By Rick Geffken |
KEYPORT – Harry Aumack II recalled the frantic rescue operation the night before Super Storm Sandy hit his beloved Bayshore town. “Many of our residents, including members of my own family, rushed to the Steamboat Museum right before that storm to raise things higher. We knew that building near the harbor was vulnerable and they moved lots of things uphill, as we call it. The storm knocked the devil out of it.”
On Saturday, Oct. 29, almost exactly five years later, Mayor Aumack cut the red ribbon at the grand opening ceremony for the historical society’s new museum at 34 Broad St. “This opening means a lot to Keyport after the destruction of Sandy. We lost some things but we could have lost a lot more,” he said. According to the society’s website, the salvaged artifacts from what had been a collection of 4,000 items, “created a need for a location where they could be kept and displayed along with other Keyport artifacts to keep Keyport’s rich history alive.”
Historical society president Nancy Smalling recalled how lucky the society was to be awarded a no-match, $320,000 post-Sandy construction grant from the New Jersey Economic Development Agency. The money allowed them to purchase their new building from the Arnold Family estate. Society historian Jack Jeandron, author of “Keyport: From Plantation to Center of Commerce and Industry,” believes the house dates to the mid-1800s.
The overflow crowd of a hundred people or more was in a festive and exhilarated mood at the grand opening. New and old friends remarked at the wonderful new headquarters building with freshly-painted Victorian filigrees and the brand new interior displays revealing the history of the town they are all proud to live in.
Keyport Councilman Matthew Goode said, “Keyport is steeped in history. As you can see from the number of people here today, society members and even people who just moved into town, everyone reveres our history.”
Just before the official opening, Smalling enthusiastically welcomed the visitors, society members, and local and county officials. She gratefully recognized the dozens of volunteers who helped with the relocation efforts of the museum. She pointed to the local business people, attorneys and public officials in the crowd who worked pro bono for hundreds of hours to make the new museum a reality. Knowing smiles and laughter followed her mention of its location “on higher ground,” within a block of the revitalized Keyport business district.
The inside displays of the museum are chock-a-block full of rescued artifacts, old signs and posters, ship models, postcards and photographs. Images of watermen, farmers, and business people who made the town thrive cover the walls. A Keyport rake, designed and forged by local blacksmith George Porter, occupies a place of honor in a main room. Porter’s original conception was copied and widely used by clammers and oystermen throughout the northeast Atlantic Coast for decades.
One of the more remarkable volunteers at the Keyport Historical Society is 16-year-old Julian Rebelo. “I’ve been with this society for five years, ever since Sandy happened. I wanted to help.” Though his family is not originally from Keyport, the straight-A Keyport High School junior has a passion for local history, particularly the genealogy work he does for local families. “We never had a sophisticated archive system in place at the society so a woman who also volunteered here and I started to consolidate and organize everything in our storage room,” Julian says, referring to a separate building behind the new headquarters house. “I wanted us to present and respect these things, some of which are very fragile.”
Documentary filmmaker and Keyport resident John Schneider, also a Keyport Historical Society board member, recorded the day’s festivities. His film of the event will be available for viewing on his Jersey Bayshore Country FaceBook and YouTube pages. The Keyport Historical Society’s website is keyporthistoricalsociety.com.
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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