bought many lots of furniture for the house and I agreed to help deliver it all to her. I visited her many times. An image that always stays in my mind of Mary husking corn outside of the kitchen with the” old friend” by her side. I met her son, I thought, and really didn’t like him. He lived there but didn’t seemed to be attached to it. He really was a loser waiting to cash in as far as I could see. My wife and I just returned from a three day break in Cape May. I’ve been going there for more than 40 years and It truly is unique. I can see that change is happening, especially at the POINT. We always feared that New Yorkers would discover it and turn it into another Hamptons. The beaches here are usually quiet and sparsely populated but it was very different this early in the season. I can only imagine what the summer will be like. To many people visiting Cape May and the Point will steal away the beauty and the spirit of the place. I’m surprised that it managed to hold it back this long.

  6. Thank you all for the kind words of my great grandmother, from what I recall as a child there were many people who took advantage of my great grand mother i.e. making a mess and not paying to stay in the unauthorized portions of the house not to mention stealing! My great aunt died of leukemia at a very young age then my great grandfather died then my grandfather Dan who loved and took care of his mother died of cancer at a young age. Tim I bet you didn’t know my grandfather was a Korean war veteran or that he was asked to play baseball for the Baltimore Oriels or that he was a semi professional football player. Maybe my family believed in taking care of others before themselves. You see those old photos and all the trees in the yard it was a nice place. The house fell in disrepair because my grandfather was ill with cancer and his mother was old and they couldn’t keep track of the moochers and thieves who slander people that were kind to them even after they have gone to heaven. BTW my great grandfather was a new York and a world war I veteran of the U.S. Army mounted division and self made business man of modest beginnings with immigrant parents. Kathleen, Deanna, and Jane thank you for taking the time to remember the kindness of a selfless person.

    • Brad, thank you SO much for taking the time to tell us a little more about your family. Who is the man in the picture with your great grandmother? Is it your grandfather? You know, you have the makings of a great story here. My first thought upon reading your comment was, “what happened to Brad’s father, and eventually, Brad after Dan passed away?” If you’d ever care to tell the whole story, or as much of it as you can recall, I’d love to hear it. For some reason your great grandmother just captured my imagination and my heart as I read about her. She must have been a remarkable and lovely person. My email address is, should you feel inclined to relate your family’s history.
      Thanks again!

      • Jane, Mary was my great-grand mother yes the photo is of my greatgrandparents Dan SR. Dan was from Newtown New York now known as Elmherst in the Queens section of New York. He was the first Crilly born in America to Irish parents from Derrymachesh. Dan sold business machines for B.F. Cummins of Chicago IL. Mary was from Frostburg MD her family parents were Welsh coal miners who ran a Dairy farm years later. Mary was a nurse in Philadelphia she was in-charge of the nurses from what I have been told.My grandfather Dan Jr was born in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia Dan was a very successful student athlete he played football and baseball for Miami University Dan was a real estate agent car salesman and also manager of a school for the handicapped when he wasn’t taking care of his mother. My father Joe was a young full-time Marine who was stationed in many portions of the country and any chance my dad got he would bring us to go see our great-grandmother. Someone,seems to be very nearsighted though I guess that’s to be expected when your the only one living in the windows walk like a Turkeyvulcher.

      • Do you remember what year your grandfather died? I’m thinking that this was a case of mistaken identity.

  7. My grandfather Dan died in 1991. If so a case of mistaken identity it should be clarified , and an apology is in order.

  8. WOW How I came upon this on a cold snowy St. Patrick’s Day. Someone was guiding me.

    You see I’m the owner of the photo of Mary and Daniel Crilly. My husband is the son of Maryann. Maryann died at the young age of 26. Leaving behind two young sons Fred 2 1/2 and Daniel 2, and a VERY loving husband Fred, who adored her. Since Maryann died at such a young age. The only memory that my husband has of his mother is when she was sick in the hospital, the phone would ring and Freddie and Danny would run to the phone to hear their mothers voice. He recalls the phone ringing and mom was not there and never called again. Maryann’s husband Fred remarried within a year of her death. My husband did not see his grandmother often growing up, but when he was in college he would take time and drive down to Cape May and visit with her in the 80’s. My husband Fred a Naval Officer and traveled a lot, but would still make time to visit her when he came home to NJ. When we got married and had twins, we took them to visit their great-grandmother. She was frail, but still had her witts about her. That day her son Dan was there visiting as well, he was ill at that time and was not doing well.
    I went back to visit her once again before the military moved us in the early 90’s.

    I later learned that the large trees to the left of the house was planted in memory of her daughter Maryann and her husband Dan, I wonder if the owners knew that before they cut it down.

    Because the family did not stay in touch with each other through the years, the estate was left solely to Joe Crilly, Dan’s son. I’ve tried to reach out to Joe to find out more family history, but he never returned our calls. That is when I turned to There I’ve found second cousin of my husbands and we talk all the time.

    I still do not know much about Mary Crilly, she is one tough cookie. So if someone out there can pass any information on to us that would be greatly appreciated.

    To clarify, Maryann died first in 1962 and within a few years her father passed in 1965 because he was so sad of the loss of his beautiful Maryann.

    • Dear Lisa, I’m so,sorry that I did not respond to your comments sooner than this! I will be returning to the Southern Mansion soon…my son and daughter in law gave us an overnight stay there as a Christmas gift. I revisited my blog post to show them how interested I was in their gift, even before they gave it to us, and saw your comment for the first time tonight. I will be sure to ask questions and pass along any information I receive. I also hope to talk with the owner of the b&b across the street, who apparently knew Mary quite well. Thank you,so much for commenting! Mary has captured my imagination since I first started reading about the mansion.

  9. My sisters and I lived on the third floor, rear room, right next to the ‘back door’ to the fire stairs the summer of ’73. I’m surprised to hear that it was considered a ‘flop house’, Although the accommodations were very dated and work needed to be done, Mary was very particular about how we behaved. We were not allowed to come and go by the front door, we had to use those back stairs. We were not permitted anywhere else in the home besides the 3rd floor. We had worked a deal with Mary that we would clean for her, giving us access to the lower floors where I remember an impressive ‘Lincoln Bed’ in one of the 2nd floor rooms and the ‘infinity mirrors’ in the front hall. I’m sorry the property fell into such a state of disrepair but I am glad it’s been restored.

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