The Boonton Historical Society and Museum
210 Main Street
Boonton, NJ 07005
My review on TripAdvisor:
I recently visited the Boonton Historical Society on the Main Street of downtown Boonton, NJ in a quickly changing new Arts Community. Up the hill, several galleries have found a home and the downtown is filling up with cottage industries catering to both locals and artists.
The Historical Society covers the history of Boonton and its role in New Jersey history especially with the creation of the Morris Canal and the Iron works that once dominated the area until about WWI.
The munitions of the town’s foundries
The town saw much prosperity during the Civil War, providing ammunition and supplies to the Union Army. Many of the nails used during this period came their foundries. They also supplied munitions, pails, building materials and the transportation of raw iron out of the town. When technology and the way we build changed, the businesses here started to dry up. The use of the Train system and major highways also changed the transportation, it affected the town’s businesses.
Still the Boonton area is home to many historic homes, a section of the Morris Canal and the remains of the iron works that burnt to the ground decades ago. There is an interesting exhibition of the town’s Police Department in the lower level and now as part of the changing gallery space an extensive exhibition on the NJ Trolley system that once dominated the state.
The Boonton Historical Society and Museum at Christmas 2022
The Permanent Collection:
The permanent exhibition space studies the history of the town, telling the story of the town’s beginnings as a manufacturing town, growth of the canals and shipping and agriculture to its current destination as a Arts Community. The museum is small and can be seen in about an hour to two hours if you like to read.
Don’t miss the room to the right of the museum which covers the timeline of the town and its prominent residents. It tells the story of how the growth of the iron works, the building of the dam and the coming of the railroads and the trolley system changed the town and the growth of its population. There was the history of the Boonton Fire Department.
Take time to read the displays and look at the exhibitions behind the case lines.
The Old Boonton Downtown and homes
The permanent collection of the town’s history
Downstairs is another gift shop with many unique items at extremely reasonable prices and in the room next to it was a display on the history of the Boonton Police Department over the years.
Police Chief’s Desk
Display of Police memorabilia
I recently went to the Boonton Historical Society for the December 2019 Holiday open House and it was a very nice afternoon. They some local students playing the guitar, keyboards and the flute with engaging music and holiday songs. The Open House did not return again until 2022 in the post-COVID era and it was a very festive afternoon even if the weather did not want to cooperate. There was wonderful music, delicious food and warm conversation. I got to talk with many of the Board Members on events going on at the museum.
There were some light refreshments with hot and cold appetizers and Christmas cookies.
They had specials in their gift shops and featured ornaments, books and stuffed animals at a reasonable price and had 1960’s and 70’s Christmas albums playing on the lower level of the museum. In 2022, one of the Trustees played the piano for the entertainment that was very nice. It was a nice mini concert.
It was a nice afternoon treat and the society did a nice job welcoming people. There was food and entertainment and even a visit from Santa Claus.
Santa visited the Boonton Historical Society at the Christmas Open House in 2022
The members of the Boonton Historical Society Board of Directors at the Christmas Open House in 2022 could not have been better hosts
The gift shop is pretty extensive and offers lots of good deals on merchandise
The Historical Society also has some interesting walking tours of Boonton. In May 2021, I visited Boonton for a walking tour in conjunction with the Boonton Trail Committee of the Boonton Iron Works and the Morris Canal starting with a tour of Grace Lord Park and the falls. It was interesting how the town developed around the Iron Works and why they were created there.
Boonton Iron Works Site in Boonton, NJ
We toured the back trails of the park along the Rockaway River to the site of the former Iron Works which are in the process of being torn down for development. The tour guide gave us the history of the Iron Works and their role in pig iron development and how the canal played a role in the transport of the finished product to markets all over the country. These famous ruins are under threat of being torn down for development which would be a shame.
The Grace Lord Park Falls
The Grace Lord Park where the tour took place at the very edge of Downtown Boonton, NJ is an amazing little park at Essex Avenue and Main Street is an amazing little park. On a recent trip to Boonton for a walking tour of the Downtown architecture and history of the downtown I stopped in the park again that was decorated for a Halloween event for the community. It looks like it will be a lot of fun.
City Hall decked out for the holidays
In October of 2022, I went on a interesting walking tour lead by museum member and long time resident of Boonton, NJ Nancy Charlton Questa, who took us through the downtown and discussing the history and current use of many of the unique and detailed buildings of Downtown Boonton. For such a small town, it at one time had been a major mining and steel town with access to the canal system of New Jersey. It had a Opera House and a theater which is amazing for a downtown this size.
Many of the buildings in the downtown are currently going through a renovation and will reopen as new restaurants, theaters and retail shops as the town is becoming more “hipster” and ‘artist’ driven with new galleries opening up. There are now three coffee shops and three bakeries in the downtown area.
Ms. Charlton Questa knowledge of the town as a life long member of the community brought a lot of insights to the walking tour of what was there when she was growing up until today. It blended very nicely with the current exhibition at the museum “Small Businesses of the Past”. This is on the history of the town’s business district businesses. I highly recommend this walking tour when it is offered again in the Spring.
The museum is only open once a week on Sundays from 1:00pm-4:00pm and is run by volunteers. If you want to see how the State of New Jersey grew from a series of small towns to bustling industrial areas to sleepy back towns and back, visiting the Boonton Historical Society and Museum is a must visit.
The Boonton Historical Society in conjunction with the North Jersey Electric Railway Historical Society and Liberty Historic Railway present this exhibition on the Trolley era. This display will include scale models of various types of trolley cars which operated in New Jersey, along with streetcar memorabilia and artifacts such as operator’s uniform jacket/hats, badges, books, publications, post cards, photos, videos, lithographs, signs, posters, tickets, lanterns, hardware and more (Boonton Historical Society).
The History of Boonton, NJ in the early years
In the Winter of 2021, the Boonton Historical Society opened a new exhibition entitled “Small Businesses of the Past”, which was an interesting look at the way downtowns evolve with the times.
“The Small Businesses of the Past” exhibition
It showed the role that immigrants played in building the downtown merchants’ shops and how they catered to fellow immigrants who worked at the iron plant and on the canal. It also explained how families passed these businesses down from generation to generation over time.
The Bakeries in town
The exhibition showed the bakeries, banks, taxi services and pharmacies that make up any downtown in the State of New Jersey. It is interesting to see things old Christmas club accounts, prescription bottles and promotional items that are given out when you open a new account.
Things that might not be part of the shopping experience today.
The mustache cups of the barbers in the area.
The businesses of Downtown Boonton over the years
It really shows how Boonton, NJ has changed over the years and a new wave of immigration with Jamaican and Latino businesses opening up are again changing the make-up of the downtown today. Downtown Boonton is going through another resurgence with new art galleries, restaurants and stores opening up where these businesses of the past once stood.
Downtown Boonton, NJ
The Mission Statement of the Boonton Historical Society & Museum:
The Boonton Historical Society and Museum is a non-profit organization incorporation in 1959 located in the town of Boonton, New Jersey. Its mission is to:
*Preserved and protect the town of Boonton’s unique cultural, architectural and industrial history.
*Preserved and share the area’s rich history, folklore, arts and humanities of the past and present.
*Encourage preservation and restoration of historic landmarks in the town.
*Protect and display the museum’s collections.
*Provide educational programs, guided historical tours and exhibitions to a diverse population.
The History of Dr. John Taylor House 210 Main Street Boonton, NJ (Home of the Museum):
The building was originally a private home built for Dr. John Taylor and his wife, Adelaide T. Kanouse. John L. Kanouse gave his daughter and her husband this lot as a Christmas present in 1897. Most likely, it was an enticement to get his family to move closer to him because they had been living in Succasunna and Mount Arlington where Dr. Taylor had practiced medicine for 15 years. The Taylor’s returned to Boonton and had the brick house built. Dr. Taylor continued his medical practice there.
In 1901, Adelaide’s parents came to live with them until her father died in 1905 and her mother in 1908. John L. Kanouse was one of Boonton’s most prominent citizens and was a successful businessman. He operated a food and supply store on Main Street, a coal yard on the Morris Canal and a modest farm between Kanouse and Roessler streets. He was elected Superintendent of Public Schools and held the office for twenty years. He served in the State Legislature and Board of Chosen Freeholder and as Associate Judge of Morris County and Tax Collector of Boonton.
Dr. Ellery Peck worked with Dr. Taylor in the building as an associate for seven years. Then in 1917, Dr. Peck went to serve in WWI and Dr. Taylor moved to Chula Vista, CA. After the war, the returning soldiers formed American Legion Post #124. Dr. Peck was one of the trustees of the Legion Post. He negotiated with the Taylor’s to purchase the building from the Post and dedicated it as a permanent memorial to veterans and a home for Post #124.
In 1922, the Town offices were moved from the Maxfield Fire House on Main Street to the John Taylor house. The Legion Post and the Town shared this building for 43 years until the present Town Hall was built in 1965. Since that time, the Boy Scouts, Civil Defense and Parking Authority have also used the building, having five floors there was enough room for everyone.
The Legion also offered space to the Boonton Historical Society. On November 11, 1980, the Society opened its museum on the second floor. This arrangement continued for ten years until Town Fathers deemed the building unsafe and it was closed to the public.
The building sat idle until the Committee to Save the John Taylor Building sought funding to renovate the building. That funding came from several sources. The largest portion came from a state grant but there were also sizable donations from the American Legion Post #124 and the Boonton Historical Society. More money came from individuals who were interested in seeing this portion of Boonton’s history kept alive and retained by the Town. The renovations were completed by professional tradesman and a few tireless volunteers. The building reopened in May 1997.
The original building had two triangle dormers on the top floor and a porch at the back of the main floor. They were removed sometime during the 1960’s. That work did solve the problem of a leaking roof but unfortunately, it made the building ineligible for designation to the historic register. Another mistake was made when the building was painted to solve the problem of leaking bricks. That mistake was undone when a civic group, Boonton’s United Community Effort, held a raffle to earn money to have the paint chemically removed and the bricks repointed.
The John Taylor House
Today, the building is shared by the American Legion and the Historical Society and Museum. The Town Fathers generously pay the expenses of the building and for that were are grateful (Boonton Historical Society).
Disclaimer: This information was taken from the Boonton Historical Society pamphlet and I give them full credit for the information.