Giving Tuesday: Jersey Style

After Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, a very important day in the holiday season takes place – Giving Tuesday. Started in 2011, #GivingTuesday is an international day of charitable giving at the beginning of the Christmas season – a time of year that has become all too focused on commercialism.

giving-tuesdayThere are a wide variety of worthwhile charities around the world. However, I would like to bring a few charities with a focus on New Jersey to your attention.

Arts Ed NJ: The arts are an important part of our culture. I regularly write about the importance of arts and music in school. I am the person I am because of the arts experiences I had throughout my public school education. Arts Ed NJ (previously the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership) was established in 2007 with the mission to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society.

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: I love the outdoors. Fly fishing, hiking, nature photography – it is all important. After spending some time standing in a river or stream fly fishing, I feel renewed. Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with and supported parks by creating, protecting, and promoting over 2,150 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. Over 2,400 Trail Conference volunteers donate more than 100,000 hours of labor annually to keep these trails open, safe, and free for the public to enjoy. We also publish maps and books to safely guide the public through our trails. The Trail Conference is a nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs that have a combined membership of over 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.

A Helping Wing Rescue: Recently, my husband and I lost our beloved cockatiel after 22 years. We couldn’t just throw out his cage, unused treats, and carrier. So we decided the best way to honor him was to help out a bird rescue and donate everything. When it was time to bring his things to A Helping Wing Rescue, we saw first-hand how much this team cares for the birds that live there. These special birds all deserve homes. But while they are there, their team can all use help they can get.

NJ Italian Heritage Commission: I am an American, a New Jerseyan, and a proud descendant of Italian heritage. New Jersey was a hub of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century and my family was among them. Although Italian Americans played an integral role in our nation’s development, many of their positive contributions are being forgotten and overshadowed by the unending negative stereotypes in the media. The NJ Italian Heritage Commission works to educate individuals about the important contributions those of Italian heritage made to New Jersey and America. It also works to promote Italian studies in school – an area of study and research that has continued to drop in recent years.

These are just a few of the worthwhile organizations in New Jersey. I hope you will consider them when deciding on where to make a donation on Giving Tuesday. No matter where you decide to donate, make sure it is something close to your heart. Also make sure it is worthy of your money. If you can’t make a donation, consider donating your time.

 

Researching History Using High-Tech

In my last post, I shared the story of a centuries-old dwelling in Paramus that is in danger of being torn down. I opined about my concerns when it comes to preserving New Jersey’s past. Well, I am happy to share a story about trying to learn more about individuals in unmarked graves in one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. And I am proud to say it is in my hometown of Belleville.

A team of researchers from Rutgers are using high-tech equipment, including ground penetrating radar, to search for Chinese immigrants possibly buried in the basement of the Belleville Dutch Reformed Church. This church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Reformed Dutch Church of Second River, was founded in 1697. The church was rebuilt in 1725 and again in 1807. The current church building was built in 1853.

belleville_reformed_church.jpg

Belleville Dutch Reformed Church Photo by Jim.henderson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58082293

Throughout its history, this church has been a place of significance. During the American Revolution, the church’s steeple was used as an observation post. There are over 62 Revolutionary soldiers buried in the adjacent graveyard – the most of any cemetery in the country. It was also used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped those enslaved in the south find freedom as they traveled north.

Later on, Chinese immigrants made Belleville their home. Those immigrants believed to be buried on the church grounds worked on the Trans-Atlantic Railroad. After the work was complete, the immigrants returned to Belleville because of its growing Chinese community. Belleville was home to the original “Chinatown” in the United States. Earlier this year a marker was placed at the church to serve as a memorial to those who helped build the railroad and, in turn, expand America.

I am proud to call Belleville my hometown and am excited to learn what is discovered on the property of the Reformed Dutch Church of Second River.

The Importance of Protecting New Jersey History

As one of the original 13 colonies, New Jersey has a long and rich history. In 1620, a trading post was established at the site of Bergen, New Jersey, which would later be developed as the first permanent white settlement in the area.

Van Dien-Ruffgarten House

The Van Dien-Ruffgarten House in Paramus. The Paramus Planning Board is discussing a demolition permit for the site on Nov. 7. (Photo: Stephanie Noda/NorthJersey.com)

As time marches on, however, many of our oldest buildings are in danger of being wiped off the face of the map. In 2017, historians and concerned residents in Bellmawr, New Jersey, woke up to find the Revolutionary War-era home they had been trying to save had been destroyed at dawn by a construction crew, just one day after an attorney representing a group working to save the home filed a lawsuit to prevent the house’s demolition. Why? To expand a highway. The home that stood on that site since 1744 was razed before the process played out in court.

Each year Preservation New Jersey releases a statement of the 10 most endangered historical sites in the state. In 2016, one of the site listed was the Van Dien-Ruffgarten House in Paramus. This property is now one step closer to demolition. The Paramus Planning Board recognized a request by 113-117 West Midland Avenue LLC for a demolition permit for the site, 117 W. Midland Ave., at its meeting earlier this week.

The Van Dien-Ruffgarten House sits on a valuable nine-acre lot and is one of six remaining examples of a Jersey Dutch stone house in the borough. Built between the 1840s and 1850s, the one-room stone portion of the home was said to be occupied by members of a small enclave of educated and independent African-Americans.

Over the past several years, the Bergen County Historical Society Historic Preservation Committee has tried to negotiate in good faith with the town in an effort to save the centuries-old building.

We are now on the precipice of seeing another historical site demolished in our beloved state. If we aren’t careful there won’t be anything of our history left.

So what can we do?

We can let our government officials know how important these locations are to us. We can support our historical societies. We can attend planning meetings whenever historical sites will be discussed. We can continue to learn about and support our historical sites.

Don’t let Paramus eliminate an important part of New Jersey history.

Ramblin’ Around: Jersey Events this Weekend

In the fall there are plenty of weekend festivals. It seems like the third weekend of October are always full of great events. There are three specific festivals I would like to share with you.

StLucysThe Feast of St. Gerard: Saint Lucy’s Church on Seventh Avenue in Newark is the home of the National Shrine of St. Gerard. He was born in Muro, a small town in the South of Italy on April 6, 1726 and is the patron saint of expectant mothers. In the second half of 1890s, the predominant immigrant groups in the First Ward were coming from the Province of Avellino. They came with a sense religious life deeply expressed in a love for St. Gerard, who lived in the Province of Avellino during eighteenth-century. In 1899, immigrants from Caposele, Italy introduced the annual feast in honor of St. Gerard, who died October 16, 1755. In 1977, St. Gerard’s chapel in St. Lucy’s Church was dedicated as a national shrine.

Members of my family, like thousands of other families who trace their heritage through Italy, pay homage to St. Gerard each October during the Church’s multi-day feast. I remember fondly the first feast I attended with my cousin and Goddaughter. No matter where those families move, they all come back the weekend of October 16th to pray and pay respect.

If you have never been to St. Lucy’s or the Feast of St. Gerard, I highly recommend a visit. Sit quietly in the church. Take in the beautiful statues. Light a candle for your loved ones. And grab a sausage and pepper sandwich before you head home.

welcomepiratessign-smSeton Hall University Weekend: From the moment I walked onto the campus of Seton Hall University my senior year, I felt like I was home. And every time I’m on the campus since then, the feeling is still the same. I’ve written about Seton Hall Weekend before. It is a great event. I love sitting on the green, meeting the current students, and shopping in the bookstore. The last time I went to Seton Hall Weekend, I met current sorority sisters from Alpha Gamma Delta. I had a great time chatting with them in the library. There are a variety of events that take place during the multi-day event, including an art exhibit at Walsh Library, music performances, and carnival games.

Chester Harvest Celebration: The two-day Chester Harvest Celebration is currently in its 36th year. Originally know as Black River, Chester pre-dates the birth of our nation. Many of the original buildings are still on the main street and are now home to wonderful shops and restaurants. The Chester Harvest Celebration includes demonstrations of the way things used to be, including a blacksmith demonstration and apple pressing.

These are just three examples of all the great events that are taking place around the state. Check out many others on the New Jersey Monthly website.

Forget The Met – Find Culture in Jersey!

Recently The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City put in place a mandatory entrance fee of $25 for non-New York residents. Up until now, The Met’s entrance fee was by “suggested donation,” which made it accessible for all. Now it will be far from that for many.  It is worth mentioning, if you are a student in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, you are still able to pay a suggested donation. If you are a Member, Patron, and a child under 12, your admission is free.

While this  can make for a costly day, why not forget The Met and find some culture in Jersey instead! No matter what your interest, New Jersey has a museum that will educate and entertain. Here are some suggestions:

Newark Museum: The Newark Museum is the state’s largest museum and is a wonder to behold. The museum was founded in 1909 by librarian and reformer John Cotton Dana. As the charter described it, the purpose was “to establish in the City of Newark, New Jersey, a museum for the reception and exhibition of articles of art, science, history and technology, and for the encouragement of the study of the arts and sciences.” It was originally established within the walls of the Newark Library, it quickly deserved its own building. The museum offers plenty of special programs and even kids programs during the summer!

 

Carlos Dorrien-The Nine Muses

Carlos Dorrien, ‘The Nine Muses’, 1990-97
Courtesy of the Sculpture Foundation, Inc. Photo by David W. Steele

Grounds for Sculpture: Located in Hamilton Township, the Grounds for Sculpture is the perfect place to visit on a warm summer day.  Opened to the public in 1992, this 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. The Grounds presents and conserves an exceptional collection of contemporary sculpture, offers outstanding programming for all ages, and provides seasonally rotating exhibitions in six indoor galleries.

 

Museum of American Glass: The Museum of American Glass celebrates the creativity and craftsmanship of American glass. One of only eight museums in the state of New Jersey to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, it offers over 18,000 square feet of exhibition space, a collection over 20,000 pieces strong, as well as a research library and archives.

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Museum of Early Trades & Crafts Building

Museum of Early Trades & Crafts: This is a personal favorite of mine. Located in Madison, The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts focuses on the life and stories of 18th- and 19th- century craftsmen and artisans. They offer hands-on programs for all ages. As a crocheter, weaver, and yarn spinner, and a fan of old-school printing, I just love all the “technology” of the day they display. This will make for a great visit for the entire family.

These are just of few of the museums available in the great state of New Jersey. For a complete list, check out the museum page on the official New Jersey website. Trust me, there’s something for everyone! So feel free to avoid the schlep all the way into the City and forget The Met. You can get plenty of Culture right here at home in Jersey!

“Down the Shore” – Part Four in a Series

caribbeanmotel_wildwoods1

The Caribbean Motel

My final post in my “Down the Shore” series is about the small beach community of Wildwood Crest. Noted for its independently owned “Doo Wop” motels with names like the Jolly Roger, Tangiers, and Blue Marlin of the mid twentieth century, The Crest is a favorite destination spot for families.

Wildwood Crest came into existence with the dawn of the twentieth century and its history  has more than its share of memorable happenings. The Baker Brothers, successful merchants from the farm community of Vineland, had visited the area known as Five Mile Beach on several occasions and were impressed by its natural beauty and expansive beaches. They were convinced of its potential as a resort and considered its development as a profitable business investment.¹

 

Now families love to visit the Doo Wop motels of Wildwood Crest. These motels were once in danger of being demolished and replaced with high-end condos. Thankfully, there has been a movement underway to save these special places as an important part of the area’s history. These motels have quirky decor that include fake palm trees, bridges over the center of their pools, and neon signs. Once the sun goes down it is a great fun to take a ride down Atlantic and Ocean Avenues and check out these motels all lit up.

Wildwood Crest is one of five municipalities in the state that offer free public access to

Wildwood Crest Beach

Wildwood Crest beach

oceanfront beaches monitored by lifeguards. And the beaches offer plenty of space for everyone!

A favorite event for visitors is riding the tram car on the boardwalk. For decades visitors have been reminded to “Watch the tram car, please.” It is a great way for families and the elderly to enjoy the boardwalk even though they may have issues walking. Take time to play skee-ball, eat a slice, and have some frozen custard.

I hope you have enjoyed my multi-part series of the Jersey Shore. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I hope you do!

Sources:

1: https://cresthistory.org/

“Down the Shore” – Part Three in a Series

If you enjoy Victorian architecture, beautiful sandy beaches, and not a franchise store in sight, I highly recommend you check out Cape May.  The entire city is designated the Cape May Historic District, a National Historic Landmark due to its concentration of Victorian buildings. You can enjoy a Kohr’s Brothers Frozen Custard while you check out the shops on the Washington Street Mall.

Henry Hudson, an English Sea Captain, first documented the peninsula that is now Cape May. It was 1609 and Captain Hudson was sailing his small yacht, the “Half Moon”, when he came upon a small peninsula situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. It wasn’t until 1620 that Dutch Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey came upon the same peninsula while exploring the Delaware River. Captain Mey named the area Cape Mey after himself; the spelling was later changed to Cape May. ¹

Cape May has catered to visitors since the 1600’s when Native American tribes summered here, but a community didn’t form in the area until 1685. In 1688, Quakers formed the first government based on strict moral order and Quaker piety. At this time a large whaling industry was beginning and many families from New York and New England, as well as a few original Mayflower families, were migrating to the area.¹

SunsetBeach

The rocks at Sunset Beach

Often referred to as “exit zero” on the Garden State Parkway, Cape May is actually an island right at the end of the state. I especially love Sunset Beach, home of the famous “Cape May Diamonds.” What are they you might ask? Well, you may not know it, but Sunset Beach is home to piles of amazing rocks, including quartz, which are made clear by the constant motion of the water as they move down the Delaware River.

Sunset Beach is also home to the USS Atlantus – The Concrete

Atlantus

The USS Atlantus

Ship. Due to a critical shortage of steel, during World War I, the federal government turned to experimental design concrete ships. An emergency fleet of 38 concrete ships were planned, by the United States Sipping Board. Only 12 of the concrete ships were ever put into service.² In 1926, the Atlantus was towed to Cape May. A Baltimore firm was attempting to start a ferry service from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware. During a storm on June 8th, 1926, the Atlantus broke loose of her moorings during a storm and went aground. Several attempts were made to free the Atlantus to no avail. It now sits in the water off the beach and can be seen during low tide.

At the end of each day at Sunset Beach during the summer, make sure to stay and watch the flag ceremony. All of the flags flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral. It is a truly moving event.

As you can tell, I love going to Sunset Beach, but there are plenty of other things to experience in Cape May. Walking through Cape May is like walking through a Norman Rockwell painting. There are charming shops with lovely artwork, wonderful restaurants, and of course just walk down any of the streets full of beautiful Victorian architecture. I promise you, a day in Cape May is a day in heaven.

Sources:

  1. https://www.capemayoceanclubhotel.com/about-cape-may.php
  2. http://www.sunsetbeachnj.com/Things-To-Do/#Concrete-Ship