TOMS RIVER – It should be no surprise that a great deal can be learned from locals who enjoy studying the history of Ocean County and its lore.
The 2nd Annual Ocean County History Day offered many opportunities for those inclined to revisit the past. The Ocean County Historical Society and Ocean County Cultural and Heritage put together the event, which included participation from an assortment of other historical societies.
As Elaine McGuire ensured her white wig stayed in place, she looked a bit like America’s first president, George Washington. However, McGuire quickly removed all assumptions by revealing the figure she represented as a part of Ocean County’s history.
“I’m actually General John Lacey,” shared McGuire. “He was a Revolutionary War general, and they named our town after him.”
McGuire attended the Ocean County History Day as part of the contingency from the Lacey Historical Society. The group displayed photographs of everything from the township’s original one-room schoolhouse to essential documents.
Liz McGrath, one of Lacey Historical Society’s trustees, accessorized her costume from days past with a fashionable black brimmed hat. She looked like she was either ready for a day at church or old-time races. McGrath was particularly pleased to show off one of her finds from an estate sale.
“There was an elderly couple from town who were sickly and going to live with family members,” McGrath shared. “When I talked to the woman at their estate sale, I learned that her mother was a seamstress for President Harding. She gave me 100-year blouses and baby clothes that were part of her mother’s dowry.”
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) also had a display set up to speak with visitors about their role in the history of the county – and the country. First organized in 1890, DAR members must all be able to prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.
While Commissioner Virginia “Ginny” Haines is a familiar figure at county events, she was present at Ocean County History Day as the Regent of the Captain Joshua Huddy Chapter DAR.
“Both my mother and father’s lineage go back to the late 1600s,” shared Haines. “My father’s people originally settled into what is now known as the western side of Lakewood; my mother’s side came from the eastern portion of what is now Lakewood. They shared some of the distant relatives.”
Timothy “Tim” Hart, the Division Director for Ocean County Cultural and Heritage, joined a discussion with Haines to explain Huddy’s contribution to Ocean County. Hart previously served as Ocean County and Stafford Township’s historian.
“The blockhouses were where Toms River Town Hall is now,” Hart said. “Captain Huddy commanded the area around them and lost his life after the British captured and executed him.”
Hart said he considered Ocean County History Day as a great time for various organizations to get together and see what others are up to as far as collecting information about local history.
Some booths provided an opportunity to speak with visitors about significant happenings in the past. A video ran of the television episode of a hunt for ghosts in Barnegat’s Elizabeth V. Edwards School. While some hoped to save the nearly century-old building, its demolition is imminent.
Visitors to the event had the chance to sift through old books at bargain prices and view a display of vintage cars. However, a tour of the Ocean County Historical Society’s Elizabeth Sculthorp Force House proved to be an extra special treat.
Jeff Schenker, president of the Ocean County Historical Society, provided some of the initial details of the Victorian home located at 26 Hadley Avenue in Toms River.
“We’re on the National Registry because of Elizabeth Sculthorp Force,” shared Schenker. Her family was the last residents of this house, originally located on Hooper Avenue.
The county acquired the home in the late 60s or early 70s and ultimately transferred ownership to the historical society, which is not a government entity. The house was moved behind the Ocean County Administration Building.
“Elizabeth lived until she was 105 years old,” Schenker said. “She started the first family living program nationwide, moved to Greenwich Village, and began working for the United Nations.”
According to Schenker, Force also taught in Toms River schools and wrote books on family living that focused on nurturing children and other aspects of home life.
Parts of her home, constructed in the 1800s, serves as a museum. Displays in the lower level begin by pinpointing evidence of the county’s first inhabitants, the Lenape tribes. An assortment of recovered artifacts documents the findings made over the years.
Melissa Ziobro, a Specialist Professor of Public History from Monmouth University, led a tour of the downstairs area. She then moved on to the time when European settlers made their way to the area, sharing more information about the British attack on the Toms River blockhouse in 1782.
The local history lessons proceeded over several decades and wars. Ocean County has always had a big military presence because of what is now referred to as the Joint Base. Many residents served in wars.
Ziobro explained some interesting information when she came to the display memorializing the Hindenburg disaster, which happened in what is now known as Lakehurst.
“At that time in the 1930s, scientists at Fort Monmouth were developing radar-like aircraft detection that would go on to make a huge difference in World War II,” shared Ziobro. “When the Hindenburg exploded, they were freaked out initially because they were fearful some waves they sent out in error, might have caused it.”
On the ground level, those interested in genealogy have the opportunity to research hard copy materials that may help document family histories. Moving past beautiful sets of dinnerware and a 48-starred American flag, visitors have the chance to see the front of the home set in period style.
A music room up front and the kitchen all look ready to use. Upstairs, one bedroom displays how things were in years past. Another room features a child’s nursery. What appears to be a large dollhouse in that part of the home is actually a replica of the Elizabeth Sculthorp Force House.
A third-grade class of Walnut Street School put together the display in 1980. The teacher wanted her students to experience the museum but couldn’t take them on a field trip because of the fuel shortage during that time.
“The teacher took pictures of every room in this house,” explained a museum volunteer. “Over a six-month period, the students and parents created the house and handmade the various things in it.”
The sun shone brightly on Ocean County History Day as many gathered to revisit days past. The group of history enthusiasts gathered together proved to be an added collection of the area’s wealth of information.