|The Bergen County Historical Society, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) volunteer organization, was founded in 1902 to develop public appreciation for Bergen County's remarkable history, especially through the preservation and study of its material culture. We are the only historical association to focus on the Bergen County as a whole, from its prehistory to the present day. Our museum collections are presently on display in a limited basis at the Campbell-Christie House. Public programs include placement of informative roadside historic markers, educational events, museum exhibits, monthly lectures, and a library collection. |
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The Bergen County Historical Society was instrumental in saving the historic Steuben House in River Edge in 1928. The Society established its museum headquarters there in September 1939 and promoted the establishment of the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission by legislation in 1995. The purpose of the Commission is to unify and coordinate governmental and private efforts not only to preserve the three Bergen Dutch sandstone houses and their unique cultural contents, presently standing on the Revolutionary War battleground at New Bridge, but also to develop the necessary visitor facilities and amenities commensurate with the significance of the site, its importance to Bergen County and the promotion of public enjoyment and appreciation for the lessons of history.
The Steuben House sits on 1.25 acres (BCHS transferred some land so the State could have a parking lot.) The Society remains the largest landowner at HNBL with approximately 7 acres.
The museum and library collections comprise the greatest survival of significant Bergen Dutch artifacts and documents in the public domain. The library-collections encompass family genealogy, diaries, and manuscripts; church, cemetery, and bible records; books, clippings, and on local and county history, the Revolutionary War, and historic architecture; postcards, photos, videos, atlases, and maps. The photograph collection is founded upon late nineteenth century glass plate negatives, which record the earliest views and studies of Bergen Dutch architecture, and has grown to encompass an important visual record of the county's growth as a metropolitan suburb. Many early views of long vanished landmarks and artifacts were used to illustrate the interesting and rare Papers and Proceedings of the Bergen County Historical Society, beginning in 1902, which include such landmark articles as Eugene Bird's "Windjammers of the Hackensack" in 1915-16. The Bergen County Historical Society Library and Manuscript Collection are available to the public and to researchers on a restricted basis at the College Library, Building 5, Felician College, 262 Main Street Lodi, NJ 07644.Frances Westervelt and Saretta Demarest were pioneering collectors and curators of Bergen County's material culture, leading archeological investigations of the Campbell Wampum Mill site in Park Ridge and the Van Saun-Wolfkiel pottery in River Edge in the opening years of the twentieth century. Frances Westervelt initiated the collection of Van Saun-Wolfkiel slip-decorated red ware and salt-glazed pottery, made where the River Edge Swim Club now stands, which is displayed in the Society's museum headquarters in the Steuben House. She also sent pieces to the Newark Museum and State Museum. To prove the Pre-Revolutionary War age of the Zabriskie Steuben House in 1928, Saretta Demarest conducted a pioneering study of the building's architectural fabric, making comparative use of nails, hardware, paneling and other details to date phases of construction. Building upon this interest, the Society has amassed an important collection of early date stones (including the 1670 date stone from the Kingsland House) and local bricks, ranging from "hand patties" to trademarked examples from all ofthe Hackensack brick makers and yards.
The museum collections include nearly three dozen local quilts (See a Ladies Ramble); dozens of Bergen Dutch ladder-back chairs, spanning all known makers, including an eighteenth-century Great Chair and a nineteenth-century Wheel Chair; the medicine chest of Dr. John Garretson, of Campgaw, including original tools, bottles and herbal remedies in paper envelopes; a white-oak dugout canoe, unearthed in Hackensack in 1868; one of only two known examples of a Bacon Settle, dating to 1767; the only surviving example (Westervelt Cupboard Bowl) of Bergen Dutch Delftware; numerous prehistoric artifacts, including an Effigy Pipe unearthed in Hackensack during construction of the Midland Railroad in 1870; a collection of indigenous basketry, including a representative selection of the Bergen Dutch tuehim (literally from the Lenape, wtehim, meaning "strawberry") or strawberry baskets, the molds and tools used to make them and the field crates used in picking; important examples of mnemonic artifacts, used to record significant personal events such as births, weddings and deaths, but mainly associated with a Bergen Dutch bride's Outset or dowry, comprising mainly kitchen furnishings and equipment needed to establish a new household; indigenous weaving, from bed sheets to fancy goods, including almost three dozen Bergen Dutch jacquard-woven coverlets (see The Tree of Life:
Selections from Bergen County Folk Art, 1983); one of the largest clothing collections in the State, including a complete wedding outfit from 1793 and Captain Nathaniel Board's uniform (circa 1812); illustrated children's story books, including The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Thomas Nast; an extensive collection of children's toys and dolls, including a circa 1670 wax doll, with a cloth body stuffed with sawdust, formerly belonging to Dr. John Redmond Coxe, of Trenton; Hackensack "matchstick" furniture, including the earliest dated example of the Hackensack Cupboard (1802, from the Mowry family of Paramus); significant local artwork, including David Arnot's oil painting of the Banta Docks on the Hackensack River, circa 1860, the only known "crayon portraits" done by miniaturist James Van Dyke, of New York, depicting sons of Daniel P. Demarest of the Flatts (Oradell), and a water color of Old Bridge (New Milford/River Edge), ably rendered by an eight-year old boy on January 1, 1836, which includes the only known depiction of a wooden drawbridge over the Hackensack River; sleighs, carriages, agricultural implements, and household furnishings. To sample the depth and breadth of the museum collections, consider such unique oddities as: a handled pan to pour melted tallow over a farmer's shoes to waterproof them; a bar of lard soap found in a soap barrel in the cellar of an abandoned house in Wyckoff in 1898; a local red ware soap dish; a wrought-iron apple roaster; a booklet with samples of hand woven cloth of various types and weavers, collected throughout Bergen county at the dawn of the twentieth century; a Revolutionary War camp stove unearthed at Fort Lee; an eighteenth-century chip-carved cookie mold found in a Teaneck coal cellar; and so forth.
Our goal is to not only preserve significant physical evidence of Bergen county's past, according to the highest standards, but to use such evidence to fairly and honestly teach the lessons of our history for the edification of present and future generations. Our objective is to know and expand our audience by adapting our goal to current interests and, technologies through a variety of public offerings, including an updated and ever expanding web site www.bergencountyhistory.org, which has received over 140,000 hits since 1997; message board; 1,994956 pages views, expanding interpretation of our historic buildings and collection through innovative seasonal and special events; continue the placement of our informative and distinctive roadside historic markers, open our library and document collections to the public, develop museum exhibits, continue our off-site Revolutionary War Roundtable and monthly lecture series, and experiment with new venues such as the History Cafe and Tavern Nights in the Campbell-Christie House.
The Bergen County Historical Society is the only historical association with a countywide membership base, which is dedicated to a full-spectrum storyline and timeline for the region as a whole and seeks to sustain and increase the study and presentation of historical topics relevant geographically and culturally from North Arlington to Mahwah. The Society has a century-long track record of prestigious contributions to the preservation of historic Bergen County. Our perennial schedule of activities reflects a broad range of historical interests and perspectives, which we continually try to adapt to new media and opportunities, hoping to connect with new and ever more diverse audiences. An ambitious offering of living history demonstrations, educational public programs, publications, roundtable discussions and lectures, combined with the ongoing the presentation of our museum and library collections, daily increases the body of knowledge of Bergen County history, making a varied and unique body of our historic record tangibly available to the broadest possible audience.
The Bergen County Historical Society hopes to return its focus to the whole spectrum of Bergen County history, placing the orientation to New Bridge's historical significance within the broader context of Bergen County's past and present. We need to discover heretofore-untold stories, which are all together more representative not only ofthe cultural diversity evident to scholars in the area's prehistoric inhabitation and its colonial settlement, but which is also immediately relevant to our continuing cultural enrichment in the present day. We need to expand the timeline and storyline in a way that invites everyone, especially underserved potential audiences, into a meaningful dialogue with the past.
The Campbell-Christie House is accessible to persons with disabilities, including the bathroom. The Hall at the Second Reformed Church in Hackensack, where the Society holds its lecture meetings, is partially accessible. The website makes many objects and documents in the collections visually accessible, as well as many articles and publications.