By Rick Geffken |
SHREWSBURY – If you stand at the Shrewsbury Borough Municipal Center sign, where Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue intersect, you’re looking at 300 years of history. Before you are the Allen House (1710), Christ Church (1769), and The Society of Friends Meetinghouse (1816). Just behind you is the Wardell House (c. 1720).
These buildings have survived the transformation of a colonial agricultural area into a bustling commercial and stately residential community of the 21st century. And that history is preserved within the walls of the Shrewsbury Historical Society’s Museum. Next to the Wardell House and Town Hall, the little museum holds a wealth of artifacts and written materials about Monmouth County’s second oldest town, founded in 1664. Shrewsbury mayor and Historical Society president Donald Burden calls the museum, “A space for the old and the young to carry on what is already a treasure of local history.”
The museum was built in 1984. Burden is proud of the extensive library of books, as well as hundreds of files with personal letters, magazines and newspaper clippings amassed here. J. Louise Jost, founder of the society, spent 46 years collecting and cataloguing this repository. The late Shrewsbury School teacher never missed a mention of Shrewsbury in print.
Burden is the de facto museum curator, in addition to handling his busy schedule of municipal duties. “Scholars as well as the curious can arrange a visit to view our holdings of atlases, maps, books, deeds and artifacts,” said Burden, adding, “Anyone can call me at 732-977-9661 to schedule a private appointment.”
“We always open our doors to local civic groups such as the seniors from Seabrook Village, the Boy Scouts, the Monmouth County Quilters, the Shrewsbury Homesteaders, the Monmouth County Genealogy Society, and the Daughters of the American Revolution,” said Burden. Every year, fourth graders from the school take a class trip to the museum, studying local history in a tradition started by Jost’s Jerseyana Club.
Serious researchers are delighted to find the old maps and paintings in the museum which help to trace property transfers or ancestry connections. The first floor shelves of the two-story building are loaded with historical works – biographies, rare books, journals, and other memorabilia. Well-known histories like Franklin Ellis’s 1885 “History of Monmouth County” and others by contemporary authors such as Randall Gabrielan and the late George Moss are all here. Research will be easier now thanks to a Long Branch High School senior intern.
Alyssa Grieco recently completed three weeks cataloging the museum files. “Her work here is just another example of the Shrewsbury Historical Society trying to keep up with emerging technologies to capture archives,” Burden noted. “She is part of our ongoing efforts to bring new blood into our society.”
The museum’s walls are adorned with old signs, paintings, and sketches of local homes, maps and deeds. The most popular artifacts are the handmade wooden models of Christ Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Allen House, and “the smallest post office in the United States,” built in 1926, which once sat on the grass island dividing Broad Street. These miniatures were meticulously crafted by Genevieve Rindner in the 1950s and are favorites of young and old.
Perhaps the oldest artifact is a Revolutionary War musket used at the Battle of Monmouth, a gift of the Borden family, longtime residents of Shrewsbury. Old redware pottery, a lantern and beautifully carved Hitchcock chairs await research to verify their dates. A voting booth, farming implements, a police bench used for detaining prisoners, spinning wheels and a large collection of Native American points, commonly called arrowheads, are displayed upstairs in the museum.
“The society and the museum don’t buy anything,” Burden said. “What we have most often came from people donating family heirlooms when they move away.” One example of a boon to genealogists is a Morris Study Bible with handwritten names and dates of births, marriages and deaths of members of one of the largest and most famous local families. Oddities include bottles and recipes from the E. C. Hazard Tomato Canning Factory which achieved world fame for its ketchup. Two large scrapbooks display dozens of colorful Hazard product labels.
The society and the museum are independent from Shrewsbury’s municipal budget. Upkeep and maintenance are funded entirely by membership dues from the Shrewsbury Historical Society and money raised at its annual fall party. “The late Bob Manson and his wife, former Shrewsbury Mayor Dorothy Blair Manson, were particularly generous patrons. They underwrote many of our museum and society projects over the years,” said Burden.
Membership to the Shrewsbury Historical Society at 419 Sycamore Ave. is open to anyone. For more information, call 732-530-7974 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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