Surprises At Every Turn: The Sixties
Surprises At Every Turn: The Sixties
1958 – 1968
Over the next ten years, the Association would find ways to cope with an ever burgeoning collection and the acquisition of three historic houses within a short space of time. The changing landscape of Monmouth County, coupled with the changing tides of American culture, would offer challenges in the protection of the museum’s valuable historic homes and the need to keep history relevant in the era of the 1960s.
On Sunday, 1 November 1959, an emergency meeting of the Board gathered to talk about the immediate acquisition of the Holmes-Hendrickson House. Located in Holmdel on its original site, the house was a recognized landmark, a beautiful combination of American Dutch-influenced architecture with English architectural undertones. The house was owned by Bell Labs which had cared for the structure and used it as a storage area. Now the house was in the way of a planned parking lot. Bell Labs offered the building to the Association, promising to help pay for its relocation. The catch was that the move had to take place almost immediately. The Board made the decision to purchase the house for a single dollar, with faith that money for its restoration and furnishing would be found.
The house was lifted from its foundations in late November, making the slow journey on the back of a specially-reinforced flatbed moving truck a quarter of a mile away to a gently sloping piece of property along Longstreet Road, donated by the Association’s president Mrs. William Riker. The Board planned to open it to the public in four years.
Historic sites all around Monmouth County were increasingly at risk, from neglect, outright destruction, and from lack of funds for preservation. In May of 1960, in an unexpected turn of events, the State offered the Battle of Monmouth Monument Park to the Association. After reviewing the costs of insurance, upkeep, and lawn mowing, the Board declined the offer. The medical office of Dr. Cooke in Homdel was still a possibility for the Association to relocate to the back of the main museum in Freehold. Former owner Mrs. McCampbell, on whose property the building still stood, had expressed her wish that the building be given to the Association. Ultimately, the building stayed where it was and is now the property of Holmdel Historical Society.
During the May meeting of 1967, Director Ed Feltus informed the Board members that the Association had been offered the North American Phalanx building complex along with five acres of land. Situated in Lincroft, the North American Phalanx was started in 1843 by a group of people following the precepts of French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772 – 1837), who encouraged the formation of small communal groups in order to overcome the evils of modern society. The community supported itself through a variety of industries and products, including canning locally-grown vegetables. A devastating fire in 1854 destroyed a number of work buildings and equipment. Underinsured and deeply in debt, the group decided to disband in 1856. By 1967, the main building still stood, along with other outbuildings. An estimate of $50,000 to repair the structures made the plan prohibitively expensive. The Phalanx was eventually destroyed by fire in November 1972. Today, the Historical Association’s Library and Archives includes the largest collection of Phalanx-related materials detailing this fascinating nineteenth century social experiment.
Later that year, the Association had an opportunity to take on another historic house. This time, the structure was located on Route 537 in Freehold. The Moreau House, built in 1752, had been the home of William and Elizabeth Covenhoven. The striking and attractive structure served as the temporary headquarters of General Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British Forces, for several days just before the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778. The will of deceased owner William Rhea Moreau, with no children to inherit the property, conveyed the house and a small parcel of land to the Association for a purchase price of approximately $23,000. Moreau was a lifelong Freehold resident, an active farmer and horticulturalist, artist, collector, and writer. The Board approved purchase funds to acquire the house from the family and renamed the site “Clinton’s Headquarters.”
One of the astonishing discoveries during the restoration process was the uncovering of a fully painted second floor bedroom. The bold moldings and beautifully proportioned panels were decorated with hand painted foliate scrolls. The panel above the fireplace featured a lively naval battle scene between British and Dutch vessels, an interesting choice for a bedroom decoration. On the exterior of the house, portions of the fishscale-shaped shingling were the original boards from the eighteenth century.
The Board grappled with the ever growing collections within the organization’s Library and Archives. Several times during the decade, discussion was had regarding the possibility of building a wing on the main museum to include an expanded library, lecture hall, and storage space. With the purchase of Clinton’s Headquarters (later to be rechristened “Covenhoven House”), the demands of Holmes-Hendrickson House – still undergoing restoration – and Marlpit Hall, the Board scrapped these plans and sought other alternatives. One plan involved placing the entire Library and Archives collection with the Monmouth County Library. Representatives of both the Association and the Library talked about different scenarios, but in the end the collection remained in the Court Street building.
As if this were not enough, less than a year after acquiring Covenhoven House, attorneys for the estate of Mrs. Holmes informed the Board that Lillie Huelson was no longer able to live on her own in the Allen House. A single line in the meeting minutes of 10 April 1968 gives a glimpse into the overwhelming realization of the responsibility the Association would now have. “The Allen House will be vacated soon…It has been left to the Association…No funds are available at present…” On 1 May, 1968, the Board took possession of the front door key of the Association’s fourth historic house.
In addition to the acquisition of historic properties, the Association also had numerous personnel challenges. In 1967, Mrs. William Riker resigned as Board President due to ill health. In her place, the Board elected two co-presidents, Mr. George Dittmar Jr. and Mrs.Bayard D. Stout.
Director Edward Feltus seemed to be everywhere doing everything. He gave tours for hundreds of boy scouts, school groups, and visitors, lead tours of local and regional historic houses and museums for the Association’s Antiques Group, sought out furnishings for Holmes-Hendrickson House, painted gallery walls, hung paintings, and installed temporary exhibitions.
Unlike the recurring mention of the effects of rationing and wartime adjustments during World War II, the ongoing conflict in Asia was mentioned only once in the Board minutes. In the meeting of 6 December 1965, the brief notation was included that “Marlpit Hall had 248 visitors, including two from Vietnam.”
The board meeting minutes illuminate the grueling work of the upkeep of four historic houses, a main museum, exhibitions, collections, and a library and archives – the quiet, constant efforts of staff, board, and members alike. Board members planned bus trips and auctions, arranged panel discussions on local radio stations about interesting history topics, printed brochures featuring the historic sites, sent out fundraising letters to donors, and hosted parties and get-togethers to maintain interest in local history and secure funding to meet ever-growing financial demands. Visitors continued to pour through the doors, entranced with exhibitions of dolls, Chinese export porcelain, paintings, artifacts from the American Revolution and the Civil War, and much else. As one student enthusiastically noted in a thank you letter sent after a school visit, “A person could get educated at the Museum!”
Next Up: Growing Pains and Maturity: 1968 – 1978