By Frank Dale and Jane Dobosh

Local historical groups are the keepers of amazing, little-known outposts of preservation that keep our past legible. Here are a few that you should be sure to put on your list of destinations.

The Museum Of White Township

Little White Township has a big-time museum. The creation and charge of the White Township Historical Society, it is one of the most satisfying but least known in the Skylands area.

Powder horn marked 1764 & "W" and stirrup marked "W" are believed to have belonged to William White who settled Oxford Twp about 1760.

Located in Bridgeville in Warren County, just south of Route 46 on Route 519, near the old stone arch bridge which gives this village its name, the museum is in a two-storied house on the right hand side of Route 519. The house is small, the first floor of stone, the second of brick, all under a coat of stucco. The land was purchased in 1775 by George Titman and the house, or a one-storied version of it, was built by him soon after. It was a later George Titman, George IV, who in the mid-1830s, created the village-he built a hotel, a stone schoolhouse, and some other structures as well as the nine-arch stone bridge over the nearby Pequest River. All of these buildings still stand. The museum is immaculately kept, filled with exciting things, but free of clutter. Most of the first floor is furnished as a general store which at one time in its history it was; living quarters for the storekeeper were on the second floor

On the first floor is also an 1893 register from a local hotel, a court docket containing the records of cases from 1829 to 1838, an 1865 ledger from a Belvidere store, a powder horn with the date, 1764, carved in it, among other things.

The rooms upstairs are arranged as living quarters, furnished with a bed, and chests and chairs of 150 years ago. There is a fireplace here with an 1832 military musket, bayonet affixed, hanging from the mantel.

Each room contains a large selection of photographs arranged on posters, each poster representing a section of the township; Sarepta, Hazen, Buttsville, Cornish, Manunka Chunk and so forth. Most of these photos are from the extensive collection of local historian, Betty Jo King, past president of the historical society.

Again, the extensive photographic displays are fascinating. You can even take a peek in the attic; headroom is low but one gets a good view of early construction methods. The huge, hand-squared roof beams help explain why this house still stands.

The lower level of the house, the basement, offers an unexpected surprise. In what must be the cleanest cellar in Warren County, railroad historian Michael King has assembled a unique collection of railroad memorabilia and photographs. The Warren Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western that replaced it, passed nearby and Bridgeville had a fine station on the line. The basement also houses a sizable collection of Indian artifacts--tools and arrow and spear heads collected from local fields.

There is much more to this fine museum but come and see for yourself.

The basement includes an extensive collection of railroading artifacts including these Edison batteries which powered the switches

The remains of a Lenni-Lenape found along the Delaware River in 1960

It is opened from June to October on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 2-4pm. It is also opened each election day-the first Tuesdays in June and November-from 10am to 4pm. For a special showing for your group call (908) 453-2379. There is no charge for any of this, but contributions are gratefully accepted and needed. To write for a brochure or an application to join the White Township Historical Society write to the Society at: Route 519, Box 555 A, Belvidere, NJ 07823.

Frank Dale



They say fear focuses the mind wonderfully, and nowhere has that been more true than in the case of local history museums. Often it is the fear that a building will be lost that motivates a group to save it.

The Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead in Delaware Township, just north of Lambertville, was born of just such a threat. Construction of the Route 202 bridge was slated to demolish the homestead, but owner Milo Jimison donated the property -- what hadn't already been eaten away by two railroads, a canal, a cemetery, a county road, a major highway, electrical and gas lines and the highway cloverleaf-- to the Hunterdon County Historical Society. Strapped for funds, the society turned the property over to the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead, Inc., which has been restoring the property ever since.

The property includes a barn full of exhibits, a blacksmith shop, a print shop and an office/meeting building. The Holcombe house, which restorers boast was visited by George Washington, is not open to the public except on special occasions, since the farmstead group keeps it rented to protect the somewhat isolated farm.

The barn is full of exhibits of various farm and household objects. Many eras are represented with the kitchen featuring a pump-type vacuum cleaner, an antique ironing board, and several eras worth of kitchen utensils.

In the farming section, plows and wheelbarrows are arranged to show their evolution. Threshing machines and treadmills are also indicative of pre-electric farming. Equipment used by an itinerant butcher is set up intact in spite of the fact that the tubs and vats were likely worth a great deal on the scrap metal market.

The room of which the museum's docents are most proud is the exact replica of the medical office of Dr. Morris Leaver of Quakertown. Leaver was a doctor, dentist and apothecary who practiced until his death in 1954. The exhibit includes shelves stocked with medicines, the examining table and dentist chair. Also included is a telephone switchboard from his house. He started the first phone company in the area. The doctor also collected and repaired firearms and musical instruments and was an instructor and leader of a brass band.

Holcombe-Jimison is open Sundays from 1pm to 4pm except in winter months. (609)397-1810

Jane Dobosh


Silas Riggs Saltbox House

Another museum that exists in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- a threat of destruction is the Silas Riggs Saltbox House -- a living history museum in the Ledgewood section of Roxbury Township. While Roxbury is probably best known for its seemingly endless strip of shopping centers along Route 10, the township has some very historic areas, including four on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Ruth Ann Seraly of the historical society.

The museum, on Main Street, Ledgewood, used to be on the other side of Route 10. The property owner wanted to tear it down to build an office building, but the historical society and the community at large had no intention of allowing that to happen.

The house was moved around the Ledgewood Circle in 1963 and turned into a living history museum. It is the anchor of the Ledgewood Historic District which also includes the King Store, the Theodore F. King House and an inclined plane from the Morris Canal.

The Saltbox is the only structure as yet available to the public. It is set up as it would have been in the 18th Century, including its huge central fireplace for open hearth cooking. The museum includes collections of historic clothing from the era of the house up through the 1920s. There is also a permanent exhibit of the art of Olin Vought, who produced drawings, photographs on glass negatives, pen and ink sketches and watercolors of the canal era in northern New Jersey. Vought sketched canal and pastoral scenes from Rockaway-Hibernia to Phillipsburg.

Outside, an authentic herb garden includes those plants used for seasoning and medicines as well as dye plants. The museum is open on special occasions throughout the year.

Jane Dobosh



The train station in Califon is proof that, if a building is maintained properly, it can be reused after many vacant years. The 1875 station was abandoned after freight service to the borough ended in 1967, but it was always well kept, according to Donald Freibergs of the historical society. The society has leased the station and uses it to house a permanent collection of local memorabilia.

In a way, the Califon train station is more of a museum than some of its counterparts, or at least more than a local museum. Art shows and other events are held in the old station. At Christmas, the big attraction is an exhibit of old model trains which attracts children of all ages. At the opening in May, a show of local artists runs for about one month. Often the museum is open for a special evening for that show. As soon as the school year is well underway, a children's art exhibit is presented at the museum.

Regular museum hours are 1 to 3pm on the first and third Sunday of each month, May through December. Docents are all volunteers and there is no charge. (908)832-7850.

Jane Dobosh



The Elias Van Bunschooten Museum on Route 23 in Wantage Township is a little different from the other local museums in that it is not run by the area historical society, but by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Van Bunschooten had been an itinerant preacher. In 1787, when the Dutch Reformed congregation in Wantage decided they were ready to start a full-time church, they petitioned the synod in New Brunswick to make Van Bunschooten pastor. The petition is in the museum and features a number of names still familiar in the area. The church, known as Clove Church, is kept open by a non-profit group and used for special occasions, especially weddings.

Many of Van Bunschooten's belongings remain in the house which was in family ownership until the 1940s. The Cooper family, descendants of Van Bunschooten, donated many mid-19th century pieces to the museum, so part of the house is decorated in an 1860 style. The house is fully furnished and contains an extensive collection of clothing from 1830 to 1930. Eight rooms are on view.

In addition to the exhibits, the museum has a library for genealogical information research that attracts families from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. There is also a gift shop. The DAR, which has owned and operated the museum, requests a donation of $1 for children and $2 for adults. Docents are from among the 55 members of the DAR chapter. (973)702-0016

Jane Dobosh



The building across from the Stillwater Presbyterian Church has been known by many different names over the years. It was originally the Stillwater Academy, but residents who went to school in the township in the 1940s call it the library. It is also known as the Neighborhood House, as well as the museum.

Elsie Roof of the historical society explains it was originally the academy, then owned by the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America. In the 1940s when there was no library in the elementary school it was purchased for use as a school library. It became a museum almost by default. Female students would work in the library, but a neighbor known as Mr. Beagle lit the fire for them mornings. He lived alone into his 80s and when he died he left the girls a collection of Indian artifacts and guns. Once more people had cars and could get to the Sussex County library, the Stillwater library "kind of folded," Roof comments, but the artifacts were still there. Other residents started donating things and a museum was born. "People would donate things they didn't know what to do with," is how Roof phrases it. There is a doll collection, clothing, the Indian artifacts, agricultural equipment and some unusual items such as wooden canteens, one from the Revolution and one from 1912. The first floor is set up like a general store with items from the old Middleville and Stillwater stores as well as mailboxes from the Middleville Post Office. The historical society meets there the second Thursday of each month and the museum is open every Sunday afternoon from May through Christmas. (973)383-4822

Jane Dobosh


Space Farms

Space Farms began in 1927 when Ralph and Elizabeth Space bought a quarter acre at the same site of today's 100 acre zoo and museum complex. When the Great Depression hit the country, local farmers were not spared. Still needing supplies from Elizabeth's dry goods store and repairs at Ralph's garage, the farmers would pay with family heirlooms: old firearms, dolls, wicker cradles and other items. The antiques were given in good faith; all agreed that the items would be given back when better days came and bills could be paid. In the meantime they were placed on the walls of the general store for display. Some of the articles were reclaimed; others were not. The collection has since burgeoned to fill nine restored barns, each specially designed for viewing the memorabilia it contains.

The Antique Toy Barn holds doll buggies, toy ships, wagons, trucks, trains and rocking horses waiting for children long since grown. A Doll Museum houses more than 400 dolls, most in original costume.

The Car Barn holds over fifty restored cars including Ford Model As, Bs, and Ts, Chryslers, Buicks, Dodges, Chevrolets, Kissels and others. Early models of Harley Davidson, Indian, Simplex and Henderson populate the Motorcycle Museum.

The Tractor Museum Barn holds early American wagons, carriages, buggies, a surrey, and a Conastoga wagon. American ingenuity is shown clearly in the Farm Tool Museum and the Farm Equipment barn next door to the Blacksmith Shop. Inside the Space Farms main building is a collection of over 500 antique firearms, the second largest private collection in the US. There is also an extensive collection of Native American artifacts.

Next time you think of Space Farms as "only" a zoo, think again. 973-875-3223.

Lori Day



The museum of the Hackettstown Historical Society at 106 Church Street, Hackettstown, was founded in the Bicentennial year of 1976, the birth date of several historical groups in Warren County. The seven-room house that became the museum formerly belonged to the prominent Plate family. It is now owned by the town and leased to the historical society for a token rent.

Antique quilts, many dating from the 19th Century, adorn a wall at the Hackettstown Musuem.

The small building is filled with neatly arranged and identified artifacts relating to the town's history. Unfortunately, there is no longer enough room in the museum for the growing historical society to meet, and monthly meetings are now held at the Ecumenical Church, on Route 517 in Allamuchy.

In addition to local artifacts, the museum has an extensive archival collection and a well-lit room with a large table where research can be done. In its library can be found most of the books dealing with Hackettstown and Warren County history, some very old and valuable, as well as scrapbooks, photo files, high school yearbooks, and so forth. The museum contains the complete D.A.R. cemetery records for the county and some from Pennsylvania as well. These and the rest of the museum's contents are being indexed in a computerized system. This very modern historical and genealogical source is entering the 21st century in high gear.

In addition to the preservation artifacts and historical and genealogical information, the Society is constantly involved in community activities. The Society publishes "Warren County Chronicles", a very popular booklet on county history which comes out three times a year. In 1995 the Society arranged for the dedication of a monument for those who died, and those who helped in rescue attempts, in the Rockport train wreck of 1925, the deadliest disaster in county history. This year it took part in the dedication of a monument to Admiral Bulkeley, a highly decorated naval hero from town.

The museum is open every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4pm, and trained personnel are there at these times. Membership in the society is available for only $10 a year with a special student rate of $2 a year. And the Society welcomes guests at no charge. For further information the phone number is (908) 852-8797. The mailing address is: Hackettstown Historical Society, 106 Church Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840. Frank Dale


Hope Museum

You might wonder, at first thought, why Hope needed a museum. This beautiful village with its collection of fine old stone structures, whose existence pre-dates the Revolution, is, in itself, a museum. In addition to serving as the headquarters of all this, however, the unique building that is the present home of the Hope Historical Society is post-Moravian and reminds us that Hope had a life after the Moravians departed.

At the suggestion and under the leadership of old time resident, Carl Race, the Hope Historical Society came into being in June of 1954 with its first meeting-place and museum in temporary quarters in the old Moravian Mill. An open house was held at that time with borrowed antiques and artifacts, and drew over a thousand visitors in nineteen days.

The next year the Society moved to its present, permanent, home, the "little house by the side of the road" on Main Street (Route 519) next to the stone arch bridge over Beaver Brook.

This frame cottage was built after the Moravians moved out and consists of one room with fireplace and a loft above that served, in its earlier life, as sleeping quarters. Tradition says that the little house was originally the residence and office of a toll collector or bridge tender. Even when the Historical Society moved in in 1955, the place had no running water and was served by an outhouse in back. The Society made its purchase with the help of a loan from the Hope Bank, restored it and installed a furnace. Gradually, furniture, churns, documents and other artifacts were acquired as well as a fine collection of photographs and maps.

The Historical Society worked hard to pay off the mortgage and in so doing achieved things from which the whole community-and its visitor--benefited. The Society wrote, published, and offers for sale a booklet entitled, The Moravian Contribution to the Town of Hope. The booklet is an authentic source of information on the Moravian influence here from 1769 to 1808. It was an instant best seller and is still available for a very nominal fee.

At the bicentennial of the founding of the village in 1969, the Society placed plaques on all homes and other buildings in the community that predated 1830. In 1973 the village was placed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places, thanks to the efforts of the historical Society and several other civic groups. And recently the Society has printed a brochure that is a map of the village with a brief description of the Moravian buildings. This is used as a guide to a walking tour that visitors are encouraged to take. A slide program is available for showing at the museum dealing with the history of the Moravians. The making of a documentary "The Changing American Family" which was filmed in Hope with local folks as actors was a financial success for the Society. "Old Hope Days" at which such skills as churning, spinning, carding and shingle splitting were demonstrated were big attractions. Bake sales and antique sales contributed to the historical tradition of Hope...and also helped pay off the mortgage. So the Hope Historical Society and its museum have been busy.

But all has not been progress at the museum. On March 22, 1977, vandals broke into and burned the building causing considerable damage to it and to its contents. The building could be and was repaired but many valuable and irreplaceable artifacts and documents are gone forever. Happily, the same spirit that created the museum in the first place, overcame this cruel blow. The building was repaired and another room added to increase its original space, and gradually artifacts and documents are being added. There is more room now for the society's meetings and extra space for a mini book store that offers a wide selection of books and booklets dealing with local history.

The museum is opened June through October on Saturday, 11am to 1pm and on Sunday from 1 to 3pm. Membership in the Society costs a token $5 for a year or $8 for the entire family. The refreshments alone are worth this much. Each meeting brings a first-rate speaker on local history. And if you can't afford it come anyway; guests are welcomed. Call (908) 637-4120 for any additional information.

Frank Dale


Lake Hopatcong Historical Society Museum

The white stucco house adjacent to the parking lot at Lake Hopatcong State Park (map) is more than a place to run to when a sudden shower dampens your day's swimming plans or when the kids have had too much sun. The Lake Hopatcong Historical Society Museum houses six permanent exhibits designed to bring to life the heyday of the lake area, once a favorite summer haven for city residents looking for escape from stifling city heat.

There are artifacts of the lake's first residents, the Lenni Lenape Indians, who hunted and fished around what were then two lakes, dubbed Great Pond and Little Pond by the first white settlers. The dam behind the museum which connected the two ponds arose from the need for water to feed the Morris Canal, the technological miracle which was hand dug 160 years ago to connect the Hudson River at Jersey City with the Delaware River at Phillipsburg. The canal is the subject of another of the museum's exhibits, and it is a former lock tender's house that houses the museum.

While both Native American and Morris Canal lore can be explored elsewhere, the Lake Hopatcong museum is unique in its chronicling of the lake as a Victorian-era resort. The exhibit entitled Simpler Times brings to life the days of bungalow colonies and fishing camps. Jewel of the Mountains is an exhibit of the grand hotels and rooming houses that circled the lake. There are panoramic photographs, popular in the Victorian Era; postcards; a scale model of Castle Edward, one of the ornate hotels; and a special exhibit of pictures of vanished hotels along with photos showing the sites today. Also included are newspaper clippings of some of the spectacular fires that claimed the old, wooden hotels over the years.

Famous People includes pictures of some of the celebrities who summered or entertained at the lake, including Bud Abbott, Guy Lombardo. Lotte Crabtree, a stage actress of the late 19th century, owned a lakefront house, designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, which is an anchor of the Mount Arlington Historic District on the south shore of the lake.

A separate room chronicles Bertrand's Island Amusement Park, which for years drew schoolchildren and senior citizens from as far away as New York City. The park was immortalized in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo shortly before its demolition.

The museum's volunteer docents, including historical society president Martin Kane and Richard Willis, who is a member of an old family from the Jefferson Township side of the lake, are knowledgeable about the exhibits and can offer interesting anecdotes about early residents. They are always willing to answer questions about the lake's history and to help former residents or the descendants of residents locate old hotel sites on a map.

The museum is open Sundays from noon to 4pm March through June and September through November. Admission is free. For further information call 973/398-2616 or visit their website. Jane Dobosh


Schoolhouse Museum in Lebanon

Second graders wiggle in their seats just as they would at their own school, but at the Township of Lebanon Museum at New Hampton, the seats and desks are attached, and there are two pupils to a desk. The museum is a former one-room school house which has been re-created by the Township of Lebanon Historians who renovated the building on Musconetcong River Road prior to opening the museum in 1982.

School groups spend a day at the museum from 10am to 2pm, doing classroom work, learning about schooling in the 19th century and playing games before journeying upstairs to view the permanent and rotating exhibits. The second story was added to the 1823 building in the 1870's. The schoolhouse was used as a grammar school, a Sunday School and a meeting place for various organizations before standing vacant and neglected for many years.

The schoolroom includes memorabilia of the 19th century as well as slates with soapstone and other items schoolchildren would have used. Upstairs are the permanent exhibits, a Lenni Lenape Indian exhibit donated by Herbert Kraft of Seton Hall University and farm tools and old books. There is an annual quilt and coverlet show as well as spring and fall art shows. Bimonthly collection exhibits have included Stangl pottery, old dolls, World's Fair and Exposition momentos, Depression glass, milk bottles, Santa and turtles.

The Township of Lebanon Museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30am to 5pm and Saturdays from 1-5pm. Curators Joan Lucas and Kim Jacobus teach the schoolchildren and guide tours of the museum. The museum is also available for scout troops, either as a tour or for work toward a badge. Lucas and Jacobus will teach a craft to the scouts if requested. Admission is free-- the museum is funded totally through the Township of Lebanon.

Jane Dobosh


This story was first published: Spring, 2003
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