Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School of Historical Interpretation

Whether you are interested in the public presentation of Historic New Bridge Landing, either as an exhibit docent, greeter, or living-history interpreter in period dress, or simply in learning and practicing the craft of historical interpretation, then join the School of Historical Interpretation. Hone communication and other career skills while gaining insight into the material culture of the past. With over thirty years of experience, historian Kevin Wright will present an introductory Powerpoint show on the Basics of Historical Interpretation on February 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm in the Steuben House, 1209 Main Street, River Edge, NJ 07661. Thereafter, we will meet the third Wednesday of every month. If interested, contact :

Friday, January 22, 2010

Oh, happy day! I am excited to read the recommendations of Governor Christie's Transition team encouraging consideration of "the consolidation of all the state historical programs, Historic Trust (currently in DCA), NJ Historic Preservation Office and the State-Owned Historic Sites (DEP) with the Historical Commission in the Department of State to help establish stronger coordination between these groups, use other related Department of State divisions (DARM and Tourism), and to increase efficiency in staffing and support resources."

One hundred and seven years after the State of New Jersey acquired its first Historic Site and a half century after burying their care and development in a department otherwise dedicated to natural resources and environmental regulations, this recommendation, if enacted, may finally bring our State owned and operated Historic Sites the recognition, professional administration and proper esteem they so deserve. I encourage the history community to unite behind this recommendation and to rescue some of the most significant physical reminders of New Jersey's past from the Dark Ages where they have languished for too long.

Are we finally enjoying the view from Mount Nebo?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Art of the Valentine

For St. Valentine’s Day, Brenda Miller, an expert in the art of papercutting with scissors, will offer a Scherenschnitte class in the Steuben House, 1209 Main Street, River Edge, NJ 07661 from 1 to 4 PM, on Sunday, February 14, 2010. Limited to 30 participants, age 14 and older, the cost is $30.

Students will cut and frame a 6" x 6" heart-and-flower design. All required materials, including cutting mats, paper, transfer paper, glass, frames and foam core will be provided, but students are asked to bring a sharp scissors and/or an X-acto knife. A brief history of the craft will be provided. For workshop reservations, send SASE and remittance to BCHS Paper Cutting, PO Box 55, River Edge, NJ 07661. No refunds or exchanges. For info, call 201-679-5182 or 201-343-9492. To visit our website or to make reservations through Paypal, visit:

The restored 18th century tavern in the Campbell-Christie House, a Gift Shop, a working Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen, and the recently restored Demarest House will be open to all visitors on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2010, from 1 to 5 PM. Refreshments will be available for $5 donation. The Bergen County Historical Society will display an 1838 Valentine with an elaborate cut-paper border, inscribed with a poem, which includes a marriage proposal to Henry Bertholf, Sr., of Amos St., New York, from a secret admirer in Bergen, NJ.

BCHS is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) volunteer organization, founded in 1902, to develop public appreciation for Bergen County's remarkable past. To preserve and perpetuate the lessons of history, your membership is encouraged.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Open Letter to the General Assembly

This view of the Outlook Lodge at Lusscroft speaks to the urgency of our cause.

On Monday, January 4, 2010, the Assembly Appropriations Committee released a bill Assembly Environment chairman John F. McKeon, Mayor of West Orange and Democratic Assemblyman representing the 27th district, is sponsoring to dedicate $150,000 of the revenue collected from Island Beach State Park to fund that park's programs. The "Island Beach Interpretative Program Fund" created by the measure (A-4337) would support educational programs to help visitors learn about the wildlife and natural resources of the park. I oppose this bill.

I have said this before and I will say it as often as necessary: We need to deal with the deteriorating state of our State Historic Sites, State Forests and State Parks as a whole and quickly. Why are legislators---no doubt acting on behalf of the entrenched bureaucracy--- carving out revenues from a popular state-owned and operated ocean beach from the rest of a poorly run public system of historic and natural resources, which is frankly on the verge of collapse? Instead, why not find a dedicated source of income---even this source of income, if necessary---and begin to repair unmaintained and sadly neglected Historic Sites that belong to the people of New Jersey. I would suggest that most people do not go to Island Beach for their interpretive programs, but for enjoying the ocean in summer. What is the winter attendance at such programs? But visitors do go year round to Monmouth Battlefield, Historic New Bridge Landing, Princeton Battlefield, the Wallace House, Twin Lights and other State Historic Sites precisely for their programmatic offerings (if and when they are available). Sadly, most of these state owned and operated historic resources are either closed or severely understaffed, even after a century of state ownership. Attendance at these sites is limited by the lack of public amenities, such as parking and even restrooms, and quality programming is rare and dwindling due to chronic under-staffing and the absence of qualified management in the DEP.

Consider what knowledgeable professionals have to say. Reviewing Interpretation in the National Park Service: A Historical Perspective, Barry Mackintosh writes: “Generally speaking, historical parks need interpretation more than natural and recreational parks do. Natural parks, typically encompassing spectacular or outstandingly scenic natural features, may be enjoyed aesthetically by most visitors regardless of whether they understand the geologic or biologic phenomena underlying them. Relatively few visitors to parks established primarily for active recreation are receptive to interpretive programs. But although many historical parks have aesthetic appeal and some accommodate active recreation, few can be greatly appreciated without some explanation of who lived or what occurred there. At historical parks, too, altered or missing features are often restored or reconstructed to better ‘tell the story.’ In far greater proportion than at parks established for other purposes, the [National Park] Service's task at its historical areas — indeed, the basic rationale for its involvement with such areas — is interpretation.”

Institutional compression has unfortunately made forest management and the interpretation of historic sites subsidiary to a system of recreational parks. Our state owned and operated Historic Sites have sadly languished under indifference and neglect, lost in an environmental regulatory agency that does not comprehend their needs or purpose. If you do not believe me, please visit such places as Waterloo, where the historic fabric of the village and millions of dollars in publicly funded tourist infrastructure are decaying into ruin. Look below in this blog to find a disturbing lack of care and concern for a State owned Historic Site near you!