CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
ROY STEELE'S TAVERN
560 Carman Street
Roy Steele's Tavern was at 560 Carman Street, in the heart of downtown Camden. Prior to its conversion into a bar, 560 Carman Street had been the home of the Barret Tire Company as late as March of 1932.
At some point between April of 1930 and the compilation of the 1931 Camden City Directory, former professional basketball star Roy Steele went into business at 28 Haddon Avenue, which in later years would be known as the Century Bar.. Within a few years he had acquired a liquor license and opened bar nearby, at 560 Carman Street. Roy Steele and his family would do business through at least 1959 there under the name Roy Steele's Tavern.
Henry Roy Steele was born in Riddlesburg, Pennsylvania on October 22, 1886 to a butcher, Jacob Steele and his wife, the former Melissa Fluke. He was the second of four children, coming after brother Homer B. Steele and before younger siblings Mary and Ross E. Steele. The 1900 census shows the family living on Sixth Avenue in Homestead PA.
A fine athlete, Roy Steele played professional basketball for six seasons in the western Pennsylvania-based Central Basketball League, beginning with the 1906-1907 season. Roy Steele had the reputation as a clutch shooter as well as a team player. In 1906 with the Homestead Young Americans he scored a 220 points in 29 games, the 7th most points in the CBL. When the league increased its schedule to 70 games the next season, 1907-1908, Roy Steele scored 455 points in 67 games, 8th highest in the Central League. In 1908-1909, Roy Steele helped the Homestead Young Americans win the CBL Championship with a 49-23 record. That season, Roy Steele posted 412 points in 65 games, again 8th best in the Central Basket Ball League. He also played with the Butler and Pittsburgh South Side teams of the Central league.
When the Central league folded in November of 1912, many of the circuit's best players, including Roy Steele came over to the Eastern Basketball League, which was centered around Philadelphia. Roy Steele, Jackie Adams, Jimmy Brown, and Eddie Dolin all eventually joined, and starred for the Camden franchise of the Eastern Basketball League, and Camden native Eddie Ferat, nearing the end of his career also returned during the 1912-1913 season. In the better-financed Eastern Basketball League, Roy Steele played with one of the best teams in the East, Camden of New Jersey. The Camden team was known as the Camden Alphas from 1912 to 1917, the Camden Crusaders from 1917 to 1921, and as the Camden Skeeters from 1921 until the league's collapse in 1923.
Although Roy Steele did not score as many points per games as before, his defense made him a valuable member of the team. He remained with Camden in the Eastern Basketball League until it folded in 1923. Roy Steele played some games with Gloversville in the New York State league and played one game with Camden during the 1912-1913 season. He split time between Gloversville and Camden the following season as well, and also split time between Camden and the Hazleton PA team of the Pennsylvania State League in 1915-1916. He played two games with the Paterson Crescents of the Interstate Basketball League during the 1916-1917 season.
Professional basketball was for the most part shut down during the 1918-1919 season. Roy Steele played one game for the Nanticoke Nans of the Pennsylvania State league during the 1919-1920 season. The 1919-1920 season for Roy Steele was a total success, ending with another championship, as he played 37 games for the Camden Crusaders and was seventh in the league in scoring. The 1919-1920 Camden Crusaders were champions of the Eastern Basketball League, which was and is acknowledged by many to be the leading professional basketball league of its time. His teammates included star players like Jimmy “Soup” Campbell, Neil Deighan, Eddie Dolin, and Dave Kerr, and young local talents Joe Hyde, Sam Lennox, and Richie Deighan. The team was owned by local businessmen Dr. Charles B. Helm, W. Penn Corson, who had also been Sheriff of Camden County. Roy Steele continued to play basketball in Camden until the Eastern league collapsed on January 18, 1923. Roy Steele appeared in two games for the Paterson Legionnaires in the Metropolitan Basketball league in 1922-1923. He returned to Paterson for the 1923-1924 campaign, when he returned to the Legionnaires for seventeen games. He was 37 years old when his professional basketball career came to an end.
Although much of Roy Steele's career was spent at forward, Ed Wachter, a star player for several teams of the era, named Roy Steele as guard on his third team all-time greatest basketball team, which is notable in that Wachter only played against Steele for two seasons. Ed Ferat was also named on Wachter's all-star that team.
Roy Steele also played professional baseball on the minor league level. He opened the 1908 season in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia League in 1908 for the Clarksburg team, was released and signed by the Connellsville Cokers of the same circuit where he played first base.
Roy Steele married Georgina "Jean" Orris on November 4, 1909. When he registered for the draft in 1918 he still made his regular home in western Pennsylvania. His draft card shows him living on the Boyd farm at Pitcairn, in Patton Township, Allegheny County PA and working as a farmer. Mr. and Mrs. Steele by that time had two children, with a third on the way, who was born shortly thereafter. His younger brother, Ross Emery Steele also was living and farming there.
The Steele family came to the Camden area the following year. Both the 1920 and 1930 Census shows Roy Steele living in Collingswood NJ with wife Georgina, daughter Edna, and sons Bruce K. and Henry Roy Steele Jr. The 1920 Census shows the Steele family living at 704 Grant Avenue in Collingswood NJ. Roy Steele's brother, Ross Steele, who had also played some professional basketball, was living with them, as was teammate Jimmy "Soup" Campbell. Both Steele brothers listed their professions as machinists, while Campbell gave his as a "general mechanic" at a shipyard. In January of 1920, the stars of a champion professional basketball team still worked day jobs to make ends meet! The Steele family was still at the Grant Avenue address in April of 1930. Roy Steele was then selling electrical supplies and not in the bar business. This would indicate that he became involved shortly after that point, as he was operating the bar, apparently under lease, at 28 Haddon Avenue by the time the 1931 Camden City Directory was compiled.
Roy Steele's Crusader teammate Neil Deighan had gone into the bar business in Camden, Joe Hyde was literally born into the business, as his father owned a bar in the Eight Ward. Before it was all said and done Roy Steele, Jimmy "Soup" Campbell, and Sam Lennox would all be involved in the bar business.
Roy Steele registered for the draft early in 1942. His World War II draft card shows that he lived at 537 Benson Street in Camden. He had by this time however, also acquired a bar at the Jersey shore. His brother Ross worked as a bartender and also lived at the Benson Street address.
traveled to the Somers
Point, New Jersey, looking for a new investment opportunity.
At the time Somers Point
was a sleepy little town that you passed through to get to Ocean City.
Roy found what he was looking for at 943 Bay Avenue, an old tavern named
"Stretch Inn". The tavern had been owned and operated by
Thomas Stretch. Since he had passed away his widow, Bertha, had
decided to sell the Inn. Steele and Bertha Stretch entered into an
agreement to lease the inn for $40.00 a month for three years. The
inn was described in the lease as a Tap Room and Cafe, which was a very
accurate description. It suited Steele perfectly. Above the bar
was an apartment with five bedrooms, one bathroom, dining room, living
room and kitchen. The inn had one large room with a huge bar in the
shape of a ship. Behind this room was a kitchen and storage area. Roy
asked his son-in-law, Elmer Blake, to come to the shore and help him
manage the tavern on Bay Avenue now known as Steele's Inn. So
Elmer and his wife Edna and their daughter Jean moved in above the bar
with their parents. Not long after this Roy
younger son and his wife also made the apartment of Steele's Ship Bar
home. All those people and one bathroom, remarkable.
After Roy Steele's death, his family remained in the tavern business in Camden for many years thereafter. Bruce Steele, who managed the Camden bar, made his home in Collingswood with his wife Lillian. Ross Steele remained as a bartender and lived at 537 Benson Street through at least the fall of 1959. The bar was still open, as stated above, as late as the fall of 1959. Sadly, son Bruce Steele died in Camden on October 13, 1961; his wife Lillian remained a Collingswood resident until her passing in 1997. Brother Ross Steele passed away in September of 1965. It had closed by 1970. When Carman Street was "erased" to make way for "urban renewal" Roy Steele's Tavern went with it. The Walter Rand Transportation Center sits on the land where Roy Steele's Tavern once lay.
row, left to right: Jimmy “Soup” Campbell and Joe
Click on Image to Enlarge
Downtown Camden - 1957
Indicated by the red dot, 565 Carman Street lay just east of Broadway, behind the Broadway (later known as the Midway) Theater. Roy Steel's Tavern was directly across the street. To the left you can see where the tavern and Carman Street lay in relationship to City Hall, the old Camden County courthouse, and Camden Catholic High School. All but City Hall were gone by the end of 1961. The Parkade Building had not yet been built.
The Bars, Taverns, and Clubs of Camden
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Thank you to Elizabeth
Blake Houck for her Somers Point memories