One of the joys of being a member of the Monmouth County Historical Commission is the many different museums and historical sites I have the opportunity or get invited to visit. Some of these are sites I have known about, because of my love of history, others I have heard a lot about, but never took the time or had the opportunity to visit on my own.
Such was the case this week when the Commission held its regular monthly meeting, by invitation, at the Belmar Historical Society. And what a wonderful opportunity it was!
The Society’s site is history in itself. Located at 900 E Street in Belmar, the Society is in the annex to the Union Fire House, a fire house still in active use with great volunteers, and due to celebrate its 150th anniversary next year. Prior to our business meeting, volunteers in the fire department gave us a tour of their facility, which included, in addition to their sparkly clean and ready for action two modern fire trucks, a horse-drawn truck complete with hose and water barrel that was used in earlier times. They even have the names of the horses who pulled the fire wagon emblazoned in a grand display above the special alcove firemen built themselves to display the fire wagon.
What is as wonderful to see as the history itself is the level of volunteerism and hard work these firemen pour into their mission. Several men stayed around to show us some of the things in which they take special pride…the fact it was volunteers who have done most of the upkeep, maintenance and improvements to the building, their fire equipment hung neatly and easily available in mini closets along the wall, the height marks where the water in Hurricane Sandy completely enveloped higher than knee high of their magnificent building. Just seeing them and hearing all they do on their own, to make life a little better and a little safer for their neighbors is enough to remind you to say an extra prayer and many words of thanks to similar volunteer fire departments throughout Monmouth County and a good part of New Jersey.
As if the volunteerism in this fire department isn’t enough, the volunteerism, pride and knowledge at the Museum is even more so.
The Historical Society itself, in presenting its displays in such a historical setting, has made an incredibly creative use of a very small space in which they have packed scores of paintings, photos, letters and other memorabilia on the walls, then added showcases for the many artifacts from many eras. There are several rooms in this museum, each packed with a very fastidious and well researched piece of history. Even the hall connecting the rooms is filled with history. A favorite among visitors, it seems, is the series of maps in the hall that show Belmar during different centuries, and thus Belmar visitors are able to search out where their own home is and see what was there in an earlier century.
Their archive room is packed with shelves and folders, all neatly marked for easy access, where historians or visitors researching a particular person, place or thing, can find information.
The Coast Star is and has been the weekly newspaper in the area, and papers of that newspaper have been archived along with others for easy access to so much information.
There are probably over 100 members of the Belmar Society, but, like most volunteer organizations, probably only about a couple of dozen are active on a regular basis. The officers who showed us through their very special museum have attended numerous classes, programs and seminars to increase their own knowledge and to help them learn the best way to display their artifacts and history and are truly experts in their knowledge and appreciation of Belmar. They even give history classes at the Museum, a unique and wonderful addition to any museum.
The Society fulfills is mission well, pledging to restore, preserve and acquire sites and materials relative to Belmar. They encourage further information from residents and visitors who may have photos or artifacts they would like to donate. The day before our visit, a resident donated a spectacular photo of the Morro Castle, complete with a Belmar volunteer on a rope over the sea as he reached the burning ship in 1938. One photo does not a museum make, but it certainly adds to a collection of personal memories.
The Society was founded in 1991 as the Belmar Historical Preservation Advisory Council, a long name for what is now the Belmar Historical Society incorporated as a non-profit in 2011 and filled with volunteers who love their town. Meetings are the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the museum … it’s a magnificent room with a tin ceiling and perfectly preserved walls, windows, and window coverings up 24 steps from the first floor. Visit their website at www.Belmarhistoricalsociety.org, become a member for $20 to $250 or more for individual, family, commercial or corporate memberships, and see for yourself