Ole’s Dude Ranch/Sally Starr’s Ranch/The Ponderosa – Voorhees, NJ

Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.

Updated – January 4, 2024

It all began with that small blurb about the history of  Voorhees Township that I read as part of earning a merit badge for Boy Scouts when I was in my early teens. I had always been a history-minded individual, and the idea of my own very modern, suburban town having a history that stretched back beyond the rows of shiny new houses fascinated me. Some of the places in the history I knew about, such as Kresson School, the Haddon Cabaña Club (which I had visited, after its abandonment, with my mom and friend when I was 7 or 8), Kresson Lake (with its still-visible-at-the-time diving platform), and Sunshine Lake (where my grandmother had picnicked in the ’20s and ’30s). However, there were places that I hadn’t heard about. One of the more interesting reads:

“Ole’s Ranch… was a small lake front complex. It began as a dude ranch owned by Ole Larson featuring two of the largest log cabin structures in the area. In the mid 1960s television personality Sally Starr purchased the “ranch” and turned it into a restaurant/dance hall complex called “The Ponderosa.” The complex failed as a commercial venture and was abandoned in the early 1970s. The vacant log cabins were destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s.”

Over the years, I’ve come to discover that so much of this blurb wasn’t quite accurate, but at the time my thoughts were, “Cool, a dude ranch in Voorhees. I never would have expected that.”

Flash forward several years to my early 20s. I drive now, and what is better to do when driving than to go exploring? An acquaintance had told me about Cedar Lake Park on Dutchtown Road, a swimming area that had shut down “for the season” due to insurance rates… only this was twenty years ago at this point. Well, I had to go see this for myself. I grabbed one of my buddies and we headed out for a little walk from Lion’s Lake Park. We saw the sign, found an abandoned car, took some pictures, and decided to keep on going. Eventually we come to a dirt road (with sporadic pavement). There aren’t many dirtish roads in the town anymore, so we took a walk back and discovered a broken down dam, a whole lot of trash, and lots of fishing line. That was a pretty good find, so we headed back to the car.

Road to Ole's Ranch.
The road, circa 2006.
Turns out the “dam” was the old car bridge.  Took creative hopping to get across in the early 2000s.  It is now completely gone. Gee, why didn’t I want to carry my camera across here?

Later the night, I was checking out maps to see where we had gone. Kresson Lake… Cedar Lake… Ole’s Lake? A web search turned up one hit… the Voorhees Township History, now available online (2015 – no longer available on the township, but I had saved a copy so you can find it here). I reread the blurb for the first time in years, and was immediately curious, what was Ole’s Ranch? Was anything left? Further web searches, an e-mail to Sally Starr, and asking some older locals turned up no further information, although one of my friend’s mothers did remember visiting the place when it was run by Ms. Starr. Crossing the dam to explore was another story; there were plenty of remains of Ole’s Ranch to be found around the lake.

Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.

I explored the area many times with different friends over the years, or stopped by just to fish. The dam/road to the area where the dance hall was demolished many years ago, so getting across always was always an adventure, requiring the use of a packing crate, a board, and a fallen tree as a bridge. The far side of the lake had the burnt out remnants of two log cabins, two large cinder block structures, some retaining walls by the lake, some random fencing, and bits of metal sticking out of the ground, all that remained of this business venture. I figured that Ole’s was probably like most of the other nearby lakes, a cranberry bog turned recreational lake. By 2006, the lake was still used recreationally for fishing, and less legitimately as a place for the local kids to build fires and get drunk (not the best idea because a township police officer lived on the edge of the lake). I eventually became brave enough to take my camera across the make-shift bridge with me, and the ranch proved to be very photogenic. An adventure, a few hours of fun exploring, a spot to fish, and some good photos, I’d gotten quite a lot out of Ole’s Lake. Once in a while, I’d get an e-mail with questions about the place, and I’d reply with what I knew.

2005/2006 photos of Ole’s Ranch property:

Ole’s Dude Ranch

One day, out of the blue, an e-mail came to me labeled “Ole’s Ranch”. I opened it, figuring someone wanted to know how to get there, or if I knew anything more about it. However, it was much more than that, it was from a gentleman named Nelson Jones, the grandson of Ole Larsen, who had stayed at the ranch in his childhood. My old interest in Ole’s Lake was instantly rekindled.

I was surprised to learn that the Voorhees Township History (and, by extension, myself) had spelled the name wrong; the gentleman whom the lake was named after was Ole Larsen. That was only my first surprise, as the complex was more than I had ever imagined. Nelson Jaunes and Janice Larsen Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Ole Larsen, began to fill me in on the rich history of Ole’s Dude Ranch. What a history it was.

Ole’s started as nothing more than a dream.  The property, a mere tract of woods with a stream running through, was purchased by Ole and Virginia Larsen from the Wolfrum family in November and December of 1942.  Janice, one of their daughters, tells of the family going out to visit the plot of land, sitting under an old cherry tree and dreaming of the future. Before the dreams could be fulfilled, there was a lot of work to be done. It turns out that Ole’s Lake (really two lakes bisected by the bridge) are not just named after Ole Larsen, the man dug each of them himself from a small stream with the help of a donkey and a handmade plow. The bridge was built in 1944, and the label could still be seen on the side of the bridge on a day when the water is clear in the early 2000s.

Aerial photo of the ranch complex in the 1940s or 50s. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.
Overhead of complex with buildings, entrance road, and swimming area clearly visible – 1957 – from the author’s collection, acquired from historicarials.com

Once the lake was dug, there was still a complex to be built. When the Delaware River Bridge (now known as the Ben Franklin Bridge) was built, Ole won a contract to haul away the cobblestones that were torn up to make way for this new bridge.  After the tar was chopped off (done in the cold part of winter), the cobblestones became the foundations for most of the buildings there, including an outdoor amphitheater with a capacity of over 1000 people.

The first building, a bar/nightclub/restaurant was a log cabin structure completed in 1945. The logs, as well as the logs for all future buildings, were purchased at Gaagers in Medford NJ, which sold cedar trees for the purposes of telephone poles and log cabins. More buildings soon followed. Facing the complex, the log cabin to the left was Ole’s house, where the family lived for many years, having moved to the property in 1945. The property also contained the restaurant (later on an addition was built with a ten room hotel addition upstairs, and a bar/shuffleboard area downstairs), a large horse barn, a picnic area, a swimming area, and the before-mentioned amphitheater with a stage that overhung the lake.  “It’s quite elaborate” declared a review in the Camden Courier in March of 1946

Earliest ad I’ve found for Ole’s – March 1946 looking for a waitress. Clipping from the Camden Courier (now the Courier-Post).  S-41 was the old number for what is now Route 73.
Camden Courier (now the Courier-Post) – March 23, 1946.

“I OFTEN VISITED OLE’S RANCH IN THE EARLY FIFTIES, BEFORE SALLY TOOK IT OVER, AND REMEMBER IT VERY WELL.  EVEN THOUGH IT WAS AN OPERATIVE SALOON TYPE ESTABLISHMENT THE APPROACH INTO IT WAS HARDLY NOTICEABLE AND RATHER DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE…DOWN A NARROW UNPAVED ROAD THAT LED TO A SMALL PARKING LOT AND OLE’S RANCH.  OLE’S RANCH WAS THE ONLY WORDS WE USED TO DESCRIBE THE SALOON OR NIGHT CLUB OR WHATEVER IT WAS MEANT TO BE.  WE THOUGHT IT WAS A GREAT PLACE – RUSTIC – AND RATHER AUTHENTIC COWBOY TYPE SALOON.  INSIDE IT WAS PLAIN BUT, AGAIN, NICE AND RUSTIC.  THERE WAS A BAR ON THE LEFT OR I WOULD SAY EASTERN SIDE AND A DANCE FLOOR WITH TABLES AROUND IT ON THE WESTERN END.  THE BAR WAS A RATHER BIG OVAL THAT HAD PROBABLY FORTY SEATS (STOOLS) ALL AROUND IT.  THERE WAS ROOM FOR THE BARTENDERS TO WALK AROUND THE INSIDE AND TEND TO CUSTOMERS – IN THE MIDDLE WAS A RAISED FLOOR ABOUT BAR LEVEL AS I REMEMBER IT, WHICH SERVED AS A BANDSTAND FOR THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT. ” ~ Rod Green, shared in an email, 2010.

The property was a proper ranch, with horses and trails throughout the property.  They hosted rodeos and riding events over the years on the property, including one by the Navy League in June 1946 and the Circle W rodeo in 1947.

Ole Larsen roping a calf. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.
Horse barn and horses. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.
Joyce Larsen riding on the property. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.
Joyce Larsen. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.

The bar must have done good business pretty much off the bat, because it caught the attention of the wrong folks.  At 3:20 am on May 6, 1946, armed five robbers wearing red, brown, white, and black kerchiefs for masks entered the bar with weapons drawn.  Ole Larsen, clearly being a man of good sense, grabbed a bag containing $4,000 and ran into a room in the back of the building.  Some of the robbers lined up 47 employees and patrons and began the process of separating them from their valuables while some of them worked on getting into the back room where Ole Larsen was hiding out.

Into the bar walks Edwin Dwier (spelled Dwyer in an article from another paper), who had no idea what was happening until he was instructed to get into line with everyone else.  Staff Sergeant Dwier, a WWII veteran with three battle stars who served in Okinawa and Luzon, was having none of it.

“I looked over and saw two punks, one with a shotgun and another with an automatic standing at one end of the bar.  I looked down the other end and saw I saw two more punks.  They looked scared to death to me and I walked toward them.  I told the two in front of me to get out or I would slap them down.  One put a shotgun into my stomach and I told him to take it out of there or I would take it away from him and stick it down his throat.  I was mad and I turned to grab a stool to hit him over the head with it, and one of the punks shouted to scram and they all ran out.  I chased them to the door, but I did not go outside, because while I knew they didn’t have the guts to shoot in the light, they might have opened up out there in the dark.”
~ Camden Courier, May 6, 1946



The bandits probably got off lucky – Dwier had just been released from the hospital where he was recovering from burns suffered from rescuing two of his comrades from a burning building in Japan.  One of the robbers ran smack into a tree as he tried to get to the car, losing his hat and having to be helped into the vehicle before it sped off.  The total take – $20.

One on five… pretty good odds for this guy.

The restaurant part of the complex did well too.  They advertised “Delicious Ranch Style Dinners” and eventually offered seating for between 900 and 1000 people.

“Here you dine ‘neath candle light in an atmosphere that’s very different – with a welcoming roaring fire in the massive cedar log fireplace.  You enjoy yourself in leisurely fashion.  No matter what you choose from our complete menu which includes Broiled Lobster Tails, Giant Frog Legs or Filet Mignon, we’ll guarantee you’ll thoroughly enjoy whatever you select.  Visit us soon.  Enjoy our warm hospitality.” ~ ad in the Camden Courier, February 17, 1950.

The complex sported hotel rooms, underneath of which was “the most complete game room in America” with shuffleboard and darts.  A series of guest cabins were built as well.

Camden Courier ad – July 1951.

The complex saw rodeos, trail riding, shuffleboard, and swimming.  It served food and alcohol to hundreds or thousands of folks each weekend.  It even hosted a summer camp – Camp Hilltop – sponsored by the JCC.

July 17, 1956 – Camden Courier-Post.

While the bar and restaurant did well, it was the amphitheater that saw the best action.  It played host to musical acts big and small over the years.  Smaller acts included the like of Wally Dempsey’s Westerners, the St Louis 4, Mac McGuire and the Wip-Mutual Harmony Rangers, Dr Charles Ace and His Five (or Six) Interns, Slim Swinger and his Dude Ranch Gang, Steve Ricco and his Hawaiians, Uncle Applegate and The Brothers Quartette, Rusty Clarke the Tennessee Playboy, and the Four Doctors of Rhythm.  Some of the bigger acts the family remembers coming through include the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys, Bill Haley and the Comets, Johnny Ray, Patty Paige, Guy Mitchell, Billy Darnell, The Eberly Brothers, Hank Williams, Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff, and Eddie Fisher, just to name a few.

Camden Courier – February 1953.

“IN THE MIDDLE WAS A RAISED FLOOR ABOUT BAR LEVEL AS I REMEMBER IT, WHICH SERVED AS A BANDSTAND FOR THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT.  THE REASON I KNOW WAS BECAUSE I PLAYED IN A LITTLE 5 PIECE BAND AS A YOUNG GUY AND WE HAD A COUPLE OF GIGS AT THIS PLACE, OLE’S RANCE.  THE FIVE OF USE INCLUDED A PIANO PLAYER AND FOUR OTHERS, THAT INCLUDED A GIRL THAT BOTH PLAYED AND WAS THE VOCALIST.   THE PIANO WAS PERMANENTLY ON THE STAGE FOR ALL THE ENTERTAINMENT TO USE.  WE OPENED AND FILLED IN FOR TWO NOTABLE COUNTRY MUSIC SINGERS THAT WAS NOT MENTIONED IN YOUR ARTICLE.  THEY WERE JIM REEVES AND LEFTY FRIZZELL.  HARD TO IMAGINE WHAT THESE TWO WERE DOING ABOUT TEN MILES EAST OF PHILLY IN THE JERSEY WOODS AT THE TIME.  AGAIN, THIS WAS EARLY FIFTIES AND BEFORE SALLY STARR’S INFLUENCE AT GETTING THESE ACTS.  OLE MUST HAVE HAD SOME CONNECTION OR ANOTHER TO HAVE THEM.  ALTHOUGH JIM REEVES WASN’T THAT WELL KNOWN AT THE TIME PROBABLLY, BUT LEFTY HAD BEEN KICKING AROUND FOR QUITE A WHILE BY THEN AND HAD NO DOUBT ALREADY HAD A FEW HITS LIKE HIS “ALWAYS LATE”.  A FURTHER ANTIDOTE:  JIM AND LEFTY WERE ACTUALLY THERE IN THE BUILDING AT THE SAME TIME.  JIM REEVES WAS THE ACT AT THE TIME AND LEFTY JUST A VISITOR SITTING AT THE BAR.  JIM INVITED LEFTY UP TO SING A SONG OR TWO AND LEFTY CONTINUED TO SING LONGER THAN JIM THOUGHT HE SHOULD – THIS LED TO JIM INVITING HIM TO SIT BACK DOWN AND THERE WAS A LITTLE ANIMOSITY BETWEEN THE TWO AT THAT POINT.  FINALLY LEFTY SAT BACK AT HIS STOOL AND JIM CONTINUED TO PERFORM.  BOTH JIM AND LEFTY WERE GREAT PERFORMERS.  FOR INFO, WE ONLY STARTED PLAYING A 7″30 AND THE MAIN ACT WOULD COME ON ABOUT 9 OR SO.  I DOUBT THERE WAS MUCH ACTIVITY IN THE DAY TIME AT OLE’S RANCE, AND AT THIS TIME I DO NOT RECALL MUCH FOOD TO SPEAK OF – IT WAS MAINLY THE BAR AND DANCING.” ~ memories from Rod Green, shared via email 2010

Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.
Ole Larsen on Queenie. Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.

The music act most closely associated with Ole’s Ranch was Ms. Sally Starr, disc jockey, television star, recording artist (backed by Bill Haley and his Comets), and hero to a whole generation of Philadelphia area children.  Sally was a musical act at Ole’s at times and an employee at times, but she was mostly a close family friend of the Larsen’s (one grandchild shared that he called “Aunt Sally”).

Ad – Camden Courier – 1951.

 

“Our Gal Sal” at Ole’s Ranch. Photo courtesy of Diana Buck Dressner.

The End of an Era?

By the mid-1950s, the Larsen family was ready to get out of the ranching and restaurant business.  At some point, the company feel under a new ownership group – Twin Lakes Lodge, Inc.  No deed is registered that I’ve found, but ads in 1955 and 1956 show the businesses going under the name Twin Lakes rather than Ole’s Ranch.  According to the family (and backed up by the property records), the Larsen family would sell and then reacquire the ranch on three separate occasions.

An ad in 1957 showed another name change – Sally Starr’s Ranch.  I have been told that the business was purchased by Sally Starr, but I haven’t come across a deed for this sale as of yet.

Camden Courier-Post – May 1957.

Sally Starr brought in some big names in 1957, including James Brown and country music legend Lefty Frizzell.

“went there once with my parents when I was about 6 or 7 yrs old, many years ago! But, I remember the amphitheatre [sic] and wooden bldg. with a stage and The drive down The long diet road. The feature show was a country western singer my father knew of, but I remember Ranger Joe (?) who was on a mug and cereal at that time. Our Gal Sal was also there. I think she did the intro. “ ~ email, 2017.

Camden Courier Post – 1957.

But the place reportedly didn’t do as well as it had, and the arrangement didn’t last, and the place was advertised as Ole’s again by 1958.  However, the family was given another reason the beginning of the next year to get out of business again – a  second robbery attempt, this one successful, at Ole’s on New Year’s Day in 1959.  In April 1960, the property is listed for auction for the first time.

Jean Rahrig Kerr (head turned), Sally Starr (facing camera), and unknown gentleman on stage at Ole’s Ranch. Photo courtesy of Diana Buck Dressner.

On June 4, 1965, a deed was registered transferring the property from Twin Lakes, Inc to Ole and Virginia Larsen for the sum of $1.  Three days later, the Larsens sold the property to Ponderosa, Inc under Martin Ostrow and Nicholas DiCicco for $250,000 ($2.4 million in November 2023 money).  I’ve seen in second hand sources that Sally Starr was part of the ownership group under this name (including listing that in a newspaper article many years down the line), but the property records only list Mr. Ostrow and Mr. DiCicco on the deed transfer.  I suspect that ownership during the time was confused with Sally Starr’s previous, very visible  management in the late ’50s and her long association with the property as sometimes employee, sometimes musical act, sometimes friend and visitor.

The Philadelphia Group and The Ponderosa

Courier-Post – December 1968

For many years, I was under the impression that the property and business rapidly collapsed at this point.  But in 2015, I was contacted by Bill Andrews.  Bill had stumbled across my article and sent some very urgent emails about wanting to meet up to talk about the ranch.  I met Bill and his wife at Palace Diner, and boy was I glad that I did.  They each shared some of their stories of the old place.  Bill had been a country music DJ in Chester, PA, and had played in bands at Ole’s as well as served as Master of Ceremonies for some of the shows there.

Far from going out with a whimper, The Ponderosa had seen some big name acts come through, such as Tex Ritter and Buck Owens and his Buckaroos (and if you don’t know Buck Owens, do yourself a favor and go listen to him now).  Bill used to pick some of the stars up at the airport them to their gig there sometimes.

Buck Owens and his Buckaroos on stage at the Ponderosa. Photo courtesy of Bill Andrews.

The place had also served as an incubator for South Jersey talent, sending South Jersey country acts out on tour around the country.  They’d even taken a shot at putting out records under the name of Ponderosa Records, which had one release – “Thelma Sings Patsy Kline” .

Thelma Sings Patsy Kline – Ponderosa Records (1965). Photo from the author of a record in the collection of Bill Andrews. This record can still be found online occasionally, and I now have a copy in my collection.

Bill also had something remarkable – old home movies of the Ponderosa that had been converted to digital.

Onstage at the Ponderosa. Still taken from home movies courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Buck Owens and his Buackaroos at the Ponderosa. Still taken from home movies courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Buck Owens and his Buackaroos at the Ponderosa. Still taken from home movies courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Bill at the Ponderosa with Jean Sheppard. The autograph was from many years later when Bill met Jean again. Photo courtesy of Bill Andrews.

Bill was attached to the Ponderosa for a few years, but moved on after a few years while the place was still going.  There’s some  more to the story here, but I need to verify it/run down details in a few other sources before I can add it here…

The End

The last ad I’ve found was April 1969, curiously back under the name Ole’s Ranch.


A year later, in April 1970, the restaurant burned to the ground.  The alarm was raised at 1:30 in the afternoon and firefighters from Kresson, Kirkwood, Ashland, Berlin, West Berlin, and Cherry Hill responded.  The business was described as “a vacant restaurant”.

Just over a month later, the Ponderosa sold to a group called Twin Lakes, Inc (which, if you remember, was the name of the group that sold the properties to the Larsens for $1 in 1965).  Whatever the plans of the Twin Lakes, Inc group this time around, they must not have come to much, as in less than two years, the property was seized by the Sherriff’s office and sold back to Ponderosa, Inc, this time listed as Martin A Ostrow, Estelle G Ostrow, Nicholas CiCicco, Eleanor Di Cicco, and Ann Josephine Misero, in March 1972.  Mrs. Larsen passed away just a month later, with Mr. Larsen following the next year.

The property was mortgaged by the Ponderosa group in August of 1974, and was again seized by the sheriff in June 1979, who sold it three months later to Lucielle Sireci, who likely owned it when more of the complex was destroyed by arson in the mid-1980s.  It passed to the Cordova Company (1986) then Lakewood Associates (1986), who held on to it until 1999, when they sold it for $1 to avoid foreclosure.

But Not the End?

While the business was gone from the ’70s thought the ’00s and the likes of Bill Haley wouldn’t be coming by to visit anymore, the lake and property were still enjoyed by many folks.

“About 35 years ago (gosh, has it been that long?) I used to ride my horses over there.  It was closed at that time too.  We used to put the horses in the abandoned barn and go swimming in the lake.  I’d kill my kids if they had done that.” ~ memory shared on a yahoo group (for those old enough to remember Yahoo Groups), 2009.

“We had a trail that ran from our house back to that bridge. Spent lots of time fishing back there as a kid. I liked fishing at the dam. My brother and cousins (Dixon’s) would play hockey on the lake when it froze over. I was still young, so I just skated around.” ~ Bob Prinz, comment left 2016

“It used to be fun swimming in that lake as a kid growing up in the 80s. There was a makeshift wooden raft that we used to use to go across the lake for fun, My friends and I thought it would be a good idea to put our bikes on the raft one day and we lost one of the bikes in the middle of the lake.” ~ Michael King, comment left 2022.

“A little more than 10 years ago, I was the construction manager for the subdivision that’s next to Sally Starr’s. The chain of lakes connect. The fishing… there was excellent (I’d get to work 2 hours early) Back then, the cop lived on the road, the puddles weren’t too bad, & I was able to drive my Jeep over the bridge. I think the subdivision was also part of the ranch, there was old fencing, some utility poles with speaker on top, etc.” ~ MuckSavage, njpinebarrens.com, 2007.

For years, the lake served as a de facto park.  Ole’s Lake was a place to go fishing or to go to sit on a township-installed bench and watch the sunset.  Then, in January 2006, the property was bought by Virtua Hospital.  They eventually marked the property no trespassing and began to patrol it, plus brought in the bulldozers and reshaped parts of the property.  I was sad to find this out when I went to go fishing one day, but turned away at the no trespassing signs.  No more visits to the lake.

One More Round at The Ponderosa

In 2015, Bill Andrews had been very generous with his time and memories, and he had a request – he wanted to walk the property.  The problem all those “No Trespassing” signs with security patrolling.  Fortunately, I managed to find a connection who didn’t automatically think I was crazy for wanting to go look for the remains of a dude ranch in South Jersey.  That connection was kind enough to smooth the way for us, and then Virtua kindly gave us permission to walk the property with the Andrews in late 2015.  In addition to myself and the Andrews, my friends, the father-son duo Ken and Dan, came with us.

The property had been bulldozed in places from when I’d been there last close to a decade before (including the ruins of one of the cabins being cleared out), and the old bridge was gone, but much of the rest had been left intact.  It took a little bit, but once the Andrews got their bearings, they were able to point out all of the major building locations and walk us through how the property was arranged, sharing stories along the way.

Ken was kind enough to take a few hundred pictures of the adventure.  And I feel like posting all 300 or 400photos.  But I won’t.  This time.

Heading toward the ranch.
Surviving remains of the one cabin. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
More adventurous than I am. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Stage over the lake. Photo courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Just off of the stage. Photo courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Angled shot with lake and trees behind Buck Owens. Photo courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Edge of stage visible to the left. Still from movie courtesy of Bill Andrews.

 

Stage location in 2015. Note the post sticking out of the water. From the author’s collection.
Another angle of the lake. Movie still from the collection of Bill Andrews.
Footing for the seating by the stage. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Stage from the seating area. Film still courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Seating from the front. Film still courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Lake. Film still courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Lake. Still from movie courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Lake. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Outline of a large building.  Possibly the barn.
Old horse trail. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Still from movie courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Still from movie courtesy of Bill Andrews.
Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Can’t beat the price. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Sharing Memories. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Fence lizard friend.
Drawing a map of the setup. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
Where the bridge was to enter the ranch.
By the lake dam. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.
What an experience. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.

The Memories Will Live On

This place saw a lot.  Music acts from the nearly forgotten to the legendary.  Rounds of beer, rounds of food, rounds of dancing, and rounds of shuffleboard.  A lot of memories were made here – by adults and kids, the employees and visitors, the musicians and the kids at the summer camp learning to swim, memories they still share so many years later.

Bill’s daughter riding at the ranch.

But it’s fair to say that the property meant more to one family than anyone else – The Larsens.  The place saw the weddings of all of Ole and Virginia’s girls – Joyce, Jeanette, Joan, and Janice.  It was used as a summer getaway for the children and grandchildren alike for many years.

Larsen grandchild enjoying a horse… no wait, dog! Photo courtesy of the Larsen family.

In the late years before the property was acquired by the hospital, there were just a few burnt foundations and the crumbled dam left to show that something was once located at this particular place, but nothing hinted at the true size of the complex or its rich history.  The music, swimming, and shuffleboard was long gone.  But the cherry tree that Ole dreamed under was still there.  And until very recently, one day each year, so was the Larsen family, who gathered to remember their family’s past.

Post-Script

First, if you have memories or photos, we’d be delighted to read them, hear them, or see them.  michaelmccormick26@gmail.com  A year doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t share more about this wonderful place, and I’m sure this third major rewrite of this article (in 18 years) won’t be my last.  Also, I really need to find the email with the memories about the monkey that lived on the property.  Really.  Need. To. Find.

THANK YOUS

Thank you to Dan for getting as excited about this as I do, as well as for figuring out how to request property records and sticking his head in holes.  Thank you to Ken for documenting our exploring.

Thank you to the Larsen family and the Andrews family for sharing so much about their time here!

Thank you to Diana for her wonderful photos of Sally Starr at the Ponderosa.

Thank to you the many, many others who have shared their memories over the years.

Thank you to Virtua Hospital for letting us revisit the property in 2015.

Thank you to you, the person who read something on the Internet that is this ridiculously long.

24 thoughts on “Ole’s Dude Ranch/Sally Starr’s Ranch/The Ponderosa – Voorhees, NJ

  1. as a child my parents used to take us on family outings to Ole,s ranch / Sally Starr lake and Cedar Lake Park. I was just driving back that way 4/12/16 to check out old memories. Thanks for the story and information.
    cdh

  2. Grew up on Dutchtown Rd in the 80’s, just in front of the lake. I’ve always called it Ponderosa, but never knew why. We had a trail that ran from our house back to that bridge. Spent lots of time fishing back there as a kid. I liked fishing at the dam. My brother and cousins (Dixon’s) would play hockey on the lake when it froze over. I was still young, so I just skated around. I did get a few chances to go swimming at Lion’s lake back then too. Good memories, and a good article. Thanks for writing it.

    1. I was thinking about my walks in the woods from Cooper Road that would lead to this old park. My parents moved to Alluvium in the late 70’s/early 80’s when I was a teenager. It took awhile to make new friends, so I would often head to the woods with my dog on long walks. Thank goodness for the woods and the adventure of that lost place. Anyway, my school bus driver lived on Rt. 73, at an old gas station and her grandmother had property that abutted The Ponderosa. I think her family must have been known in the area. Her name was Linda. Her last name started with a J and sounded Polish (I think). I would love to track her down. She was a good friend on an incredibly long bus ride. Anyone have a clue about her? The gas station no longer stands.

      1. Hi Kim

        The bus driver is my mom – I called her as soon as I saw this. She said she would love to get in touch. What is the best way to reach you?

  3. I live nearby and decided to take a hike back by the lakes – saw the large complex and cabins. I could tell that at one time this area was a big deal. Decided to start Googling and came across your site – thank you for educating me on what this was – amazing. Had no idea I lived around such interesting history.

    1. Glad you enjoyed learning about Oles, it’s such a cool spot. Just a warning though that since we originally took these pictures and wrote this article (when it was a de facto park) Virtua bought the property and patrols it to keep people out.

  4. I’d love to know where they were hiding the cobblestones for more than two decades. The Ben Franklin Bridge began construction in 1922 and opened to traffic in 1926. The property wasn’t purchased until the early 1940’s and the first building wasn’t built until 1945.

    1. I suspect it would have been a project that redid the entry roads for the bridge, although with NJ government efficiency, they could have been lying around for 20 years too. 🙂

  5. I’m so glad I found this article! My mom and I were just speaking about these lakes yesterday. (My mom is 67). For years she used to tell me how her dad (a bit of a drunk) would take the kids to the lake on 73 which I’ve always called Kresson Lake and he would go and it at the bar while the kids swam. Haha! I do remember there being a building that looked like a bar right on 73 that has been gone for several years now but there’s no way that could’ve been a part of Ole’s Lake. Anyhow, I occasionally golf at Kresson and I can’t remember the actual hole but it’s on the back 9 and you can see a lake with cement structures around. It looks like a handful of old picnic tables that were made out of cement as well as a litte building which I would imagine was maybe a bath house or something for the lake. I get so turned around on that course, not knowing which way is 73 but I’m curious to know which lake that was apart of??

    1. Thanks for the post and sharing your mom’s memories! There are four lakes in a row there- Kresson right on RT 73 (which was a swimming lake and had the building with “BAR” written on the roof until about five years ago. The diving platform collapsed maybe 10 years ago), then Lions Lake (now a town park), then Cedar Lake (another old swimming lake, and the one you see on the golf course. The welcome sign for the lake is actually still on Dutchtown Road even though the lake hasn’t been open since at the least the early 80s), and finally Oles Lake (the old dude ranch and music venue that the article is about). Pretty interesting that there were so many swimming lakes so close together!

  6. THIS IS NOT THE TRUE STORY OF THIS LAKE SALLY STAR NEVER OWNED THIS LAKE IT WAS OWNED BY 0LE LARSEN HE SOLD IT TO A AFRICAN AMERICAN GROUP CALLED TWIN LAKE LODGE
    HE GOT IT BACK AFTER IT FAILED .HE HELD IT FOR AWHILE AND THEN SOLD IT TO A GROUP IN PHILDELPHIA THEY CALLED IT THE PONDEROSA SALLY STAR WOULD VISIT THERE BUT THAT WAS IT.
    THE PLACE WAS A SUCESS IT WAS PACKED EVER NITE AND SUNDAYS IT WAS KNOWN FOR ITs HIGH QUALITY ROAST BEEF SMORGASBOARD .THERE WERE A LOT OF FUNCTIONS THERE .
    AT ONE TIME THE OWNERS FROM PHILDELPHIA DONATED THE WHOLE PLACE TO THE RETARDED CHILDREN FOR THE DAY OVER 100 CHILDREN AND THERE FAMILY s FOOD SWIMING HORSE BACK RIDING FISHING MUSIC LIVE BANDS AND A LOT MORE . ANOTHER PLACE OPENED ON RT 73 CALLED SADDLE AND SPUR AND THEN MORE PLACEs OPENED IN THE AREA AND THEN THE GROUND
    BECAME MORE VALUABLE THEN THE BUSSINES AND IT WAS SOLD BUT THERE IS A LOT MORE HISTORY TO THIS STORY ALSO I WOULD THINK LARSEN FAMILY WOULD HAVE MORE PICTURES
    THAN WHAT IS POSTED AND THE KID THAT LIVED ON DUTCH TOWN RD BOB PRINZ YOUR COUSIN WAS TOMMY DIXON

    1. Hi L. Nick!

      Thanks for response and the information!

      The initial information that I had for this came from the Voorhees Township History, which is suspect as they spelled the Larsen’s Family name wrong.

      I have since had contact with the Larsen family, who have been kind enough to share some of their family pictures and a ton of information, as well as Bill Andrews who was the MC there in the 70s.

      I have a massive update I need to do (including pictures) at some point, so any other stories or memories that you would like to share are much appreciated! If you’d be willing to meet up with me at some point for a few hours and talk to me about Ole’s Ranch, that would be even better!

  7. thank you for your response i now live out of state but can shed a lot of light on that property and the area and i think i know bill have to put a face with it
    he will know me for sure if he worked there long time ago and my wife i will be glad to help
    thank you

  8. Diana
    I have a pictures of Sally Starr & my aunt who is playing a instrument with Sally Starr at Ole’s Ranch. When I was growing up I would hear stories about all my family who would go there. Does anyone know what years Sally Star was that Ole’s Ranch

    1. Thanks for sharing Diana! I’m not sure the exact years that Sally Starr was there, but she started by working for the Larsens, then owned the place herself for a while. I’d love to see that picture (and add it to this write up if you don’t mind) if you have a way of emailing me a copy. southjerseytrails@gmail.com

  9. My father’s uncle Mickey owned Kresson Lake. I remember my father loading us all into his 68 Cadillac sedan DeVille over tacony paimyra. My father would stop at the entrance and his uncle would say hello and never took a dime. My father told me they used to charge by car load so if you had a big caddy, like 10 kids would pipe in the back. I remember always swimming under that one shallow platform I wasn’t old enough for that big platform. Nice memories, very distinct smell.

  10. does anyone recall the owners names of the saddle and spur saloon,which was located on rte.73 i think where the library2 is.one of the owners name was katherine.i do not recall the last name.she and her husband owned it.thanks

  11. Hi~
    First time on this page.
    Just wondering ~ Kresson Lake was very close to Kenilworth Road.
    Any information on Kenilworth Lakes.
    The upper lake was off of Kenilworth, dirt road, Flamingo and the lower lake is on Egret.
    On Flamingo Road, next to the house we lived in ~ there was a clubhouse type building and beachfront.
    From what I understand, years prior it may have been a boy scout camping area.
    There was also a dirt road entrance off of Route 73 ~ leading back to Egret and Flamingo Road.
    This is now where the entrance is for Sturbridge Lakes.
    We no longer live at the property on upper Kenilworth but, the house is still there.
    We moved out late 1984/85
    Joe Samhost owned the dilapidated clubhouse next to our house, tore it down and built a 3 story home…
    It was time to move on….

    Not even sure if the lake still has water.
    One of the last few times I was by ~ was after the dam broke.
    Any history on Kenilworth Lakes ~ would be great.
    Thanks

  12. It used to be fun swimming in that lake as a kid growing up in the 80s. There was a makeshift wooden raft that we used to use to go across the lake for fun, My friends and I thought it would be a good idea to put our bikes on the raft one day and we lost one of the bikes in the middle of the lake. A lot of changes in that area. I grew up on route 73. My driveway was a dirt driveway that used to be the entrance to sunshine lake. This was a popular swimming place before my time. Now it’s a huge rehab facility in between Dutchtown road and Lakeside avenue. The area was soooo cool before it got so built up. Brian Prinz, long time man!!

  13. Thanks for sharing this story. Very interesting. Never went to that bar and restaurant was trying to figure out where it was until……you said Virtua bought the property.
    I have to say they made a beautiful complex. Tried to keep the natural look of the place. Thanks

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