New Jersey Historic Preservation Conference presentation

Barrow Mansion funded by the New Jersey Historic Trust

For the June 2014 New Jersey Historic Preservation Conference, we have organized and will moderate a panel of our NJ clients who are making great strides to invite visitors into their properties, even if they are managed (mostly) by volunteers. Our blurb for the conference spells out the intent of the panel.

The New Jersey Heritage Tourism Master Plan notes that there are 1,834 historic/cultural sites in the state and 200 historic districts.[1]  Of these, only 333 are considered partially “visitor ready,” meaning they meet some but not all of the following three attributes:

  1. The site is open to the public as a tourism attraction during regularly scheduled hours, with a preference (but not a requirement) for weekend hours of operation.
  2. The site is actively promoted as a tourism attraction.
  3. The site supports one or more of the statewide heritage tourism themes by telling stories or providing programming related to that theme(s).[2]

From The New Jersey Heritage Tourism Task Force Site Inventory Committee in May 2010

The NJ Heritage Tourism Task Force further identified only 102 sites within this list of 333 sites that represent the most visitor ready sites in 2007 when the survey was conducted. It is clear that the vast majority of historic sites in New Jersey are only partly visitor ready, if at all, and we suspect that the vast majority of these sites are managed entirely by volunteers.

Yet some volunteer-run sites are making great strides to be open more often or provide other means for the public to learn about their fascinating histories.  In this session, our panel members from three different historic sites will tell about their efforts to make their sites more welcoming for visitors within the confines of limited budgets and volunteer or part-time staffing. The panel for this session includes representatives from three very different historic properties:  a historic church, a traditional historic house museum, and a community center. All of these sites are trying to raise the profile of their property for public visitation.

This session will discuss the highs and lows of having very part-time staff or being a volunteer-run historic property that wishes to invite more visitors into their midst.

Donna Ann Harris will be the moderator, introduce the speakers and have a series of questions to ask the panel members if the audience is not forthcoming.

Sean Blinn, the Board President of the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House in Bedminster NJ, will give an overview of the decade-long effort to restore this Dutch Colonial building, the Revolutionary War home of General Henry Knox. Mr. Blinn will give a snapshot of the public outreach undertaken by the organization. This includes the Board’s decision to hire a part-time coordinator as well as continue to rely on board members to host monthly weekend open houses for the public. He will talk about recent efforts to better promote the site including starting a new e-newsletter and redesigning its website to include more and better visitor information. He will also discuss expanding its annual programming by adding events hosted by board members, the recently completed introductory video, and room books for visitors.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Burlington NJ is a National Historic Landmark and the church complex includes a Richard Upjohn designed “New Church” and the 1703 “Old Church”, historic cemetery, barn, Upjohn designed Lyth gate, and historic Guild Hall. As a house of worship, the site is open regularly for services and for its broad social mission.  Barbara Frake, chair of the Vestry, will discuss some of the simple steps they have taken to expand its visitor readiness.  She will talk about how parish volunteers have redesigned their web site to include more visitor information, are hoping to offer more regular tours, and expanded their informational brochures about these important historic structures.

The 1837 Greek Revival Barrow Mansion in the Van Vorst neighborhood in Jersey City is owned by neighboring St. Matthews Lutheran Church and operated by the Barrow Mansion Development Corporation, which was formed by the church in 1985. Today the organization’s mission is to promote its use as a center for community service, preserve and restore the structure, and educate the community about the Mansion’s historic significance. Known locally as the Ionic House, the wooden Greek Revival structure has five Ionic columns gracing a two-story portico. The building houses offices of non-profit and civic-minded organizations, a black box theater, and is available to host weddings, meetings and a wide range of other gatherings.  Tina Fiske, chair of the Donor Development Committee of the Barrow Mansion Development Corporation will discuss what the Board is doing to update its website to include more historic and visitor information, open the site more often for public events, and create a new interpretative plan for the building.

We are very excited to be moderating this panel of three of our clients and hope that you will attend our session at the NJ Historic Preservation conference in June 2014.