1938 – 1948
The War Years and The End of an Era
While the fifth decade of the Association’s existence began quietly, the coming years would see a second World War, the death of the museum’s most devoted supporter, the loss of its first director, and the post-war challenge of gathering new members and reinventing its relevancy to the community and to the region.
Mrs. Haskell continued to be a driving force within the Association, attending every Board meeting and adding to the collections with donations of everything from important pieces of furniture, paintings, and decorative arts to interesting and quirky items. She funded everyday necessities for the Association, from newspaper notices advertising the museum’s new 10 cent admission fee to coal to heat the building in the winter months.
The summer drifted by in the brick building under the tulip poplar trees, with board meetings featuring talks on silver spoons and old prints. The first mention of war appeared in the Board Minutes on September 25, 1941, when speaker Joy Homer, author of Dawn Watch In China, presented a talk about her 14 months in China as a reporter for the United American Relief Board. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the morning hours of December 8, 1941, brought the war to American shores. In the first months of 1942, the Trustees authorized the purchase of $1,000 Defense Bond with money from the Endowment Fund. A War Risk Insurance policy on the museum building was secured, with Mrs. Haskell paying the premium costs.
The war was not the only thing to shake the foundations of the
organization. On Friday, September 18, 1942, Mrs. J. Amory Haskell died, leaving behind a flourishing historical association dedicated to Monmouth’s rich and colorful past. A heartfelt Resolution, read at the October 9, 1942, Board meeting, honored her. “The splendid work accomplished by this organization during the last ten years would have been impossible without her enthusiastic cooperation and generous support. Her many gifts and loans have made this museum outstanding among the small museums of the country…Her sympathetic personality and her consideration for the opinions of others will be sorely missed by her associates.”
The war continued to affect the museum in ways both large and small. Visitation dropped sharply due to gasoline rationing. Board meetings were suspended during the summer months. A microfilm reader, ordered for the library just before the war began, never came. Sales of such items were frozen as factories throughout the country geared up for wartime production. Marlpit Hall was closed for the duration and plans to paint the main museum building were postponed because of the scarcity of house paint.
In 1944, the board unanimously elected Miss Josephine Mabel Brown as the new president, who began a strong push to increase membership and raise much needed funds for both its purchasing and endowment funds. The fund drive letter sent out in 1945 described how the Association “…must look to the future, as well as the past. Especially now, with momentous history in the making, and Monmouth men and women serving at home and throughout the world, it is vital that our records of service, sacrifice and devotion to this present cause be accumulated and preserved. We owe this to our people as well as those to come.”
By the end of the summer of 1946, wartime restrictions had eased. Visitation was up. Librarian Ann Miller, who joined the Association’s staff after the departure of Marie Becker, worked tirelessly to compile war records. One of the most poignant projects was the gathering of information on those who had given their lives in the service. Miller sent out information blanks to surviving next of kin, requesting photographs and particulars.
With gas rationing no longer an issue, the Association sponsored “Pilgrimages” for its members, arranging trips to historic houses and churches in and around the county area. By the end of the summer, more than 20 sites had been visited. A reenergized exhibition program was implemented, with shows highlighting hunting prints, samplers, Native American artifacts, and dioramas depicting “scenes in the very early history of Monmouth County.”
The Association sustained another profound loss with the death of William
S. Holmes on April 4, 1948. Born in Freehold, Holmes was an active participant in local politics, serving as Police Recorder for 20 years, mayor of Freehold from 1919 to 1926, President of the board of the Monmouth County Historical Association, and finally as Curator of the organization until his death at age 72.
New staff was hired, with Miss Laura Flanders returning as the full-time Curator in August. Edward H. Feltus became Director in September and moved in to the apartment in the museum with his wife. At the December board meeting, Feltus presented an extensive list of improvements, projects, and programs he planned to implement, including a course on refinishing antiques, “which should be popular due to the increased interest in collecting antiques.”
On the crisp autumn afternoon of October 28, 1948, trustees, members, families, and descendants and relatives of the organization’s founders gathered at the brick building on Court Street to celebrate fifty years of the Monmouth County Historical Association’s existence. Dr. Richard P. McCormick from the Department of History at Rutgers University spoke to the gathered crowd, stressing the importance of local history, calling it a “new horizon” and crediting organizations like the Association for developing that interest. Each guest received a printed program of the afternoon, listing board members and original founders. A brief history of the Association was outlined, ending with these evocative words:
“In the peaceful charms of these rooms, history comes to life, and visitors, both young and old, in turning back the years, catch a glimpse of the courage and wisdom of their forebears, and so go forth, inspired by their experience and proud of their heritage.”
Next up: The Museum in the Baby Boom Decades