At this point I know someone is out there thinking this is going to be a post about Bruce Springsteen but you’d be wrong. Believe it or not, there’s something else in Freehold that deserves National attention (I never really liked Springsteen all that much anyway).
Just a few blocks off Main Street (yep, it’s that kind of town), in what appears to be a sleepy residential neighborhood lies the true gift of Freehold to the world: the Monmouth County Historical Association. The Association houses a collection of furnishings, documents, and artifacts from the area the bring history to life. Additionally, they maintain and operate five historic houses. Yet I’m sure few who read this have ever heard of the place.
One of the most interesting (to me) facts about the Association is that Mrs. J. Amory Haskell left a decent portion of her collection to the museum. For those who are unfamiliar with Mrs. Haskell, she began collecting in the late 1800’s and continued collecting until her death in 1942. She was friendly with Henry Francis duPont, the collector who founded Winterthur in Delaware. Her collection was so vast at the time of her death, Parke-Bernet began auctioning over objects in April of 1944 and continued holding additional auctions through February of 1945. In the end over 7000 objects were sold from her collection but there were still more.
In addition to contributing to the Association’s library, fine arts collection and collection of furnishing, Mrs. Haskell donated Marlpit Hall which was built around 1756. She was a pioneer amongst collectors in that she purchased, restored and furnished Marlpit Hall with the intention of donating it to the Association to be used as a museum. All this was done in the 1930’s, long before women pioneered anything.
Mrs. Haskell’s donations are only a part of the collection at the Association. On a recent visit I had the privilege of looking over some excellent pieces of furniture as well as a tremendous exhibit of silver, all with Monmouth County histories.
One of the first pieces that caught my eye was this secretary. Naturally I inquired about the possibilities of a secret compartment. After a little probing we managed to find one right where you’d expect it to be: behind the prospect door. Don’t go probing yourself, however, since it could cause you to be ejected from the museum.
Looking through the rest of the exhibit hall, it was hard to focus on one thing. All the pieces were spectacular. Featured were several pieces by Fenwick Lyell, a Monmouth County cabinetmaker. Also on display was his portrait and London Price book.
In another gallery upstairs, there was an exhibit of silver by nine Monmouth County silversmiths. If you’re interested in furniture, you really need to study silver forms. The silversmith of the 17th and 18th Centuries were ahead of the cabinetmakers when it came to the latest fashions. Given Monmouth County’s proximity to New York City, the silversmiths were first rate. It wasn’t uncommon for a young man to apprentice in New York before returning to Monmouth County to establish his business. Many of the Monmouth silversmiths traded with silversmiths and merchants in New York.
One of the coolest permanent exhibits is on the battle of Monmouth. The battle took place on June 28, 1778. The Cont
inental army, under the command of George Washington, attacked the British army as the left Monmouth on their way back to New York.
At some point during the battle, this cannon ball became firmly lodged in a tree. You can see this and many other interesting and educational artifacts at the Monmouth County Historical Association. The museum and library are open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am until 4pm. The historic houses are open May through September but only certain days of the week. Be sure to check out the website or call the museum at 732-462-1466 for more information about specific hours and exhibitions.