It Never Gets Old: Monmouth County Archives & History Day

December 11, 2017
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Russell Card, center, of the Historical Society of Highlands, and Don Burden of the Shrewsbury Historical Society displayed historic pictures and books at their respective tables during Archives & History Day.

Story and photos by Rick Geffken |

MANALAPAN – Resembling an alumni homecoming weekend crowd more than a conference of academics, several hundred Monmouth County historians and authors recently gathered at the headquarters branch of the Monmouth County Library for Archives & History Day 2017. Old friends and colleagues from historical and genealogical societies, museum groups, libraries, and preservation committees mingled and greeted each other while visiting more than 60 exhibition tables.

This year’s event, held Oct. 14, was the 22nd annual and celebrated “Inventors and Innovators in Monmouth County.” County Clerk Christine Giordano Hanlon opened the morning’s Plenary Session welcoming the approximately 300 people. “This is our best crowd ever for our special day honoring Monmouth County history,” she said. “There is a lot of energy with new programs like the New Jersey RockNRoll Chorus and our photography contest for high school students, both of which brought new enthusiasm.”

Renee B. Swartz of the Monmouth County Library Commission followed Hanlon, acknowledging the debt all local historians owe to former County Clerk Jane Clayton who was responsible for the creation of the Monmouth County Archives.

All five of the serving Chosen Freeholders attended the gathering, including Director Lillian G. Burry, Deputy Director John P. Curley, Thomas A. Arnone, Serena DiMaso Esq., and Gary J. Rich Sr.

Lynn Humphrey, left, and Lorraine Stone represented Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.

The high school students from New Jersey RockNRoll Chorus brought a fresh spirit to the gathering, performing their a capella version of “Monmouth County.” The anthem was recently rediscovered by George Joynson, a resident of Holmdel and the reference specialist at the Monmouth County Archives. Written over 75 years ago by Cyril A. Smack of Sea Bright and his sister, Gertrude Smack Seaman, it was adopted as the official song of Monmouth County by the Board of Chosen Freeholders on July 5, 1939.

In Oceanport, New Historian Researching Old History

Gerry Scharfenberger received the M. Claire French Award for Leadership in Historic Preservation. Scharfenberger, the mayor of Middletown, was recognized for “Outstanding achievements (as) an elected official in supporting historic preservation in Monmouth County through education, development, planning, rehabilitation, advocacy, and community leadership.” Scharfenberger said he was pleasantly surprised by his award and by the turnout at the event, noting the mix of very young and older people from all over the county. He drew laughs when he noted: “As a professional archaeologist, usually most of my clients are dead.”

Archives & History Day host Gary Saretzky, who is the Monmouth County archivist, presented the Jane Clayton Award to John Belding, the Union Landing (Brielle) historian. “To me, obviously, it’s a very exciting day. I am vitally interested in history, always have been since my days as a history major,” said Belding during his acceptance speech. He also reiterated what many in the audience consider gospel: “It’s most important that we have an appreciation for what we’ve been and who’s been there before us and what they did.”

The Two River area was well represented by organizations such as the Friends of the Monmouth County Library, the Historical Society of Highlands, the Keansburg Historical Society, the Parker Homestead, the Red Bank Public Library, the Shrewsbury Historical Society, the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and the Tinton Falls Historic Preservation Commission.

Other recognitions went to Colts Neck’s Emily McNeill, a sophomore at Communications High School in Wall. She won the first place in the Monmouth County photography contest with her dramatic sunset image of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. The Monmouth County Genealogy Society’s Barbara Carver Smith Award was presented to Beverly Yackel, Middletown, for her years teaching genealogy classes and editing the society’s newsletter, The Monmouth Connection. The Innovative Archives Award was given to the Morristown National Historic Park Library and Museum.

Building Friendships in a Makerspace

Attendees at Archives & History Day received a 120-page book, “New Jersey in Focus: Inventors and Innovators in Monmouth County.” The full-color publication showcases biographies and contributions of dozens of Monmouth County inventors. It is produced every year by the Monmouth County Archives, a division of the County Clerk’s office.

During the lunch break, Monmouth County Historian Randall Gabrielan led a forum entitled “A Discussion of Inventors and Innovators in New Jersey.”

The afternoon session concluded Archives & History Day with a presentation by featured speaker, Paul Israel, a Rutgers University professor and editor of the Thomas Edison Papers. Israel spoke about “New Jersey: A State of Innovation.” His remarks and slide presentation noted that New Jersey was long considered “the Research State” primarily due to its leadership in three industries: electrical/electronics, chemical, and pharmaceutical.

The exhibit is now installed on the lower level of the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan, outside the archives office. It will be open to the public until the summer of 2018.

This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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