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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.