Saturday, April 1, 2017
Upper Township historical society hopes to unpack history in old town hall
In one corner there is a drum from the Tuckahoe Concert Band, which played at the old bandstand in front of the Tuckahoe school and led July 4 parades in the 1920s and ’30s. It was donated to the society a few years back by members of the Corbin City Historical Society. A man from Tuckahoe named Mason Ingersoll owned the drum. He had the nickname of “Spoodle” for some reason.
In another room there is the clock that hung from the wall of the Tuckahoe National Bank when it was robbed in 1925. Robert Holden, the historian for the historical preservation society, pulled it down from a shelf Monday, March 20 and pointed to where a bullet ricocheted off the face during a shooting at the time of the robbery.
Bill Brown, president of the bank for many years, donated the clock to the society in 2015. Holden said he would like to see it properly displayed.
“We have so many things in storage that people deserve to see,” Holden said.
Michael Houdart, a former president of the historical society, said the group also has the radiator from the getaway car that the Tuckahoe bank robbers used. The motor from the old REO motor car was found at the Lord’s Boat Works at Head of the River, where it was used as a winch to haul boats in and out of the water. Houdart said when he found the motor he wasn’t leaving until he had the radiator with the REO insignia on it.
“I pulled on it until it came loose,” he said.
Bank vice president Edwin L. Tomlin was blackjacked and shot during the robbery, Houdart said. He died three days later, according to reports at the time. The three bank robbers escaped with $7,000, followed by a posse of townspeople. Their escape attempt ended when their car overturned in a cranberry bog. The robbers were tracked down by New Jersey State Police dogs and jailed.
There are other artifacts in the society’s collection: copper coins from the reign of King George III found in a Tuckahoe field; family photos from the early 20th century and earlier that were donated; a large collection of ledgers from the Tuckahoe National Bank and the Tuckahoe Building and Loan Association that tell the story of land acquisition; and even a woman’s hood and robe from the Ocean City chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The local historical society received the hood and robe as a donation, along with the 1926 charter of the Ocean City Klan No. 13 and a seal stamp the group used, Holden said. There is also a picture of Klan members and its women’s auxiliary at a gala dinner in the Jefferson Hotel in Atlantic City, he said. The items were put on display for a time at the Cape May County historical museum, he said.
“The chapter had a lot of members from Upper Township,” he said.
Holden and a subcommittee from the historical society have been working the past two years to develop a business plan to use part of the old town hall building on Mount Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road as a museum. The group is now waiting on cost estimates from the township to remove mold and asbestos in the building, and then it hopes to apply for Cape May County Open Space funds with the township to renovate the first floor for the museum.
“Upper Township is one of the only communities around that doesn’t have a museum,” Holden told Upper Township Committee members at their March 13 meeting. “We receive innumerable comments from people about the history of Upper Township. Where do we send people for answers?”
The answer to that question could depend on the cost of environmental remediation at the old town hall. It was built in 1906 and served as a school for some time but was abandoned 30 years ago.
Holden said the historical society had an architect through the old town hall recently, and the building has good bones. Some brick pointing is needed on the outside, he said, and new windows, HVAC, insulation and sheetrock inside. An Open Space grant would cover 100 percent of the renovation costs, he said.
“The township will have an asset that can be used for other purposes,” he said. “There will be a whole other room for receptions. You could possibly have outside groups come in and use the building.”
But Township Committee members have raised concerns about architectural fees and maintenance costs that will not be covered by a potential Open Space grant.
“Museums are in terrible shape across the country,” said Committeeman Curtis Corson, who is a member of the county historical museum. “They are closing, not opening.”
He said the county has cut funding to the historical museum in recent years, now contributing about $20,000 toward its $190,000 operating budget.
“I think we are going to need a cost analysis of what it is going to take,” Committeeman Ed Barr said. “What are going to be the costs to renovate it and what are the costs to operate?”
Officials said it would cost about $20,000 to hire an architect to draw up plans for renovations. The township and historical society could then use those plans to apply for Open Space funding. The cost of renovations has been estimated at around $250,000.
Committeeman Hobie Young said the township will likely have to do something with the old town hall eventually. It is a contributing structure to the Tuckahoe historic district and cannot be demolished.
“No matter what we do with that building we’re going to have to remediate it,” Young said. “It’s a concern but it’s going to be a concern 10, 15 years from now.”
He said proceeds from holding events at the museum could fund some of the operations. A museum would also be a good thing for Tuckahoe, he said.
“We’ve got new street lights and sidewalks with benches,” Young said. “What are we going to do?”
Mayor Richard Palombo said he would like to see a historical museum in the township, which is more than 200 years old, but he’s not sure where. He said the township now maintains the Upper Township Senior and Wellness Center and would be hard pressed to take on more costs.
He asked Young and Barr to meet with the historical society board after cost estimates for environmental remediation are complete.
“There is a rich history here,” he said. “I hope we’re not creating the impression we’re resistant to this.”