Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Springtime Visit to the Warren County Historical Society

A Springtime Visit to the Warren County Historical Society
Written by NJ Historian

Belvidere, New Jersey looks much like it did in the second half of the nineteenth century. A community almost untouched by time, it has retained a good portion of its Victorian architectural stock. Newer homes and buildings built within the historic district have been sensitive in design and massing to compliment the older homes and businesses. Just a few blocks from the Warren County Court House is an 1848 Federal style brick townhouse, which houses artifacts and records for communities throughout Warren County.

The Warren County Historical Society was founded June 29,1931 by a small group of local citizens interested in preserving Warren County's history. Spearheaded by Dr. George Wyckoff Cummins and his wife Annie Blair Cummins, they and a committee of five trustees formed the organization "to preserve things of historical interest and place same on exhibition, to publish historical articles, to acquire, mark and care for places or things of historical interest." Dr. Cummins was a local historian and author. However, this eager new group did not have a place to call their own. It would not be until the mid-1900s when the society opened its first exhibit in the Warren County Court House.

As the needs of the county changed and the population increased, the need for space in the building forced the exhibit room to be moved three times; first from the court house to the Cummins building basement at 202 Mansfield Street, then the third floor of the Court House Annex (former Presbyterian Home), and finally removed from the county buildings altogether.

Display on the second floor of the Warren County Historical Society.
In August 1980, the Society purchased a brick structure on Mansfield Avenue, built in 1848 from Miss Clara Smith. In August 1984, the Society's headquarters and museum building opened to the public, where it has remained since. The home was originally purchased by George R. King, a real estate speculator. It was mainly rented out to tenants. In 1910, Charles and Adella Smith purchased the home to raise their family. After her parent's death, Clara Smith acquired the property and resided there until it was sold to the historical society.

The present Warren County Historical Society building is built in the Federal style. It is a three bay, side hall plan layout, constructed of locally produced brick with a two-story timber frame and clapboard section at the rear. The main block of the house is topped with a slate roof. The windows, adorned by black wooden shutters, are two-over-two on the first floor and are six-over-six on the second floor. The wooden section, which housed the kitchen, is believed to predate the brick portion of the building. According to James P. Snell, a historian of the nineteenth century, a schoolhouse was erected on what was then the Croxall property, measuring approximately fourteen by twenty feet. The date of construction was not noted, but it was no longer used as a school after 1822. Snell notes that it was primitive and rough structure. An 1874 Beers Atlas shows a school on the property where the Museum is now located, leading members of the Society to believe that the framed section of the building was Belvidere's original school building. Upon closer examination, the timbers used to construct this section match the time period of the school. It is believed that the brick section of the building was simply built adjacent and connected to the timber section in 1848. Today, the first floor of the rear section has a tin ceiling, reflecting the common interior decorating style of the early twentieth century.

Date stone on display from the Warren County Court House - 1825.
Inside the museum there are a number of interesting artifacts and the downstairs rooms are furnished typical to the mid-nineteenth century. Eastlake furnishings, a parlor organ, tall case clock, and large hair wreath fill the front parlor. The rear parlor of the house includes an 1840s Empire style jelly cupboard, a walnut expansion table, and a number of pieces relating to the 1825 Warren County Court House. A large iron door from the "dungeon", a weathervane, and marble date stone naming the first representatives from Warren County to the State Legislature in Trenton. The second floor of the building includes two rooms used as a library and research space for members of the public interested in history and genealogy.

In this modern-day Victorian community, the Warren County Historical Society remains a constant, offering researchers, genealogists, and visitors the necessary resources to understand the founding of Warren County, its early development, key industries, and notable figures. As the Society strives to adapt to ever-changing interests and technological changes, they are poised to meet these challenges head-on and enlist new members and volunteers to continue this eighty-three year old organization.

Additional photos of my trip to the Warren County Historical Society on Pinterest

For More Information
Warren County Historical Society & Museum

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