LIVINGSTON, NJ – In celebration of New Jersey’s 350th anniversary as a state, the Livingston Public Library hosted a lecture on the history of New Jersey on Thursday.
The guest lecturer, Maxine Lurie, is a chairwoman of the New Jersey Historical Commission and part of the New Jersey 350th Committee. She has taught about the history of New Jersey for over 25 years, along with writing many books about New Jersey.
Lurie and nine colleagues wrote a book titled, “New Jersey: A History of the Garden State,” where each focused on a different time period in the state’s history. She focused on the three central ideas that the 350th Anniversary Committee feels best embody New Jersey and the history of the state—Innovation, diversity and liberty.
Lurie talked about how diversity has continued to grow in New Jersey. “In the 17th century,” Lurie said, “New Jersey was a Swedish, Dutch and English Colony, with smaller amounts of people from others countries around that region in Europe. By the 18th and 19th centuries, people from France, Germany and other countries were immigrating to New Jersey.” Today, New Jersey is home to a large variety of people from everywhere in the world.
Lurie talked about the importance of the Garden State during the Revolutionary War, where over 600 battles and skirmishes were fought. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, lived in New Jersey at the time, and was the president of what is now Princeton. Delegates from New Jersey were also helpful in drafting the United States Constitution.
Another important part of New Jersey’s history that Lurie discussed was the state’s involvement in the Civil War. Slavery was technically outlawed in 1804, but by the time the Civil War started, there were still 18 slaves in New Jersey. However, the first African American man in the country to cast a vote was Thomas Mundy Peterson, who voted in Perth Amboy.
Lurie also talked about the importance of innovation in New Jersey’s history. From Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, to factories in Newark and Elizabeth, to railroads, canals and public transportation, to increasing manufacturing, New Jersey moved quickly from farming to manufacturing.
New Jersey also benefited from Woodrow Wilson’s reforms, where he worked to reform the government and government programs. During the Great Depression, where unemployment rates were between 25 and 30 percent, New Jersey benefited from New Deal programs. The first National Historic Park was designated in Morristown in 1935 because of New Deal programs.
Since the 1950s, according to Lurie, urban areas were declining in New Jersey, but have recently been making a comeback, as young people move back toward the cities. “I don’t know where [history] is going,” Lurie said, “but it’s going to be interesting.”
Chris Demidowich, the librarian who introduced and helped organize the program, said there are more events planned for the 350th anniversary of the state throughout the year. The librarians have also been trying to increase the number of books about New Jersey in the library. Demidowich was surprised to hear some of the facts Lurie told the audience.
“I didn’t know that one of the first Marconi stations was built in New Jersey,” Demidowich explained. “I was also shocked to hear that the Morristown National Historic Park was the first in the United States. I’m originally from Philadelphia, so I would have thought the first was in that area.”
Lurie and the rest of the 350th Anniversary Committee have many events planned for the year. The website has articles about New Jersey, events happening throughout the state, and polls that people can participate in. The Livingston Public Library will also be hosting more events about New Jersey and the history of the state through the end of 2014.