Union County’s annual public heritage event, “Four Centuries in a Weekend: A Journey through Union County’s History,” will take place Saturday, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 19 from noon to 5 p.m. Sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, with the cooperation of staff and volunteers at 27 house museums and historic sites, the two-day free event opens the doors to more than 350 years of history throughout the county.
“Four Centuries in a Weekend began in 1994 when 16 historic sites and the County of Union organized a special weekend event to tell the story of how Elizabethtown of 1664 evolved into the 21 municipalities of today’s Union County. That coordinated weekend 20 years ago was the first event of its kind in New Jersey,” said Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak. “This year, in conjunction with the 350th anniversary of New Jersey and the settlement of Elizabethtown, special exhibitions and tours will again showcase Union County’s treasure trove of history.”
Among the historic sites that will offer free admission on Oct. 18-19, all listed on the National and New Jersey State Registers of Historic Places, with special programs or events highlighting their rich heritage are:
- Deserted Village of Feltville-Glenside Park in Berkeley Heights will host two speakers on Sunday: Star-Ledger columnist Mark DiIonno at 2 p.m. and historian Robert Sullivan at 4 p.m. discussing the American Revolution in New Jersey. Other weekend activities include free hay rides, apple cider pressing, children’s games, the ghost of David Felt and tours of the historic village.
- Deacon Andrew Hetfield House in Mountainside, home to the Hetfield family for 186 years, will feature Charlie Hummel displaying and discussing his collection of Thomas Edison artifacts and inventions.
- Oswald J. Nitschke House, operated by the Kenilworth Historical Society, will have a special exhibit and discussion about “The Early Development of New Orange,” the planned community that became the Borough of Kenilworth.
- Liberty Hall Museum of Union will host a Revolutionary War encampment on the grounds of Liberty Hall, the home of William Livingston, New Jersey’s first elected governor and signer of the Constitution. At 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Premiere Stages will perform James Christy’s play, “At Liberty Hall.”
- Reeves-Reed Arboretum of Summit celebrates 40 years as a historic public garden and education resource on 13.5 acres of lawns, wooded trails and gardens. The Wisner House Gallery will feature historic maps, photos, landscape drawings from noted architects, and a video presentation of “The Clearing.”
- Crane-Phillips House Museum in Cranford, an American Civil War veteran’s cottage, will focus on agriculture in Union County: “Then and Now: 350 years of farming at Crane’s Ford.”
- Historic Cannon Ball House in Springfield, one of four buildings in Springfield to survive being burned by the retreating British Army in 1780, will be the scene of a re-enactment of the Battle of Springfield on Saturday at 10 a.m.
- Reeve History & Cultural Resource Center in Westfield celebrates the restoration of the 1870s Victorian Italianate home, and exhibits work by famed local artists John Brunner, Harry Devlin and Sigmund Ivanowski.
In Elizabeth, you can visit Boxwood Hall, the 1772 home of Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress; tour the restored Revolutionary War burial grounds at the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, the oldest English-speaking congregation in New Jersey; and witness a re-enactment of the Battle of Elizabethtown on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Then it’s on to Union and a visit to the Caldwell Parsonage at Connecticut Farms, and watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Connecticut Farms on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. A visit to nearby Hillside will bring you to the Woodruff House/Eaton Store, built in 1735, and the historic Evergreen Cemetery, a virtual museum of funerary art.
In Rahway you’ll be welcome at the Merchants and Drovers Tavern, a restored early 19th century hotel, and you can tour the Union County Performing Arts Center, a beautifully restored classic Vaudeville theatre. When you stop at the Dr. William Robinson Plantation in Clark, you’ll discover a post-medieval English-style house where Dr. Robinson practiced healing with plants and herbs; on Sunday, celebrate Clark’s 150th birthday and hear “Betsy Ross” share the history of the American flag.
At the Fanwood Train Station Museum you’ll see the oldest Victorian Gothic railroad station in the county and learn about Fanwood’s ties to the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Stop at the Fanwood Museum for refreshments and a free shuttle bus ride to local historic homes, the Deserted Village, and the Battle of the Short Hills history hike. Other communities along NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line, including Plainfield, Westfield, Roselle, and Union, also will provide shuttle vans to local historic homes.
At the Abraham Clark House in Roselle, home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, you’ll learn about local history from uniformed members of the Sons of the American Revolution. In the Roselle Park Museum, housed in the Charles E. Stone Store, you’ll be standing in the first electrically-lighted store in the world; be sure to see the museum’s special World War I hundredth anniversary exhibit.
Authentic 18th century farmhouses also are open for touring: the Miller-Cory House in Westfield; the Salt Box Museum in New Providence; the Osborn Cannonball House in Scotch Plains, adjacent to the town green and across from the Stage House Inn; and the Nathaniel Drake House in Plainfield, with its exhibit, “John Philip Sousa’s Historic Concert in Plainfield, 1892,” and Sousa music on Saturday performed by the Plainfield Academy for the Arts Wind Ensemble.
Venturing into the Watchung Mountains, you’ll visit the Littell-Lord Farmstead in Berkeley Heights, a reminder of the County’s agricultural past; and explore Summit, with its Twin Maples, a stately neoclassical mansion, and the Carter House, the city’s oldest house, which dates back to the 1740’s. Riders on NJ Transit’s Gladstone Branch can catch a local shuttle bus in Berkeley Heights to visit the Littell-Lord Farmstead and the Deserted Village.
Children can earn a Time Traveler’s Certificate and a Four Centuries Patch by visiting and obtaining a Time Traveler Passport at any of the sites, having it stamped and returning the completed form to the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
A free copy of the “Four Centuries in a Weekend” tour booklet and map may be downloaded atwww.ucnj.org/cultural. For further information, telephone 908-558-2550 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., NJ Relay Users dial 711, visit www.ucnj.org, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.