Bette Jane Kowalski
Freeholder Chairwoman
Union County

See history come alive on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20 and 21st, as musicians, actors, and historic re-enactors converge on Union County for “Four Centuries in a Weekend!” Choose from a wide variety of sights and scenes at the 25 historic places spread throughout the county—all free of charge, within a short ride from where you live.

Among the special events, you can join in a Revolutionary War-era drill with the 3rd NJ Regiment, chat with a veteran of the Mexican-American War about serving under Ulysses S. Grant as a young lieutenant, or listen to the courageous story of African-Americans fighting for their freedom during the Civil War, as told by soldiers in the 6th Regiment United States Colored Troops. “Sojourner Truth,” the famed abolitionist, will offer her compelling thoughts on human rights, and “Eleanor Roosevelt” will describe her experience of a world torn apart by two wars.

You can also learn about old-time baseball, or delve into the mysteries of early arts, including paper silhouette cutting. You can hear the ghostly voice of Nitschke House, see the “Biggest Little Wurlitzer” organ from the golden age of vaudeville, and learn about the Native American tribes of this area.

This year, Four Centuries in a Weekend includes a slate of special events presented by talented and knowledgeable historians, musicians, actors and re-enactors, made possible by a 2007 HEART (History, Education Arts Reaching Thousands) Grant from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The HEART program supports and amplifies the work of volunteer-run organizations. It’s a modest investment that returns benefits many times over in the form of cultural enrichment, participation in community life, and an increase in Union County’s importance as a destination for tourists and history buffs.

In addition to offering a glimpse into the lives of both famous and ordinary New Jersey citizens who lived through extraordinary times, this Four Centuries Weekend also celebrates the 150th anniversary year of Union County. And I would like to honor the hundreds of present-day volunteers who have made this possible.

The two-day event includes 25 separate historical sites that are maintained and run almost entirely by volunteers. Most of these sites would not even exist today except that communities rallied around local treasures to save them from the wrecking ball. Now they’re popular attractions for area residents and tourists alike.

Thanks to the foresight and initiative of our fellow Union County residents, you can walk the same grounds as our forebears did hundreds of years ago. With hosts at many sites in full period dress, you can pass through the same doors, visit the same rooms, and explore the way people lived in times gone by.

The historic sites are in the following places: Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Hillside, Kenilworth, Mountainside, New Providence, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit, Union, and Westfield. Several sites will feature authentic period music performed live by 18th century fiddlers, a Victorian harpist, a barbershop quartet, a virtuoso violist da gamba, and a Gilded Age soprano, among others.

I’ve mentioned just a partial sampling of the events you can enjoy this weekend. For a full listing, please visit our web site at It’s a great opportunity to explore hidden corners of Union County, and to take part in the spirit of community service that makes our area such a wonderful place in which to live. Please come out and see the sites, and join in the fun.