TOMS RIVER – Historical societies came together for a meeting of the minds, sharing stories with each other and with the public.
On a bright, sunny fall day, tables were set up in the parking lot of the Ocean County Historical Society on Hadley Avenue in downtown Toms River. It was a festival of local historic groups who showed off artifacts and regaled people with tales of how things used to be. Some tables had items for sale to benefit the nonprofits. The Jersey Gold singing group performed oldies while a Boy Scout troop sold refreshments.
“Welcome to Berkeley Township,” Berkeley Township Historical Society President Gerard Morey said to people arriving at his booth. He said there are more documents that they’ve been going through that show a slice of life of how the township grew over the years.
And if you grew up here, your history is on file as well. They have every Central Regional yearbook since 1957, as well as two years of Toms River High School, because that’s where Berkeley students used to go.
Josie Morey, who heads up the society’s publicity, said the building is being reborn with improvements. There are new doors, with locks that look accurate to the time period even though they are electronic. There are more people joining in person, and its reach through Facebook has swelled, too.
Even the ghost that resides in the building is happy, she said. The being has made its presence known a few times in a gentle way.
Sara Gibson is President of the Junior Historical Society. This will be an outreach arm of the society for school students. She said the goal is to “enrich the knowledge of the youth in the town’s history.”
Liz McGrath, a trustee in the Lacey Historical Society, said the displays were recently redone in the museum which used to be the one-room schoolhouse in 1863. Dolls, farm equipment, and other curiosities dating back to the town’s early days can be found there.
She had photos at her table showing old buildings that are no longer there but played a part in the town back then. Station Avenue was a major hub at one time. There were also taverns up and down Route 9, like the Greyhound Inn. Woodrow Wilson, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig were known to have stayed there at some point to take advantage of the nearby hunting grounds.
While buildings have been lost to storms and fires, stories get passed on through generations. McGrath told how kids at the one-room schoolhouse would carry freshly-made pancakes in their mittens on their way to school. The pancakes would keep their hands warm and then they’d be thrown on a pan in the schoolhouse stove to be heated up to eat.
Carl Jablonski, president of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, talked about the age of airships and this region’s important role in them. Not just because of the Hindenburg tragedy. There are planes and a helicopter on display that were restored by volunteers.
In their museum, there are five display areas. One is of course the airship room, but there is also an area dedicated to each branch of the service. It’s a salute to the men and women in the military from the Civil War to the present day.
County historian Tim Hart said this event was important for the groups involved to network. They are all run by volunteers, and they face the same challenges of finding finances and finding people willing to donate time. Perhaps by sharing stories about what they are going through, they can learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t.
Jeff Schenker, the president of the Ocean County Historical Society dressed as Capt. Joshua Huddy for the event. His organization hosted, and it was in conjunction with the Ocean County Culture and Heritage Commission. It’s a venue for these historians to promote themselves, sell wares, find volunteers and more. While the fair was going on outside, there were tours going on inside.
“The county has a rich history,” he said, noting that it starts in pre-Colonial times. The goal is to make people aware of it. Dressing as one of the more note-worthy characters of the region certainly helped. He talked about setting up tours at specific locations that tell the story of our county.
Some stories are very personal. Ed Mangold of the Brick Historical Society had a photo of his father as a young boy on display. He was in his grandfather’s pharmacy. He still had a bottle of Sloan’s linament as an example of something that was sold there. A document showed that the shop paid $20.05 in tax for the year.
When he was ready for the next bit of information, he would ask “Do you want to hear another story?”
This article is itself a story of something that happened in the history of Ocean County. This was the first historical society meet-up like this, and perhaps it will go down in history.