SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Beginning early summer, the South Plainfield Historical Society’s History Center will have a new – albeit temporary – home at the Highland Woods Nature Center. The move, which is currently underway, will enable the society to be more accessible to the public, especially on weekends.
Formed from an outgrowth of residents working together during the 1976 Bicentennial, the society met at members’ homes and later, the high school, until securing a ‘temporary’ location at the Roosevelt Administration Building in April 2006. For the past nine years, the non-profit called a downstairs classroom home and provided public access to everything from photographs, documents and video and audio materials to vintage clothing, memorabilia and other artifacts pertaining to South Plainfield’s history. Additionally, the center featured showcases, two computer terminals, a non-lending library and seating for 25 people.
According to Dorothy Miele, president of the South Plainfield Historical Society, the move to Roosevelt gave the society a more visual, viable and accessible presence in the community. “Before that, in the 1980s and 90s, the collection was in storage in the high school and scattered in members’ homes. There was very limited public access to it,” said Miele. “Beginning in 2002, in order to centralize the collection, everything gradually found its way to my garage. When the South Plainfield Board of Education invited us to share space with them, we jumped at the chance. We are very grateful for that opportunity.”
Earlier this year, however, the society was informed that demand for space in the building required them to find an alternative location. The school district offered to furnish several showcases for artifacts as well create a classroom-like setup in the high school media center where students could visit and members of the society could hold informative sessions. After thoughtful consideration, the society’s executive board turned down the offer.
“The historical society barely functioned during its previous tenure at the high school. We don’t want that to happen again and we aren’t ready to throw in the towel,” said Miele. “We proved that having a roof over our heads leads to a lot of good things.” During the Roosevelt years, she said, the historical society published three books and assisted with another, installed three historic markers and the Civil War Memorial in Monument Park, sponsored three Civil War-themed events, and doubled its photograph archives.
In February, Miele approached the borough council in the hopes an alternative location could be found, but to no avail. She then approached Mayor Matt Anesh with the suggestion that the historical society relocate to the classroom at the Nature Center at Highland Woods Environmental Education Reserve. Miele, who is also a volunteer and director of programming with the Friends of the Woods at the nature reserve, thought this a perfect marriage of cultural heritage and natural history under one roof.
And the mayor agreed. “We tried to see if there was room elsewhere – we looked at the senior center, the community policing building, the library and even borough hall – and none of these locations could accommodate the society at this time,” said Anesh. “It was Dorothy’s idea to use the classroom at Highland Woods and I think it is an excellent idea. Having the historical society there provides the opportunity to get more use out of that facility than we are currently seeing.”
While moving so much stuff and beginning all over again isn’t ideal, Miele is excited about the possibilities of being able to provide the community with better – and dual - access to both the Historical Society and Nature Center. That said, she is still hopeful the borough will help her find a permanent home for the history center down the road.
“Learning about local history is fun, engaging and enlightening, not to mention challenging when delving deeper doing research. It gives us a connection to our roots, our heritage,” said Miele. “How did we get here, who were these people who settled this area, why did they come, what struggles and triumphs did they encounter? The historical society provides some of the resource material to answer these questions.”
Anesh is hopeful that, down the road, more of the society’s collection can be made more accessible to the public and is open to looking into other locations – such as the senior center and borough hall – where displays can be placed. “We will look at other ways to make more of their collection more visible,” said the mayor. “Ideally, we want to secure a place that their collections can be displayed for years to come.”
The South Plainfield Historical Society’s History Center must be out of the classroom at the administration building by June. Volunteers are welcome to assist with relocating items to the Nature Center. For more information or to volunteer to help, please contact Dorothy Miele at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, the historical society’s monthly meetings – which take place on the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. – have been relocated to Miele Art Studio, 30 South Plainfield Avenue until further notice.