Thursday, October 8, 2015

Two Centuries in One Afternoon

While driving around Union County, New Jersey, I kept noticing these burgundy-colored signs to historical sites. After searching around the internet, I discovered that they are part of an annual celebration of Four Centuries of history in one of the country's most densely populated areas. The sites are grouped by theme: Early Aristocracy (1663-1812), Farm Life (1686-1840), Revolutionary Front Lines (1763-1783), Commerce & Industry (1820-1928), and Victorian Resorts & Suburbs (1837-1920). Most have small staffs and are only open on the first Saturday or the second Sunday of the month. On the third weekend of October, all open for visitors with special programming. I already had plans for that weekend, but when I got out of clinic early one day, I found one that had weekday hours and popped by for a half-hour visit.

Boxwood Hall in the Mid-Town Historic District falls under the Early Aristocracy label. It was built around 1750 by Samuel Woodruff, an Elizabethtown merchant and later mayor, and is famous for having hosted a young Alexander Hamilton, an old Marquis de Lafayette, and one General George Washington, who ate lunch there on his way to New York for his inauguration as President of the new United States of America in April 1789.

The building was added-to and subtracted-from over the years, serving variously as a family homestead, a boarding house, and the Elizabeth Home for Aged Women. The old ladies moved out in 1938, and the Works Progress Administration helped a local association refurbish the structure. It opened as a historic site in 1943. My favorite detail from this period is the window panes made of faintly pink, blue, and clear glass to simulate "old glass."

A museum employee met me at the door and gave me a personal tour. This classic Georgian home features a wide central hallway that served as a waiting room and currently features a very old grandfather clock and fancy wallpaper to impress the guests. To the left and right are two rooms each. The green one above represents 18th-century evening entertainments.

I was surprised at how colorful the walls are. The archivist explained that careful examinations of seams (of clothing and wall coverings) have revealed that washed-out color schemes reflect aging and not the original owners' true preferences. The dining room was bright blue, and this living room vivid yellow, although you can't tell it from the photo.

Upstairs, the central hallway functioned as a family room. The master bedroom in the (warm) southwest corner is still being renovated, but a "grandmother's room" is almost done. They have set up a children's room and the guest bedroom where the Marquis stayed overnight.

Just down the street is Winfield Scott Park, named for the longest serving general in the U.S. Army. Over the years it has collected quite a few monuments, a few of which are shown here. That's the bust of "Old Fuss and Feathers" below.

This is a newer addition, commemorating the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986): Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

Another one illustrates George Washington's famous luncheon. The text reads, "1789 Elizabeth celebrates Washington's Inaugural Bicentennial 1989."

Cuban Americans provided the flower-flag for the monument to the "Apostle of Cuban independence," the intellectual and freedom-fighter Jose Marti (1855-1895).

There were of course memorials to the dead in various American wars. And then there was this one: "First Prize for City Federations of Second Class won by United Singers of Elizabeth, N.J. at 24th National Saengerfest Brooklyn, N.Y. May 29th June 2nd 1915." I find it remarkable that someone wanted to memorialize that particular accomplishment in stone and bronze in a public place for generations to come. Ich gratuliere?

While I was paying for parking, a guy yelled out of his car window as he was pulling out of his spot, "I love your attire!" I have to say that I have never been cat-called in such sophisticated terms before. In case you were wondering what I was wearing: powder blue shirt by Valerie Stevens, white sweater by Jeanne Pierre, khaki cargo pants by L.L. Bean, brown cable-knit knee highs from my sock drawer, brown slip-on shoes by Natural Sole, blue beaded earrings by high-school bestie C.B., corduroy purse by Fossil.

Resources: A map of Four Centuries sites.. A booklet to download about the Four Centuries sites.

1 comment:

  1. I would have said "I like your costume." but then of course, I would never "cat-call" at anyone.


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