Don’t miss all the historical sites and interesting restaurants of this wonderful NJ beach town.
Somers Point, NJ is such a picturesque and historical town with lots of historical sites and delicious restaurants to visit. It is fun to just get in the car and drive the Historic District and see how the town has grown and developed.
I took time out of my walking project in Manhattan after finishing the Chelsea neighborhoods, walking the 13-mile Broadway walk for the sixth time and preparing to do “The Great Saunter” on my own next week to go ‘down the shore’ as we say in New Jersey (it’s never ‘Down to the Shore”, that takes too long).
I had never been to Somers Point, NJ before. It is a small waterfront community across the bay from Ocean City, NJ, which is a popular resort and recreation town. Somers Point is low key with wonderful restaurants and bars, a popular waterfront and beaches on The Great Egg Harbor Bay and beautiful little turn of the century beach homes and a town steeped in history. I read about three historical spots on Shore Drive in the heart of the Historic District and had wanted to visit them.
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.
The Somers Point Historical Society at 745 Shore Road
I visited Somers Point, NJ recently to see the historical shore town and explore their small museums. The Somers Point Historical Society differs from its neighbor down the road, the Atlantic County Historical Society in that its concentration is on the Town of Somers Point and not the entire county.
The Somers Point Historical Society sign welcomes you
The Somers Point Historical Society started in 1987 as part of the “Save City Hall” campaign to save the historic City Hall building. The plan was to highlight the history of Somers Point and its place in the community and to save some of the older buildings in the town.
The City Hall was saved and it was renovated for the new library. The organization was also helped with funding and applying for National Historic Recognition for the Bayfront Historic District that lies between Shore Drive and Bay Avenue on the waterfront district of the town (Somers Point Historical Society website).
The building that the society is housed in was originally a Baptist Church that was built in 1886 and later became the Somers Point Library. When the new library was built, the Society bought the building and the organization was formed. The museum started with about 600 artifacts and it has grown much largers since.
The museum is based around the one main room that tells the history of the Town of Somers Point. One display is on the USS Somers named after Commandant Richard Somers. Our tour guide told us that there is always a Somers named vessel in service with the Navy. There was a complete display on the navel vessels including a section on Master Commandant Richard Somers.
Display on items from the USS Somers plus ships and boats
The number of items in the collection includes weapons, dishes, photographs, nautical items and pictures of all the Navy vessels named after Richard Somers. These historical items show the contribution that Richard Somers made to the armed forces of the United States. There were also family hierlooms among the artifacts. It was told to me there will always be a USS Somers in service dedicated to him.
More items from the USS Somers
There was a nice display on the trolley car system that used to line the shore traveling from Atlantic City down the coast to Somers Point. This was a picture taken during the holiday season when shopping at the shore was pleasant experience.
Christmas shopping at the shore must have been fun
When the Lindenwood Historical Society folded for business, the Society inherited their impressive collection of ship models. There are all sorts of styles and designs of ships that line the entire room. There is very interesting display of clamming and shellfish harvesting equipment that is on display along with period clothing. It really showed how much shellfish production has not changed much over the years. There was an extensive display of shipbuilding materials showing the town’s shipbuilding yards and production that used to be part of the town’s businesses.
There is also a very extensive theater and arts program that is part of the town’s past and current social life. Being so close to Ocean City, NJ and its most famous summer resident, Grace Kelly there is a strong sense of theater and the arts around the community.
The theater playbills and items dealing with the local ‘arts’ scene.
The one thing that the historical society helps you remember that this is still a shore community and tourism plays a huge role in the history and make up of the town. You can see by the artifacts that things are geared towards the water and the extensive shipbuilding and fishing industries.
The Society also runs all sorts of fundraisers, movie nights and car shows to help raise money for the Society and does a lot of outreach to the community.
It is a fascinating look into the past of the shore community of Somers Point, NJ.