Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review in Sunday's Star-Ledger:

"Books about Lincoln, Washington and Jersey history"
Star-Ledger, Sunday, September 19, 2010

1609: A Country That Was Never Lost

Kevin W. Wright

American History Imprints, 284 pp., $18.95 paperback

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of “Henry Hudson’s visit with North Americans of the Middle Atlantic Coast,” Kevin W. Wright has assembled an exhaustive account of what Hudson and his crew encountered along the eastern coast of North America.

The book, Wright explains, grew from his childhood fascination with the Native American artifacts his grandfather displayed in his home in Newton. Soon enough Wright was joining his grandfather in the search. After graduating from Rutgers, he worked at the restored Village of Waterloo and then as curator of Steuben House in River Edge.

But Wright’s obvious concern and love is for the native peoples who inhabited the Middle Atlantic States, and he draws from the observations of explorers, settlers and missionaries as his source to weave an extremely detailed account of how these people lived, what they believed, their tools, their social customs, their spirituality.

— Review by Pat Turner Kavanaugh

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Time To Rally for Change

How telling is it that the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry should cancel the successful State History Fair at Washington Crossing State Park and then turn around and partner with Division of Fish and Wildlife to sponsor the first-ever WILD Outdoor Expo on September 25 and 26, 2010, to "showcase the wonderful natural resources and superb recreational outdoors opportunities" available to the public on state lands! Please note the DEP's core mission statement exclusively embraces "environmental stewardship" and places priority upon building "a sustainable structure that enhances the environment and natural resources of the state." It rightly states, "The parks and wildlife areas of the state are treasured assets and need a long‐term plan to ensure their viability, maintenance and continued access to all residents of New Jersey." These are all laudable goals, but, once again, there is no mention whatsoever of historic resources, most notably, the state owned and operated Historic Sites, which have been entrusted to the Division of Parks & Forestry since 1966. If continued, the most significant reminders of New Jersey's past will perish.

Since the mission statement clearly purposes to "direct DEP's resources to DEP's priorities," we must conclude that historic resources, too long undervalued and unprotected, will be left to further deteriorate without qualified management or minimal resources to sustain them under a bureaucracy that clearly does not value their survival or public presentation. While we must applaud the new emphasis upon customer service, the goals of the DEP's transformation only focus on "Stronger protections for the environment and natural resources of the state" and pointedly excludes stronger protections for state-owned and operated Historic Sites, including our Revolutionary War battlefields.

It is long past time to remove this ignored public trust from the Department's stewardship. If the Department truly seeks "managers who are leaders and change agents for the Department," then it should find qualified persons who will end demolition by neglect or other acts of cultural vandalism. Fulfilling an important recommendation of Governor Christie's Transition Team, Assembly bill A3121 establishes a Commission on State-owned Historic Sites in the Department of State, transfers administration of State-owned Historic Sites from the Department of Environmental Protection to the commission, and transfers historic preservation programs from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Department of State. Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle are Primary Sponsors and Assemblyman Robert Schroeder is Co-Sponsor. Senator Loretta Weinberg has introduced the companion bill (S2217) in the Senate. This will fulfill a recommendation dating back to Tom Dunkel's landmark article in NJ Magazine, "A State of Ruins," published in 1986!

I encourage everyone in the historical community to support this long overdue reform that will help bring the recognition and proper care our State-owned and operated Historic Sites have long deserved. Establishing professionally qualified administration for our Historic Sites through a commission composed of volunteer experts in relevant disciplines and elevating the long ignored Office of Historic Sites will be the biggest boost imaginable to heritage tourism in New Jersey. Ignore the voices of self-preservation and support the true forces of historic preservation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Baron von Steuben and his Jersey Estate at Historic New Bridge Landing

Baron von Steuben and his Jersey Estate at Historic New Bridge Landing.

From 1 to 5 PM on Sunday, September 26, 2010, the Bergen County Historical Society honors Major-General Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben at Historic New Bridge Landing, 1201-1209 Main Street, River Edge, NJ 07661. Re-enactors of the Third NJ Regiment (aka Jersey Blues) will demonstrate military dress and skills of the American Revolution. Displaying Jersey Dutch artifacts and furnishings, the Steuben and Demarest Houses will be open to visitors. Refreshments and a gift shop are available in the Campbell-Christie House, a restored tavern house dating back to 1774. A Jersey Dutch Out Kitchen will demonstrate culinary arts of the period. At 4 PM, historian Kevin Wright will speak in the Steuben House on Baron von Steuben and his Jersey Estate, emphasizing his significant contribution to the training and organization of the American army. The Bergen County Historical Society is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) volunteer organization, founded in 1902 to develop public appreciation for Bergen County's remarkable history. We are not a government agency and do not receive government grants or funding. Membership is welcome. For further information about the Bergen County Historical Society and its programs, visit: www.bergencountyhistory.org or call 201-343-9492.

On this occasion, the Bergen County Historical Society will also launch its new campaign, Follow The Flag, to promote recognition of New Bridge in Bergen County, New Jersey, as an important battleground of the American Revolution and to weave a narrative from the contributions of every person and place associated with this historic struggle for self-government. Visitors are invited to view a Hopkinson Flag, hand sewn from wool bunting by Margaret Haggerty, an accomplished fabric artist, and her friend Helen Clark. To physically link the stories of our Revolutionary heritage, the Bergen County Historical Society hopes to have this beautiful reproduction flown over every Historic Site in the thirteen original states that is associated with the American Revolution, keeping record of its journey from place to place. Francis Hopkinson, of Bordentown, New Jersey, is credited with designing the first United States flag, taking the short but significant step from the Continental Colors to the first Stars and Stripes. No original version survives, but John Trumbull’s painting, The Death Of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, includes a representation showing the blue canton with stars arranged in five columns.

The Zabriskie-Steuben House in River Edge is an important historic memorial to the German immigrant who trained and organized the Continental troops. On December 23, 1783, the NJ Legislature presented the use and income of the confiscated estate of Jan Zabriskie at New Bridge to Baron von Steuben on condition he “hold, occupy and enjoy the said estate in person, and not by tenant.” General Philemon Dickinson wrote the Baron, informing him that he could comply with the terms of the gift “by keeping a bed & Servants there & visiting the premises now & then.” In 1786, Steuben leased the mansion and gristmill to Jan Zabriskie, son of its former Loyalist owner, who operated the store and mill in partnership with Steuben’s aide-de-camp, Captain Benjamin Walker. In 1788, the Baron offered to sell his “large well-built stone house, thoroughly rebuilt lately … situated on the bank of the river by which produce can be conveyed to New York in a few hours, and sloops of 40 tons burden may load and discharge along side of the mill.” Ever since, this landmark of Bergen Dutch sandstone architecture has carried the name of the Prussian Inspector-General of the Continental troops.

Established in Elizabeth, NJ, under Col. Elias Dayton in 1776, the Third NJ Regiment saw action at Scotch Plains, Brandywine, and Germantown. Wintering at Valley Forge in 1778, Lt. Col. Francis, of the Third NJ, assisted General von Steuben in drilling the troops. The Regiment fought at Monmouth and Springfield before joining the siege and final victory at Yorktown in 1781.