Our Docents Dish on their Favorite Exhibits, Gold Rush Appeal, and…Mansplainers!

The James Wilson Marshall House is a beloved landmark, maintained solely by the Lambertville Historical Society. The museum is open and staffed from May to October, Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm, for extended hours during Shadfest and Winterfest, and by special request.

The museum docents are volunteers and Lambertville residents. Three of them–Kate Dunn, Fred Eisinger and Liz Riegel–discussed the experience.

Tell us about the docent activity and your participation.

FE: Jeff McVey invited me to become a docent in 2008 and showed me the ropes. In subsequent years, I helped Kate and Liz come aboard. We belong to a long line of Marshall House docents—for example, one Sunday docent was Barbara Stires, who descended from the Pidcocks, a prominent local family.

Fred Eisinger, Liz Riegel and Kate Dunn.

What do you enjoy about being a docent?

KD: I like to assemble a group of visitors and spellbind them about Lambertville and the Gold Rush. Most of the visitors are delightful–one couple returned to give me a cup of coffee, a very nice surprise.

FE: Sharing information about Lambertville is gratifying. Visitors are engaged by our short talks. I like to emphasize the industrial history here.

LR: I love the visitors and I enjoy spending time in the Marshall House. It’s a peaceful, historic environment.

What surprises visitors? 

LR: They are amazed there were so many kinds of factories within a few blocks.

KD: It’s a funny thing: some people say, “Gosh, it’s such a small house,” while others say, “It’s such a big house.” I think it’s just right for an old house.

FE: Some people just stroll in, because the door was open, and are surprised to find that this old house is actually a museum. And they are surprised by the Gold Rush connection.

What should people know about the museum that they probably don’t?

FE: The pianoforte in the parlor was used in the White House during Grover Cleveland’s presidency [1885–89 and 1893–97].

KD: We have a photo of Lady Bird Johnson during her visit to Lambertville as First Lady. It is a rare image because she adamantly disliked being photographed in profile.

Kate Dunn displays a photo album of the “Pumpkin Flood.”

How many visitors are there?

KD: On a busy day, we may have 30-40 visitors.

LR: It depends on the weather and what else is going on in town.

FE: In 2016, there were approximately 1,270 visitors. They typically stay between 5-30 minutes.

Where do visitors come from?

FE: They mainly come from all parts of New Jersey and from Bucks County. We see a few locals. When they do visit, a typical comment is, “I’ve walked by hundreds of times and this is my first time inside.”

LR: I love it when locals bring guests from out of town–that’s town pride. Schoolchildren genuinely love the house – it’s “fun history” for them.

KD: There are quite a few visitors from Europe and Asia.

Have you learned anything about Marshall House from visitors?

KD: Two years ago, a man recognized the banister as the work of Philip Marshall—James Marshall’s father, a skilled carpenter. He was restoring his home in the Marshall’s Corner area of Hopewell Township, reinstalling the oldest banister, and noticed it matches the banister here. Another man told me, “I took second grade with the nuns right here in the parlor.” I believe it was a fond memory for him.

LR: Some visitors have told me about Alice Narducci, because they knew her personally. In addition to her historical activities in Lambertville, she was a seamstress who made Halloween costumes every year for children.

Fred Eisinger and the 1883 map of Lambertville.

FE: Two women told me they cleaned this house when it was a convent [from 1882 – 1964] and described the location of the kitchen and their understanding that the Marshall House and the adjacent convent building were not connected.

Tell us about your favorite room / furniture / exhibit.

KD: I adore the album of the “Pumpkin Flood” of October 1903, so called because the harvest of pumpkins was swept out into the river. I believe the photos were taken with a Kodak Brownie, the inexpensive camera of the era.

FE: I have a few. The illustrated 1883 map of Lambertville—the exhaling smokestacks were a sign of prosperity for the mapmaker. The painting of Holcombe House, the only local place verified by the Library of Congress to have hosted George Washington—we have a copy of the invoice from the owner, John Holcombe, that is on file at the Library. And a yearly tax bill from 1900 for $5.25.

Liz Riegel and the collection of James Marshall ephemera.

LR: I love the cabinet of ephemera and collectibles related to James Marshall and the Gold Rush. Wonderful kitsch!

What do visitors ask you about?

LR: Some ask, “Where was the Marshalls’ kitchen?”

FE: Well, we do get periodic requests from groups that investigate the paranormal.

KD: The house is not haunted, as far as I can tell. Perhaps the nuns prayed away all the ghosts.

LR: There are certain visitors who want to lecture all present about the history and architecture—and “out-docent” the docent. They are always men.

KD: Mansplainers!

FE: I’ve never experienced that.

LR: Because you’re a man! [Laughter.]

What do you do when there are no visitors?

FE: Oh, there’s usually someone popping in.

KD: There is often some administrative work that can be done.

LR: I’ll browse the reading materials and the exhibits.

Final thoughts? 

KD: There was a very young girl who visited with her parents and enjoyed hearing about the six-year-old James Marshall. After she toured the upstairs, she came down and asked me, “Where is the little boy?” She thought that he lives here now. In a sense, he does.

For more information about the James Marshall House Museum, visit this page and, of course, visit the museum at 60 Bridge Street.

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A Conversation with Lambertville’s Tour Guides (Continued)

Following is the second part of our conversation with tour guides Kate Breuning, Loren Hurwitz, Jeff McVey and Lou Toboz.

Loren Hurwitz leading a tour. Photo by Rick Epstein, Hunterdon County Democrat

Do longtime Lambertville residents participate or comment?

LH: I’ve had residents come outside and embellish my stories when they hear me leading a tour by their homes. And I have had descendants of the Lamberts take the tour.

JM: They often add important information. From time to time, we’re invited into residents’ yards during a tour.

KB: Once I was leading a group by the Matthews House, the yellow home north of City Hall, and the owners arrived and let us tour the first floor.

Tell us about your favorite landmarks.

LT: My neighbors’ house on George and Coryell Streets is wonderful to study because of the additions in different styles over the years.

KB: City Hall on N. Union Street was originally built as a mansion for the Holcombe family. Then it became a Men’s Club. Later, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the building held City Hall, the Police Department, Library and the Jail—all at the same time. In Sheridan Park, I point out that the cannon was used at the Battle of Vicksburg. On the monument, the first three names of the war dead who are memorialized were brothers. How terrible must that have been for the family!

JM: Marshall House is probably my favorite landmark. It’s one of the oldest Federal homes in town.

Lou Toboz (left) leading a tour. Photo by Mike Menche

Any interesting comments or anecdotes? 

LH: One of the most interesting tours was the one I did, in French, for the parents of one of my students at Princeton University.  My French is far from strong, so I asked a friend to come along to translate.  She used the self-guided tour cards I developed as support for dates, etc.  She liked it so much that she has asked me to do it again, for some of her relatives from Luxembourg.

KB: People are amazed that the Hunt & Faherty Law Office on Delaware Avenue was in fact built in 1933 as a law office, not primarily as a residence (though the second floor was an apartment). It was designed by Margaret Spencer, one of the first female practicing architects in the United States and a graduate of MIT. And there is the 1860 Victorian home on Jefferson and George Street that was built by Gershom Lambert, who then added its distinctive tower in 1884. It was eventually purchased by William Smith, owner of the hairpin factory that went out of business in the 1920’s when women began bobbing their hair. Later, the house was inhabited for many years by a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer—she had a fantastic costume collection.

LT: One woman said her grandmother supplied food to the prisoners in the old jail. Another said her grandfather had been a 12-year-old boy entrusted with stoking the former Episcopal Church’s furnace and, due to inexperience, he accidentally started the fire that burned the Church down.

What do people ask you about during the tour?

KB: Some people ask, “Where do the people who live here work?” as if it’s a mystery! I tell them a lot of residents work right here in town, where we have a number of businesses, or in Trenton, Princeton, Flemington, Bucks County—even Philadelphia or New York City. Of course, many people these days work remotely from home, too.

JM: People are fascinated with floods and fires that have occurred here. And a common question is, “What are the taxes here?”

LT: There is a fascination with change over time in both working and living, which is so evident in Lambertville.

Final thoughts?

LH: Recently, I was walking down the aisle at The Home Depot in Princeton when I heard someone say, “There goes the Lambertville Tour Guide.” That was pretty cool.

JM: At the end of the tour, people want to live here. Now that is a rewarding reaction!

For more information about the guided walking tour, visit this webpage.

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A Conversation with Lambertville’s Tour Guides

The guided walking tour of Lambertville is a popular, informative, delightful stroll through one of New Jersey’s most picturesque towns, and a longtime signature event of the Lambertville Historical Society.

Jeff McVey leads a tour.

In the 1980’s Yvonne Warren, a Coryell Street resident, along with Edward “Bud” Carmody, formalized tours that incorporated local history, architecture, culture and colorful community lore. The content was so rich that at one time Yvonne conducted a 10-part tour. Around 1990, the tours began to be conducted regularly. Passing the baton to others, Yvonne shared her knowledge and created a comprehensive set of more than 100 pages of notes. In 2002, Polly Dorman condensed the notes and added her own into a reference book. Both Yvonne’s and Polly’s compilations are still used by our guides today.

Photo courtesy of Kate Breuning.

The tour is held on the first Sunday of the month from April to November, and on demand for groups as well. The current guides are all volunteers and Lambertville residents. Four of them–Kate Breuning, Loren Hurwitz, Jeff McVey and Lou Toboz–recently shared their thoughts about the activity. The other two guides are Lauren Braun-Strumfels and Fred Eisinger.

What do you enjoy about the walking tour?

KB: Sharing both the history and the spirit of Lambertville, and what it’s like to live here.

JM: Sharing enthusiasm of our town’s history and its possibilities.

LH: I like meeting new people and “showing off” the Lambertville they may not know.

LT: I enjoy meeting people from all over the U.S. and abroad, including Europe and Asia.

What do people get out of the tour?

JM: They see beautiful buildings and gardens.

KB: I like to bring out the cultural history and discuss the families that lived here, as well as their homes.

LH: I usually ask what people are interested in and then adjust the tour content accordingly. Typically, I discuss more history than architecture but sometimes I focus on industry, or sports, or the canal and railroad.

What surprises people about the walking tours?

LT: People are impressed when we meet and talk to neighbors while we’re in the middle of a tour. They are pleasantly surprised by the genuine small-town community here.

LH: People are surprised that the tours even exist! While walking around, I’ll see people with the city map, or looking at the map like the one outside the Marshall House, and ask them if I can help them find something and tell them about the tours. Sometimes, when I see people taking photographs, I’ll ask them if they know what they are looking at and if I can perhaps describe the scene. Many do request a description.

KB: People don’t really know what to expect from Lambertville. If it’s their first time visiting, they’ll say, “There really were factories here?”

JM: Just about every grand house in Lambertville at one time was deserted and derelict—and then restored. One particularly beautiful old mansion on Jefferson and N. Union Street was a church community center for a while.

What route do you take?

JM: The guides each take different routes and we continually update our own routes. We adapt on the fly due to traffic, weather, or the group’s interests. I’ve also conducted reserved tours of the canal, river and bridge, as well as historical, business-oriented tours.

LH: Generally, I follow the same path, but am very aware of people’s ability to walk or stand or deal with the heat, or cold, and will adjust accordingly.

KB: We tend to stay between Bridge Street and Perry Street. There is so much to see.

What is the tour size? 

KB: It ranges from one person to as many as 60-70 for special groups.

JM: The typical size is 5-10.

 What is the tourist/resident mix on a tour?

JM: Roughly 75% tourists and 25% locals.

LT: We once had a group from the Gold Rush area of California who wanted to see the home of Lambertville’s James Marshall, who of course discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill.

Part Two of this discussion to follow. 

For more information about the guided walking tour, visit this webpage.

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2015 Narducci Awards

2015 Narducci Awards

After its recent Autumn House Tour, the Lambertville Historical Society bestowed its prestigious Narducci Award on a homeowner whose  efforts in preservation and restoration are considered significant.  The LHS board of trustees unanimously adopted the award committee’s recommendations.  The 2015 committee included Irene Rudolph (chair), Lou Toboz, Mark Weinstein and Fred Eisinger.

George Evans receives the Narducci Award plaque from members of the award committee.

George Evans receives the Narducci Award plaque from members of the award committee.

This year’s recipient was Helen Petitt George Evans who undid the mid-20th century “improvements” to his 32 North Union Street commercial property by restoring showroom display windows to their original configuration, replacing the missing “Grand Depot” tile work at the entry and replicating the original 19th century copper canopy over the sidewalk. While only considering the ground floor exterior, the award committee also noted the return of the grand staircase and skylight to the interior space.

G. Evans Ltd on N. Union St. (left); the Taylor residence on Delaware Ave. (right).

G. Evans Ltd on N. Union St. (left);
the Taylor residence on Delaware Ave. (right).

The other awardees were Bill & Rene Taylor who have beautifully maintained and sensitively restored their home with recent painting and porch replacement.  At the corner of Delaware Avenue and N. Main Street, it is an often-seen improvement to the Lambertville cityscape.

Bill and Rene Taylor happily accept their Narducci Award from the award committee.

Bill and Rene Taylor happily accept their Narducci Award from the award committee.

The Historical Society established the Alice Narducci Preservation awards in 1996 in honor of the founding society president who played a key role in saving the Marshall House from demolition.  The award, a bronze plaque, recognizes historical preservation of a structure’s exterior, restoration of a building to its original architectural integrity, or a combination.

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2013 Year in Review

2013 Year in Review

 Lambertville Historical Society / James Wilson Marshall House Museum

 The Marshall House Museum was open and staffed from May through October, for Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4pm.  This 1816 facility is maintained solely with LHS funds and all proper documents, bills and tax accounts were filed.  

The Museum was also open for extended hours for Shadfest Weekend in April and Winterfest Weekend in January, and by special request.

2013 Museum attendance (counted) was approximately 1660 visitors, up from 1460 in 2012.

For 2013 the Lambertville Historical Society, a non-profit, had four Officers and ten Trustees for 14 total voting.  An Advisory Board (non-voting) had 8 members.  We have a full slate for the 2014 Board of Trustees for election at our annual membership meeting of Jan. 19th, 2014.

Paid memberships total 217 and this reflects an astounding 82 new memberships due, in large part, to a successful, targeted membership drive in early 2013.  Since many memberships are couples, and some are family memberships, the actual count of total members is about 318.

We continue to look at ADA accessibility issues regarding the Marshall House Museum and have a dedicated committee.  Our public lectures, our receptions and our events are currently held at accessible sites. We have made professional connections for signing interpretation as needed.

We received a major competitive grant of $6632 from the State of New Jersey, Department of State, Historic Trust, for General Operating Funds for a much-needed updating of our office computer hardware and software and other technologies.  We have also applied for a grant to professionally evaluate our Marshall Museum displays and develop an improved Heritage Tourism plan, including ADA components.

As part of on-going care for the Marshall House Museum, repairs were made to the roofing drainage and downspouts and to the bathroom utilities. The landscaping was improved and cleaned and pachysandra was added replacing crawling weeds. A period Sheridan-style sofa was purchased for the collection for the front parlor. 

Community Programs and Services

 Our 2013 Annual Membership Meeting on Jan. 20th featured Fred Eisinger who presented a talk entitled “Going Places: A Brief History of Transportation in Lambertville.”  Attendance was about 80 people – open to the public, free and accessible.

Guided historical town tours were available 1st Sundays, June through October and for Shadfest & Winterfest. Several additional custom town tours were given. Five tour leaders participated in the years’ tours. For Shadfest we also operated a booth with historical information and games.

On January 26th  an auction and reception was held at the Rago Arts and Auction Center for the 30 en plein air paintings done live during the 2013 House Tour. Part of the proceeds benefits the Lambertville Historical Society. Approximately 120 people were in attendance.

On April 21st, our former President, Sharon Bishaha, presented an illustrated talk on her new book “In the Beacon Light, Lambertville New Jersey, from 1860 to 1900. The talk was free and accessible.

We co-sponsored with Janet Hunt the 32nd Annual Coryell Gallery / Lambertville Historical Society Art Show, at the Beck Gallery and Academy during February and March, and hosted a Member’s Opening and then a Chamber of Commerce reception.

Our Summer Membership Social Hour at Kalmia Clubhouse was held June 23rd with about 82 members and guests in attendance.  Free and accessible.

With our highly successful 2013 Membership Drive, we held a new member cocktail party on May 18th to meet and greet the new members and talk of our programs and mission.

Board and Members prepared and sold a 2nd Annual December Holiday CD with original songs from musicians of the community.  Community CD-release parties were held at the YMAC and at the Methodist Church. Sales were excellent with proceeds to LHS.

We conducted a summer educational event for children of the Lambertville Academy.

Our Annual Historic Lambertville House Tour on October 20, 2013, included 7 homes, 2 history museums, a historic church and a historic firehouse, a historic B&B, plus the City Hall mansion and a new arts center in a historic barn. Ticket sales were strong at 800. Approximately 120 volunteers were involved and an 85-page program book was prepared. The tour, our major fundraiser, was a financial success with much local news coverage and great participation by local businesses as sponsors and purchasers of tour book ads. Regional artists were present at the house sites and painted en plein air. These paintings will be sold with part of the proceeds to benefit the Lambertville Historical Society at a show and reception on February 1, 2014 at the Rago Art & Auction Center.

Two LHS Narducci Awards for historical preservation and restoration were presented in 2013.

Approximately 40 private requests were made for historical information regarding family or old town businesses. Information and images, where possible, were supplied. Topics included:

  • As part of a program to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lambertville -New Hope Bridge in 2014, a film is being prepared that includes our archival images and narration.
  • Multiple inquiries were answerer concerning the history and family of James Marshall.
  • Images for a new book on Route 29, now a Scenic Byway, were supplied.
  • Images of interest to the D&R Canal Staff were supplied.
  • Images and information were supplied for a new book on covered bridges in New Jersey.
  • Several people inquired about the Kohl Brewery and properties.
  • Several inquiries of the Lambertville Rubber Company and Snagproof boots were answered.

New donations to the collection included the Yvonne Warren archives. Yvonne was a noted volunteer, leader and friend of LHS over 4 decades. The materials will be added to our archives and provide a rich history of town sites and buildings. Additional donations from others included: printed materials on the Coryell Family; a large Holcombe photo album; a 1930’s local autograph book; an antique grammar text; a large-format image of George Green and documentation on his Lambertville life and career. 

Seven historic site plaques were purchased from LHS by town residents for their homes or businesses; dozens of historical register sheets on homes were given to requesters.

We continue to be active on Facebook and Twitter and our website features an interactive map, an active calendar and historical and membership information.  

For 2013, four editions of the LHS newsletter were published and sent to members and friends with stories of local history, items regarding James Wilson Marshall and news of member events.

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Musicians: Participate in our Holiday CD!

Q. How can you help out the Lambertville Historical Society and the James Marshall House Museum and get lots of exposure through local CD sales and a release party?

A. Donate a traditional or original holiday song to a sampler that will extend Holiday Greetings from Lambertville! Announcing the Lambertville Historical Society’s inaugural Holiday Sampler CD. Jeff Kline, The Lifters and other local acts are expected to contribute a song.

 September 30 deadline to sign up (and there are limited spaces). Email Mike Menche, mike@michaelmenche.com, the following information or any questions:

• Contact name, email address and phone

• Name of Group or Artist

• Connection to Lambertville (live here, work here, etc.). We’ll favor Lambertville residents.

• Holiday song you’d like to contribute (we’ll avoid duplicates and let you know)

More info to follow about this exciting project.

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