1918 – 1928
The Monmouth County Historical Association entered its third decade of activities with a robust membership and several thousand dollars in the bank. Its headquarters remained in the Davidson Building on Broad Street in Red Bank, where the organization housed its growing and important collection of historical manuscripts, books, and memorabilia. Meetings that featured one or more guest speakers continued to be held monthly from May through October. The geographic range of where they took place expanded to include locations from Keyport and Matawan on the north to Spring Lake on the south, and west as far as Freehold and Manalapan. Old Tennent Church and the Shrewsbury Friends Meetinghouse still proved popular with the membership. By mid-decade, regional Vice Presidents were being elected from many major towns in Monmouth County.
One topic that came up in nearly all meetings of the trustees and the membership during these years was how to construct a suitable headquarters building for the Association, and where it should be located. This issue was of special interest to Edward Dean Adams (1846 – 1931), an important businessman whose imposing Rumson estate that still stands was named Rohallion. Adams served as a trustee from 1917 to his death, as a Vice President representing Rumson, and as Interim President of the Association in 1917. At a general meeting held on 31 May 1917, President Adams presented two proposals for a permanent home – a long-term lease on the Friends Meetinghouse in Shrewsbury which was not then in active use, or construction of a fireproof annex on the Navesink Memorial Library then being erected. At a subsequent trustees meeting, “the Board unanimously considered it inexpedient at the present time to undertake the financial responsibilities involved in either plan, and while deeply impressed with the importance of a permanent home, they felt that when action is taken it should be with a view to locating not only centrally for the population of the County, but if possible in near relation with some Educational Institution . . .”
At their June meeting held in Old Tennent Church, Maxcy Applegate, newspaper publisher of the Monmouth Inquirer, “expressed his conviction that Freehold as the County Seat was an appropriate place for the permanent home of the Society. He was followed by Mr. D. V. Perrine, who spoke of a location near the [Monmouth Battle] Monument which he owned, and was willing to convey to the society for a moderate price.”
By September 1917, Adams and other trustees had conferred with the Red Bank School Board, which had agreed to let the Association build on a portion of their large lot at the corner of Harding Road and Branch Avenue under a ninety-nine year lease. This option was received with enthusiasm, so a motion made to approve the arrangement passed unanimously. Adams promised “important aid.” No further action, however, was taken after the United States entered World War I. By 1919, Adams, as Chair of the Building Committee, reported that plans had been prepared, and that a site on the high school lot was then being fixed. He pledged a $25,000 contribution if the Association could raise another $20,000 from its members and friends. Meanwhile, a group of objectors forced the Board of Education to hold a public referendum on the issue. It took place on 2 December 1919, with 199 votes in favor of, and 22 votes against, letting the Association build on school property. All plans, however, were set on hold in the spring of 1920 “owing to the abnormal conditions of labor, prices, and the country in general . . .”
Over the next several years, various proposals were put forward to provide a permanent and suitable headquarters building. In 1923, the Mayor of Red Bank and Mrs. Henry S. White suggested that the Association team up with the American Legion and the Red Bank Public Library to erect an edifice on the high school grounds suitable for housing all three organizations. In 1926, the large former residence of New Jersey Governor Joel Parker in Freehold was put forward. Then owned by the American Bible Society, the purchase price was set at $15,000. Both proposals failed to win support. Shortly after, Vice President Adams renewed his offer to contribute $25,000 toward the building fund, and revived the plan to erect the structure on the high school grounds in Red Bank. He challenged the Association to raise an additional $25,000. Of the $50,000, $30,000 would be used for construction, and $20,000 would be set aside as an endowment fund. Meanwhile, proponents of the Friends Meetinghouse option pushed for the selection of that location. It was finally put to a vote by postal card. Forty-eight votes supported the Red Bank site, while forty-five favored Shrewsbury. The Secretary then opened voting to members present at the meeting who did not send in a postal card. That resulted in seven more votes for Red Bank.
In the meantime, a committee of five trustees was appointed in September of 1926 to start raising funds. Despite their efforts, by the following 27 April only $5,083 had been received in cash and pledges. Adams indicated he was unwilling to extend the time of his offer beyond 1 July 1927. On 26 May, it was reported to the membership that fundraising “has been so poor, that after a conference with Mr. Adams he has withdrawn his offer.” Funds paid in were returned to the donors, and all pledges canceled.
Later that summer, David Vanderveer Perrine of Freehold again made his lot on Court Street in Freehold opposite the Monmouth Battle Monument available to the Association. He offered it as a donation this time “in fee, free of all encumbrances except the condition and restriction that it shall be permanently held as a headquarters for the Monmouth County Historical Association, with the further condition that a suitable building shall be erected thereon by the Association within five years . . .” Two months of discussions, negotiations, and meetings ensued. With a few conditions of its own (including the necessity of raising adequate funds), the trustees approved the arrangement on 17 September 1927, which was then adopted by the membership on 29 September. After ten years of effort to find a permanent home for the organization, the way was set to move forward on this highly important endeavor.
While all of the deliberations about locating a headquarters building in Red Bank and then Freehold took place, an event occurred which underscored the urgency of adequately housing the irreplaceable and growing historical collections of the Association. On 1 December 1926, the organization vacated its rented room in the Davidson Building, which it had occupied for sixteen years. All of the furniture, books, manuscripts, and artifacts were put into storage at Grace Methodist Church at the corner of Broad Street and Harding Road in Red Bank. Removal of these materials from that location first came up in January of 1928. But on 16 June it was reported that “a boy had destroyed certain property of the Association while stored at Grace Church . . . and upon motion the question of having the boy prosecuted was left in the hands of Mrs. Henry S. White, with power to act.” It turned out that the young man suffered from mental challenges. So he was simply given a strong reprimand by the Red Bank police. “Upon motion, it was decided that the Recording Secretary make an inventory of the property of the Association . . .” Clearly, a proper fireproof and secure headquarters building for MCHA was becoming a pressing necessity.