Rutherford's Historical Gem: The Meadowlands Museum
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Meadowlands Museum Facebook page
Just off of Orient Way in Rutherford is Crane Street where the Meadowlands Museum is located within a residential area. The Museum, which is housed within a 19th Century Farmhouse, is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Sites. Both the site of the museum and the museum’s exhibits enable visitors to take a step back in time to learn more about the history of Rutherford and the surrounding Meadowlands area. This is Rutherford spoke with Robin Reenstra, current President of the Meadowlands Museum Board of Trustees about the Meadowlands Museum and all that it has to offer.
TIR: There are some new and interesting exhibits at the Meadowlands Museum. Can you tell us more about the Museum's newer exhibit "Historic Rutherford and the Meadowlands"?
Robin Reenstra: The new exhibit in our front room is titled "Original Artwork of Historic Rutherford and the Meadowlands". The exhibit includes thirty-one original paintings and drawings that have been hiding in the Museum's archived collection. They are now, many for the first time, being displayed together to provide a unique sense of what was here (or not here) over the decades. Some of the paintings go back to the 1800s, including one that has recently been donated to the Museum by Rutherford's Kipp family. Included in the collection are paintings and drawings of some of Rutherford's historic buildings, while others feature the original natural state of the Meadowlands.
TIR: There is also a new exhibit called "Edison's Phonograph to Streaming". What can you tell us about that exhibit?
RR: The Museum has developed another new exhibit that features audio equipment (both for listening and recording) starting out with one of the original Edison phonographs, and dating to modern-day equipment. The exhibit of these various equipment pieces shows how we have gotten to the digital age of sound.
TIR: What can visitors to the Museum expect to see?
RR: In addition to the two new exhibits mentioned above, visitors to the Museum will be able to see a display of artifacts from the Hoage House in Rutherford, owned by the first African-American family to own their own house in Rutherford in 1868. There is also a pre-electric kitchen, pre-electric construction tools, spinning wheels, an early sewing machine, and a cash register, an exhibit on antique toys and dolls, and an exhibit on the geology of the Meadowlands area, including a room devoted to phosphorescent rocks and minerals that glow in the dark under a black light. The Meadowlands Museum building itself is one of the earliest Dutch farmhouses in southern Bergen County and is also an important part of our history display. The Museum is honored to have the only permanent exhibit in any museum on the life of Dr. William Carlos Williams, Rutherford's famous resident doctor and poet.
TIR: Do you have any upcoming events at the Meadowlands Museum?
RR: The Meadowlands Museum is continuing to host its Zoom Historic Speaker Series, with the next Zoom event on June 14th featuring Al Klaus, who will be talking about "From Edison's Phonograph to Streaming". Our Zoom historic Speaker talks happen throughout the year and are free to participate in. Registration will be made available through this link.
In addition, we have created the first Little Free History Library bookcase that sits at the sidewalk entry to our building. Everyone is invited to stop by (91 Crane Avenue, Rutherford) to choose a history book from our Little Free Library, and leave one for others if they have a history book to share. Books taken do not need to have a replacement book to share, but we only ask that replacements be only history books. The Little Free History Library is open even when the Museum is closed.
TIR: The Meadowlands Museum sells framed photos of many Rutherford homes. Where did this idea come from? Has this fundraiser been successful?
RR: The Meadowlands Museum has had in its collection for some time a set of pictures of most of Rutherford's homes that were taken in the late 1940s and early-mid 1950s. There are over 4000 pictures in this collection, so we had never found a way to share them with the public as an exhibit. During the start of the pandemic, when the Museum was closed to the public, and fundraising events weren't being scheduled (but we still had operational bills to pay) we found a way to produce copies of these photos and place them in beautiful classical cherry wood frames with matting and glass. During the Christmas 2020 season, we offered these framed photos for sale to anyone who was interested in an older picture of a house they once lived in, or currently live in. The offering was a great success, as they were bought as gifts for family members and as housewarming presents for new owners. The success of this fundraiser has kept the Museum alive through these last few difficult years. While we have focused on the publicity of these photos for sale during the holiday season for the past two years, they continue to be available throughout the year to anyone who wants to buy one. All one needs to do is contact the Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if their house is in the collection, and then place their order for $50.00 each.
TIR: Is it possible to become a member of the Meadowlands Museum? If so, how does one become a member?
RR: The Meadowlands Museum does offer Memberships on an annual basis. There are several membership categories from the Student/Senior level at $15.00 per year up to our Gold Circle level of $1200 per year of $125 per month. Each Membership Level comes with different benefits. To learn more about becoming a member, one can click this link.
TIR: When is the museum open to visitors?
RR: The Meadowlands Museum, located at 91 Crane Avenue, Rutherford, NJ is open only on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm. Our limited hours per week are due to the fact that we are 100% volunteer-driven.
TIR: Are you currently looking for volunteers?
RR: If anyone is interested in volunteering to help the Meadowlands Museum, we would love to hear from you. You need not be a history major, but just have an interest in preserving history. We have an ongoing need for volunteers with diverse interests and skills. We can always use the help with the gardening of our property, communications and social media publicity support, finding grant opportunities, exhibit designs, and more. If you have a background in something that you think might help our efforts, please let us know. Volunteers can put in as much time as they want, even an hour or two per week.