There is a true beauty to a historical cemetery with its old tombstones, its interesting artwork on the grave sites and the history behind the famous families who are buried there whose homes we tour and roads and parks that are named after them. The cemetery is located right in Downtown Salem, which serves as the County Seat for the County of Salem.
It was also home to one of the oldest oak trees in the country which fell in 2019. The over 500 year old oak tree has been part of the original virgin forest and is said to where town founder, John Fenwick, met with the Lenape Indians for the establishment of a settlement and for peaceful negotiations.
All that is left of the tree now is the rotting stump but three of its saplings still exist on the grounds and they look about two hundred years old. They grow majestically amongst the gravesites.
Inside the cemetery, the graves bear the names of founding fathers of the Town of Salem and prominent families who once made up the population with names such as Thompson, Reeves, Abbott, Wister, Bacon, Griscom, Waddington, Sickler, Lippencott, Goodwin, Bullock, Woodnutt and Bassett.
You will see these names on artifacts in the Salem Historical Society such as clothes, business document and household items. There names and influence still hold a position in the community.
The Salem Oak in the Friends Burial Ground before it fell in 2019 (Salem County Historical Society)
This is the spot where founder John Fenwick met with the Lenape Indians in 1675.
Take time to walk amongst the family plots and pay your respects to these important families who were once the founding members of both the community and of the great State of New Jersey.
I was very impressed by the Nicholas Gibbon House when I took a tour one Saturday afternoon. There were no large crowds to deal with and the parking is perfect with plenty of room to move around. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with all sorts of seasonal flowers surrounding the house. When I visited I thought I was mistaken and it was someone’s home. There was a lot of care put into both the exterior and interior of this home.
Nicolas Gibbon was a local merchant who moved to Greenwich in 1730 and continued to live here until the 1760’s. The tour guide explained to me that the townspeople would not let him build a church here (it was a Quaker region) so he and his wife decided to move out of the area. Richard Wood and his family moved into the house in 1760 and lived in the house until the 1920’s. Over that time, parts of the house were modernized and rebuilt. The Wood family later in the generations founded the WaWa store chain.
With the exception of the Nicolas Gibbon’s nephew and his wife’s portraits, all of the furnishings are not originally from the house. The downstairs is set up with a formal dining room and parlor area fully furnished in Victorian era furniture, paintings, rugs and silver. The silver collection of the house is very elaborate and some of the pieces came from the Hershey family of Pennsylvania.
The library and study has rare books that were used for research as well as a working fireplace that was used for both light and heat. Downstairs is the kitchen with a large hearth and all the equipment and serving items for kitchen and dining use for the home.
The tour guide explained to me that during some of the past fundraisers, the hearth was used to cook foods of the time period that were served for events.
Upstairs you have an elaborate master bedroom with all sorts of formal furnishings for a upper middle class family living in the area. What was the interesting part of the second floor of the home was the “Everything Room”, which contained a extensive collection of toys and dolls, Civil War historic items, period clothing, bonnets, top hats and parasols, an extensive collection of quilts and Hair Art which was a Victorian tradition of making art from the hair of the dead.
There was a collection of ‘Sewing Samplers’, which is how young women learned how to perfect their sewing skills which was part of their domestic training for being a housewife.
The collection of the house really gave a glimpse into the lives of people from the 1840’s until almost WWI. How much life has changed but not too much.
Historic Marker outside the home
History of the Gibbon House:
In 1730, Nicholas Gibbon who had inherited more than 3000 acres of land nearby, bought a 16 acre lot in Greenwich on which he built a replica of a London Townhouse he had admired. The brick, fired on the property, was laid in the Flemish Bond pattern brought from Kent, England: this design is achieved by using a red stretcher and blue header producing a definite and attractive pattern. Rubbed brick is a further architectural feature, outlining each door and window opening as well as being used to emphasize the four corners of the house.
The Upstairs bedroom at the Gibbon House (Cumberland Historical Society.com)
The home, appropriately furnished with products of 18th and 19th century atrisans contains a reception hall, a paneled dining room, a formal drawing room and a kitchen dominated by a huge walk-in fireplace in which demonstration of colonial open-fire cooking are conducted.
The walk-in fireplace at the Gibbon House (Cumberland Historical Society.com)
There is a small store on the back porch where post cards, gifts and a fine collection of books and pamphlets on the history of the area may be purchased.
On second floor, in addition to a bedroom, are exhibits of 19th century locally made, rush seated. “Ware” chairs, children’s toys, dolls and clothing as well as Civil War artifacts donated by local families.
I visited the East Point Lighthouse on a glorious sunny day when there was no wind in the forcast and it made for an excellent visit to this lighthouse right by the sea. I noticed that on almost all sides, there were man-made barriers to protect the lighthouse grounds from erosion.
The grounds were a combination of dunes with beach grass, rocks and tiger lillys all over the property to give it a colorful look. There were misty breezes from the water that felt so good as it got hotter that day. The property is pretty contained and there is parking all around the building but the lots are small.
I bought my tickets in the gift shop ($8.00), was able to look around at the well-stocked shop with its nautical books and tee-shirts and hats with the lighthouse logo on it. You are also able to go to the bathroom.
The tour of the lighthouse is a self guided tour and you are able to climb the stairs and visit each room of the lighthouse as if the lighthouse keeper and his family still lived there. When I was talking with one of the volunteers that morning on the first floor, he told me as they were renovating the lighthouse after the fire and completing it, they put the word out to the community for donations to furnish the lighthouse with items that may have come from the period that the lighthouse was in operations. The donations poured in with family hierlooms that filled each room up.
On the first floor is the kitchen with its time period ice box and coal stove which shows what life was life for a housewife before WWII. I am sure that electricity was tough getting to ligthouse especially during storms. You had washboards and basins for wash day and all the equipment to clean the house.
The lighthouse office of the lighthouse keeper was equiped with all things that are needed to keep the place running from maps to communication equipment to a fully stocked desk. There were no days off in this job. There was even a picture of Clara Noon, who as a little girl was the last child to live in the ligthouse. She visited again as a senior in the early 1990’s.
The upstairs had a fully furnished adults bedroom with period clothes of the early 1900’s to WWII and the furnishings were of various periods of living in the lighthouse. The children’s bedroom was really elaborate with rope beds, children’s furniture, lots of toys from the 1890’s to the 1930’s and a great doll collection. There was even a handmade dollhouse complete with elaborate furniture that was handmade by a local resident. It was very impressive.
There were also all sorts of maps and rare books to look at and a complete radio room and then the last set of stairs took you up to the light were you could see the views of the ocean. In fact the views from all the floors was pretty impressive.
It is an amazing self-guided tour that gives you a glimpse into the life of the families that lived here. It may not have been this elaborate as all the items inside the lighthouse but it gives you a clue on what life must have been like by using your imagination.
What was interesting is that the ligthouse opened in 1849 and then became fully automated in 1911 so its use of a lighthouse keeper was pretty much over before WWI. Still over a period of time you can see how the job changed with automation and advancement of technology.
I took time to walk the grounds. The landscaping and the beach dunes gave it a very attractive backdrop.
The History of the East Point Lighthouse:
(From the Cumberland County Historical Division/NJ Lighthouse.com/East Point Tourism Pamphlet):
The East Point Lighthouse is an active lighthouse that was built in 1849, situated on the southern bayshore in Cumberland County, NJ. The ligthhouse originally had a lighthouse keeper to maintain the lights. In exchange for doing this work, they were allowed to live here rent free and were paid the sum of $1.00 per year for their services. It was fully automated by 1911.
The lighthouse was blacked out in WWII and then after the war, the Coast Guard decided the lighthouse was not longer necessary and decommissioned it in 1941. Over the years it deteriorated quickly over time.
In 1955, the Federal Government decided to sell the lighthouse and the propery as surplus and it was purchased by a Long Island construction company but before the sale was consummated it was found that proper disposal procedures were not followed in that the lighthouse was not first offered to the State of New Jersey. The state was interested in the property not because of the lighthouse but because the site was surrounded by the Heisersville Wildlife Refuge and would provide a place for boats to be launched.
Local residents became concerned with the condition of the lighthouse and in February of 1971, the Maurice River Historical Society was founded with the goal of restoring the lighthouse. In July of 1971 before negotiations were complete, the lighthouse was set on fire. Through a series of grants over the years and a lot of dedication from the volunteers, the lighthouse has been reconstructed.
This fully restored and furnished lighthouse with its beacon on each night serves as both an active navigational aid serviced by the United States Coast Guard as well as a year round museum, thanks to the work of the Maurice River Historical Society that manages this historical site.
Through the work of the non-profit historical society that over saw the full restoration, fully furnished, maintains and manages the lighthouse, it’s open to the public to climb/tour and for specials events year round. Both the lighthouse and grounds surrounding the lighthouse are on the National Historic Registry. East Point is the second oldest lighthouse in New Jersey (behind the Sandy Hook Lighthouse) and the only remaining New Jersey land based lighthouse on the Delaware Bay.
The two story Cape Cod style lighthouse with its distinctive red roof by day and blinking red beacon by night, marks the mouth of the Maurice River on the Delaware Bay. East Point is known for its rich maritime history, spectacular views, wide variety of wildlife and beautiful sunsets, making it a popular destination for tourist, artists, photographers, wildlife and history enthusiasts alike.
The Atlantic County Historical Society at 907 Shore Avenue
The Atlantic County Historical Society
I recently visited the historical sites of Somers Point and took my time to tour the Atlantic County Historical Society, which tells the story of life in Atlantic County from the beginnings to today with a major concentration the early history of the County with the Native American Lenape Indians and into the late 1700’s and 1800’s with the founding of the town, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, shipbuilding, fishing and the start of the Victorian Age. Each floor has interesting displays that sometimes have been over-decorated with too many objects.
When you walk in the door, you enter the library where people study the history of the town and their geneology. There are stacks of books, periodicals and town records with people to help you research your work.
As you head downstairs, you will see the various displays that have been set up on life in Atlantic County through the ages. Most of the artifacts in the displays are from the late 1800’s to the early 1930’s. The displays represent the home life of middle to upper middle class Americans at the time. There are parlor sets with musical intruments for entertainment, family portraits, writing sets and living and dining room bric-a-brac. The museum portrays the life of properious residents of the area.
The Middle to Upper Middle Class parlor of Americans in the late 1800’s
The Dining Room set and dishes of a 1920’s Atlantic County family with all sorts of kitchen and play items for engagement for the family through the years.
The display really shows that entertaining since those times has not changed over the years except that today that things are less formal. China, crystal and silver were your way of showing your status in the community. Today’s generation is not so apt to do this.
Lifestyle was a big part of people’s lives during these time periods so the way you dressed and presented yourself was a big part of who you were. With the advent of ocean swimming, outdoor recreation and weekend activities that came with the push of the unions. You can see that leisure became a big part of the Victorian’s lifestyle.
One thing that emphisis was put on was children and their well-being. We see the start of children’s education, their health and livelihoods and their playthings. The Victorians especially worked hard to give children a better life than the workhouses and factories that children had been subjected to in the previous century. There was a push to make children well-behaved ‘little adults’.
Children’s playthings and clothes were a big part of Victorian children’s lives
Children’s dolls and playthings represented the house and to prepare for household responsibilities
People were expected to do their chores at home such as cooking, washing, dressmaking and taking care of the house. Before electricity this was not an easy task made even more difficult by the Victorian expectations of propriety and cleanliness.
Home decoration was a big part of home life. The house was where the family spent their time and Victorians especially liked to room for everything including the bedrooms. This is where privacy was king if you could afford it. In the era of ‘children were seen and not heard’, if family members could have their own rooms that was paramount.
There was also a large collection of vintage clothing, quilts and bedding, hats and gloves and walking sticks to show the dressing the middle and upper middle class citizens.
Manufacturing was also a big part of the community and shipbuilding was one of the businesses by any waterfront community that was important.
The shipbuilding and fishing displays on the third floor
The Third floor is dedicated to industry of the area with fishing and shipbuilding a very important part of any waterfront community. Tourism which was a new thing in the industrial age and people having weekends off to enjoy themselves discovered these new shore communities for swimming, sunning, staying at hotels and ocean dining.
The last display on the third floor was the office set up of Senator Frank “Hap” Farley, whose innovations and protections of the shore and transportation to various parts of the state opened it up for development and tourism.
The office of Frank S. “Hap” Farley was a testiment to a well spent time in government
The upstairs galleries is also a place where groups meet and discussions and lectures are held. There really is something for everyone at the Society.
There is more to see and do here and take your time to visit all the displays and take a tour of everything. It is also an enjoyable rainy or hot sunny day alternative to the beach. You will learn a lot about Atlantic County and the history of New Jersey here.
The History and Mission Statement of the Atlantic County Historical Society:
(From the Society website)
The mission of the Atlantic County Historical Society is to encourage the study of local history and genealogy and to disseminate this information to our members and the general public.
To fulfill our mission, the Society publishers an annual journal of local history and genealogy as well as a quarterly newsletter. Other means include programs, lectures, field trips, partnerships with local libraries and school districts, library and museum interpretative exhibitis and guided tours of the circa 1790 oysterman’s farmhouse, the Risley Homestead, in Northfield, New Jersey.
History of the organization:
The Atlantic County Historical Society is an independent, non-profit, tax-exempt membership organization. Originally founded in 1913 to collect and preserve the history of Atlantic County and southern New Jersey, the organization was incorporated as the Atlantic County Historical Society in 1915. In 2006, the Society was briefly renamed the Atlantic Heritage Center, but the original name was restored in 2011.
The Society opened its library and museum at the current location in 1968. In 2017, an extensive renovation project added additional space for the museum and to provide handicapped accessibility. The Risley Homestead site was bequeathed to the Society in 1989 by Virginia Risley Stout. She and her husband were the last to live in this historic building, of which portions date back to 1790. The building is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Atlantic County Historical Society and Risley Homestead are registered trade names of Atlantic County Historical Society.