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The History of the Oldest Historic Organization
A HISTORY OF
THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF THE SOMERSET HILLS
Congratulations on 90 years of preserving and promoting local history.
On September 23, 1928, some Bernards Township residents, dedicated to the preservation of history, met in the Maple Avenue School,
Meeting minutes from the Society's first meeting September 23, 1928.
While the Society was founded officially on September 23, 1928, many don’t know that the historical society was a spin-off of the Basking Ridge Literary Society, a group that had founded back in 1861. An old Basking Ridge Literary Society records book reveals a strikingly similar Constitution and set of By Laws to those of the original Basking Ridge Historical Society. Walter S. Rankin had served as the Literary Society’s President along with 45 other members. Records indicated that on Tuesday May 28, 1861 the 45 original members formed the Literary Society’s Constitution. Since many of the writings were historic in nature, and were required to contain at least 75 words, came the idea to form a new historical society. Within those members came many of the initial Basking Ridge Historical Society membership.
At the founding in 1928, the first six Trustees were all women. After thirteen years after the 1928 founding, Mr. Sanford Looker became the Society’s first male trustee in 1941. Of the 129 Trustees voted to serve over the years, 64 of the Trustees were female, while 65 were male. In 1928 there were 6 Trustees and 151 members. Ninety years later, in 2018, there are 14 Trustees and 165 members.
1928 - Founding Trustees
Meetings were held in the school, members' homes, the library at 2 North Finley Avenue, and later in Town Hall, then located in the Brick Academy. Then in mid 1928 a number of ladies met to form the area's first historical society. It was named the Basking Ridge Historical Society. Below are the names of the 5 original Executive Committee and an additional Trustee.
The Society had storage space for artifacts and a file cabinet
in the local library (now an attorney's office) and was quite scholarly,
In its early years, the Society held annual dinners at the Old Mill Inn, today's Grain House Restaurant.
The Society had maintained a low profile until the mid-1970s, meeting quarterly. Members wrote three publications, two about the Brick Academy and one on the Van Dorn Mill, and collaborated with The Historical Booklet Committee for the Bernards Township 200th Anniversary publication. This was reprinted in 1976 for America's bicentennial.
1975 - Brick Academy Becomes Society's Home
In 1975, the municipal offices were relocated to Collyer Lane and the Brick Academy became the headquarters of the Basking Ridge Historical Society, which leased the landmark building from Bernards Township for $1.00 per year. It was that year that the Academy was entered in the NJ Register of Historic Places and in 1976 entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Society began restoration of the building in the late 1970s, with removal of the front porch and fire escape and discovery of the original fan light window over the front door. Later, all windows were replaced with 6/6 sash and others more suitable. The Society's goal was the complete restoration of the Academy, as close as possible to its 1809 condition.
The Society undertook in 1980 a "house plaque" program, presenting plaques to eligible homes. This was a continuation of the 1976 bicentennial program. Homeowners did the research; the Society provided the plaques. For years, the Society had sponsored a booth at the annual Labor Day Kiwanis Fair, mounting educational/historical displays.
The Society's first holiday house tour in December, 1986, netted a profit of $2,000. for the Brick Academy Restoration Fund.
1988- The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills is Born
In 1988, in an effort to attract more membership and broaden its base of involvement and support surrounding communities, the Society voted to change its name to encourage others who share concern for the preservation of the Somerset Hills' heritage to The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills. The vote was unanimous. With the name change, the Board of Trustees was increased to 21 members. There were 21 handsome cherry Windsor chairs ordered for the main public room, all donated by members of the public with memorial plaques, for a contribution of $195 each!
1990 - Township Lease Extension
In 1990, the Brick Academy lease was extended for 50 years by
the Township Committee, with the continued fee of $1.00 annually. The
Fund raising has included bi-annual house tours, a 1990 Pops Concert attended by 1,000 music lovers, which netted $4,500.; a Spring Garden Tour, visited by 530 visitors, with a $7,000. profit; flea markets, including one in conjunction with Merchants of Olde Basking Ridge; and a house tour in the 1990s to boxer Mike Tyson's Bernardsville estate, Kenilwood, which included boutiques and realized a profit of $23,000. Over the years there have been fantastic events including boat tours, NYC field trips, community picnics, antique road shows, yard sales, and more. Since THSSH is a non-profit, it relies solely on membership, donations, and fundraising activities to operate.
2007 - THSSH Goes On Online & Expands Exhibits
In 2007 the Society began its presence online officially launching the website www.thssh.org. Over 150 pages and thousands of images have been stored online for visitors. As many as 40,000 pages are served up annually.
In 2014 a new set of permanent displays were installed at the Brick Academy Museum representing artifacts and historic information for each of the five towns that comprise the Somerset Hills including Bedminster, Bernards Twp., Bernardsville, Far Hills, Peapack & Gladstone. One
of the highlights at the Academy is an Indian display of
200 arrowheads, tools and artifacts donated to the Society by Ruth Corbett
In 2017 the Society honored the death of Basking Ridge's oldest resident, the historic white oak tree while also celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.
In 2018, the Society has fourteen trustees providing the management and direction of THSSH. A full list of activities and programs to celebrate and honor those who preserve and promote our local history. The Society's archivist, curator, historian and other trustees are dedicated in their mission to further historic preservation, knowledge of the area and State history, and service to the people of the Somerset Hills.
Other Noteworthy Facts
In 1959, the Board under the leadership of Arch W. Carswell, the President approved to increase the Society’s Board of Trustees from 5 to 9 members. In 1987, under the leadership of Susan Emerson, the Board approved increasing the Board of Trustees from 9 to 23 Trustees. Finally, in 1990, under the leadership of Richard Rozewski, the membership approved 24 trustees, the largest ever for the Society.
In 2005, under Chair June Campbell THSSH membership exceeded 300 members for the first time in its 90 year history.
A typically unknown fact is that the Society ceased operations during WW2 from 1942 to 1945.
History Expands in the Somerset Hills
While the Brick Academy was the first property to be restored, five properties in the Somerset Hills have been restored and honored including the Boudinout Southard Ross House (Basking Ridge), the Kennedy Martin Stelle Farmstead (Basking Ridge), the Jacobus Vanderveer House (Bedminster), the Dunster Squibb house (Bernardsville, the Lime Kilns (Peapack). Members are guided in their endeavor by words from the Society's constitution: Study the past; Record the present; Build for the future.
2018 THSSH Board of Trustees
Paula Axt - Education
Special thanks to the 23 leaders and the 129 trustees
(In sequence since 1928 founding - Name, First Term, Total Years Term)
Mary Conkling Ellis -1928 (12),
Historical Society Trustees - 129
Brooks Betz, Trustee
About The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills (THSSH)
Founded in 1928 originally as the Historical Society of Basking Ridge, the mission and name of the society was later changed to The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization including all five communities of the Somerset Hills region: Bedminster Township, Bernards Township, Bernardsville ,Far Hills, Peapack-Gladstone which are all located in Somerset County, New Jersey.
The mission of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills (THSSH) is to acquire, conserve and share local artifacts and information on matters of local historic interest; cultivate interest in local history; encourage the preservation of local historic resources; facilitate historic research; and preserve, operate, and interpret the Brick Academy.
To further this mission, THSSH sponsors events and activities that promote community awareness and appreciation of the history and architecture of the Somerset Hills. THSSH headquarters is at the Brick Academy in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township, where our collections of items of local historic interest are available to the public.
About the Brick Academy
The Brick Academy (also known as the Basking Ridge Classical Schoolhouse) is a 1809 Federal-style architectural structure located in the center of Basking Ridge in Bernards Township. The Brick Academy has been a boys’ private preparatory school, a public school, a meeting hall for several fraternal and benevolent organizations, and the Bernards Township municipal building. It currently serves as the headquarters of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, as well as a schoolhouse and museum to local history. The Brick Academy also celebrated its bicentennial in 2009.
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