Restoring Lambertville’s Old Jail

Steps are underway to restore Lambertville’s old stone jail in picturesque Mary E. Sheridan Park, between the gazebo and The Kalmia Club. The Lambertville Historical Society is working with the City of Lambertville on the restoration, and we seek help and ideas from the community to best preserve and utilize the building. If you are interested in assisting our efforts or want to share memories of the jail or the fire department on the second floor, visit this page.

This past Spring, members of the Lambertville Historical Society and the Masonic Lodge of Lambertville met with Mayor Dave Del Vecchio and architect Michael Burns to discuss the possibility of restoring the jail, which the City owns. Since the jail was closed in the late 1960’s, the building has been used by Public Works for storage, closed to the public. Significant damage to the roof required tarp covering that has been in place for several years. The interior has suffered.

Mayor Del Vecchio and the City agreed to replace the slate roof and repair or replace the soffit, including the project with historic renovations of City Hall and the Justice Center. The roof replacement will begin shortly and is expected to conclude in October. Subsequently, the historical society will clean out the contents that are not historic and are easily discarded. We aim to create a plan for the jail’s ongoing restoration and future.

Inspections of the interior demonstrated the uniqueness of the structure and the challenges of restoration. In a metal-walled cell hangs a board with two headers: Do Not Release and Release. The calendar reads May 1971. To access the second floor, you must mount the exterior stairs; there is no internal staircase. The floor is compromised. Upstairs there are two large tanks, one of which may have fed air to the siren that was painfully familiar to many residents for years. On a desk sits a dust-covered device evidently used for transmitting emergency messages.

Old jails hold a certain appeal to residents and tourists. Ours is centrally located in a public park, making it a prime candidate for preservation. Moreover, there are few old jails in the area still standing and accessible. In the 1870’s, Lambertville’s jail housed itinerant workers—so many that residents complained in The Beacon. Much more research is required to appreciate the jail’s and the fire department’s places in our local history. We invite you to contribute to the building’s restoration and use. If you think it worthwhile, visit this page.

Main floor, used for storage


Metal cell


Cell management: Do Not Release / Release

Second floor, fire department

Emergency message device

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Steve Meserve on Shad Fishing, Lambertville’s Venerable Hobby

“History, family, environment and community” motivate Steve Meserve and his crew to fish for shad each year. On May 12 Steve hosted an LHS group on Lewis Island. In the iconic cabin, he reviewed Lambertville’s best-known tradition and his family’s stewardship of the shad fishery over 130 years. Afterward we watched a late-season haul.

Steve explained that the American shad is mainly an East Coast fish that winters in Florida and summers in the Bay of Fundy. When a shad matures, aged 3-5, it migrates to its natal river to spawn in fresh water. It takes 4-6 weeks for shad to swim up the Delaware and spawn near the headwaters by Hancock, NY. It does not feed as it swims upriver. Shad season starts around late March and ends around late May.

Before the colonists came to the Delaware Valley, the Lenape caught shad in nets. The Holcombe’s and other settlers in the early 1700’s caught shad; Richard Holcombe founded the shad fishery on Holcombe Island (Lewis Island’s original name) circa 1771. This was the era of “the colonial open-river fishery, when the shad provided residents of the region one of their most important food sources,” writes historian Charles Hardy III.

Bill Lewis, Steve’s great-grandfather, took over the fishery in the late 1880s. At that time, shad fishing provided good work for a season: Bill earned as much money shad fishing for two months as he did the rest of the year as a carpenter, Steve said. In 1896 more than 10,000 shad were caught at the busy fishery, which had three shifts.

The southern point of Lewis Island was paved first with stone, then concrete, to ease the haul and packing of shad, which was loaded on truck or rail. Before the paving, laying the fish on the ground got them muddy and made them less appealing to buyers.

In 1918 the Lewis family bought the island. In 1930 they built the first footbridge. Due to flooding and wear, there have been more than 70 bridges built since then, according to Steve. In 1931 the Lewis family built a golf course, complete with lights. During the 1930’s, the island hosted summer recreation programs and swimming lessons for the town.

The house was built in 1933 for seasonal dwelling. From 1948-1955 the Lewis family lived there year-round. In 2018 the house will soon host a wedding and it will again be occupied permanently. The first cabin, which houses the gear, was destroyed in a 1936 flood. Several have been built since then, increasingly raised up by design.

In 1935 the shad population declined so sharply due to industrialization and pollution that the fishery was no longer profitable. Accountants told Fred Lewis, Bill’s son, it was essentially a “hobby.” Senses of tradition and community service supported the continuation of shad fishing, as they do today. In 1943 all the commercial fisheries on the Delaware, except the Lewis Fishery, closed due to the low shad population. In 1953 and in 1956, no shad were caught at all.

These days, during shad season Steve and his crew fish at 6:00 pm on weeknights and at 10:30 am on Saturdays. They respect an old blue law that prohibits fishing after 2:00 pm on Saturday and all day Sunday–it provides a day off. Evenings tend to be more successful. Shad like to swim at shadows’ edges near the banks.

Lewis Island is home to unusual trees and flowers, Steve said. The local bald eagle likes to perch on branches and look out over the Delaware. The “secret garden” in the middle of Lewis Island was created and maintained by the late Cathy Berg, who was active in many areas of Lambertville life.

The shad population is a sign of the river’s health. Steve shares data about the fishery’s hauls with several agencies, including the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife. Per Steve’s 5/12 report from our visit, “We ended up with 1 buck and 9 roe. We returned 3 and also had 3 carp [the largest fish in the photo below] and 1 quillback.”

That day the real haul for our LHS group was a richer appreciation of shad fishing on Lewis Island, a tradition that is synonymous with Lambertville. We thank Steve Meserve and his crew for their decades of dedication, custodianship, and community spirit.

Photos from our visit

Steve Meserve

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration – Part 3

Following is the last set of insights from artists participating in Plein Air Plus on March 10.

What is there about Lambertville and the Delaware Valley’s historic character that inspires you as a painter?

History and character of the area. I feel like I am doing paintings that are more meaningful and recognizable; a “since of place.”

Richard Hoffman 

The artistic events, the hustle bustle of the town, the friendliness of the people, and the natural beauty of Lambertville and the Delaware River area inspire me as a painter.

Pat Proniewski

Living in New Hope and the beauty of our area is perfect for a landscape painter. The beauty of Bucks County and Hunterdon County is my primary source of inspiration and my painting locations are all within a 10-mile radius. I look for everyday locations and examples of nature people often fail to see in their daily travels.

Roy Reinard 

Lambertville reminds me quite a lot of my hometown of Manasquan in Monmouth County at the coast of central New Jersey. It too is full of history and much of my childhood was spent outdoors near the ocean and surrounding waterways. Lambertville has the same feel to me.

Megan Lawlor

I’m continually inspired by all the various types of architecture the spans the decades, the quaint shops, restaurants and cafes and their unique signage. And with all the changing seasons, I’m always getting a fresh look at the area. Lambertville and the surrounding river towns bring me great memories and joy that I like to capture in paint.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

As a plein air landscape painter, I’m inspired by the wealth of landscapes–woodlands, streams, rivers, farm fields, gardens, hills and valleys– as well as the changes that come with the four seasons. The talented artists that live here generously share their art and inspire me to do better.

Jeff Charlesworth 

Born in Cuba and raised in a city in northern NJ, I came to Hunterdon County because of my attraction to its open landscape its picturesque towns and boroughs filled with history and a small-town charm. Lambertville as a destination town today has a close-knit community that attracts artists and their viewers. When I was a young artist I thought about living near the Delaware Valley and creating my work there.

Aida Birritteri 

The river and the varied landscape entice my eye. I see so many possibilities for new compositions, capturing with color the changing light, and the serenity of this region.

David Sommers

The river and canals, the light, the charming and unique small towns full of interesting people, buildings and landscapes.

Susan Twardus Faith

I’m inspired by the rich artistic history of Lambertville and the Delaware Valley…to know that I am painting the same landscapes that artists of the New Hope School painted is incredible. I’m walking the same paths that they did and viewing the same beauty that they did.

Cindy Ruenes

We hope to see you at Plein Air Plus!

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration – Part 2

Today’s snowy weather would not have kept Edward Redfield, the renowned New Hope impressionist dedicated to plein air painting, indoors. He was known to stand for hours outside to paint his iconic wintry scenes. In advance of Plein Air Plus on March 10, we presented a quote by Redfield and asked for their perspectives.

Edward Redfield said: “What I wanted to do was go outdoors and capture the look of a scene, whether it was a barn or a bridge, but how it looked on a certain day. So I trained myself to set down what I saw all in one day, working sometimes eight hours or more. I never painted over a canvas again; I think it ruins them. Either you’ve got it the first time or you haven’t.”

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

I agree. Once I’ve finished the painting in plein air, it’s impossible to go back to try to capture the same essence on a different day, even if the time of day and weather are the same. The feeling that I have and the connection that I have to the painting on a particular day is unique and therefore, it can’t be recreated.

Cindy Ruenes

Actually, I like to rework my paintings. Oil is forgiving. What I layer on top can bring out new details that I missed the first time.

David Sommers

I love the process and end result of plein air painting. I rarely rework a plein air painting.  You’re immersed in a landscape and develop a response to the site and light at that time.  It can be difficult to recreate the same response later.

Jeff Charlesworth 

Edward Redfield was certainly an outstanding painter, but how you paint, how long, where and when is at the pleasure of the artist. Whether it takes an hour or a year, plein air or studio, the final painting should reflect, not just the scene, but the artist’s reason for painting it in the first place.

Susan Twardus Faith

I agree with Redfield. It is usually something fleeting which captures my eye when I decide to paint a scene and it is never the same twice. The more I paint outdoors, the more I can eliminate everything but the essentials elements of what I’m trying to interpret…it is very intuitive on some level. The more spontaneous, the better, once I’ve got everything quickly blocked in.

Megan Lawlor

For me, yes. I paint alla prima meaning paintings are done in usually one sitting. The paint is applied to the canvas wet into wet. Most of the mixing of colors is done on my palette and canvas. After the first sitting I will go back a second day for fine edits. It is a very spontaneous way to work.

Roy Reinard 

I used to agree with that thought, but now I’m freeing myself to be open to many ways of painting. I have recently painted over old paintings that I felt were no good, and I felt it quite liberating. Sometimes I gesso over them and start again or sometimes I just paint a new painting right on top, letting some of the old show through. The texture of the painting underneath can be a fun effect to work with. I do however agree with not fussing over a painting and trying to complete a painting in one day to stay with the same intention you set out with in the beginning. Depending on the size of the work of course. But I’m very deliberate when I put down brushstrokes, so I can capture feeling and movement.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

I don’t like to go back into my work once I have abandoned it and will set it aside until I can look at it again with a fresh eye.  With watercolor you can turn your paper and work again on the reverse side but adding too many layers of color will dullen the work and lose the intensity of the color.

Aida Birritteri 

I prefer a sunny outdoor scene with great shadows which allow the merging of colors in watercolor. Historic buildings, street scenes, covered bridges and landscapes are plentiful in the Lambertville area.

Richard Hoffman 

Plein air painting is an exciting and inspiring process.  It challenges the artist to work towards spontaneity.  However, I believe studio work to be just as valid.  Neither is superior and both practices enhance the other process.

Pat Proniewski

More of these artists’ comments will follow in a subsequent post.

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration

Plein Air Plus takes place March 10! In 2013 the Lambertville Historical Society launched this community-oriented fundraising event to draw upon one of the key themes that has defined the Delaware Valley for more than a century, namely art. Initially, it focused on painting en plein air (outdoors) and was tied to the House Tour: artists were asked to paint scenes of Lambertville the day of the Tour. In 2017, the geographic scope of the event was expanded to include the valley on both sides of the Delaware from Lambertville to Frenchtown. Studio art is now accepted in addition to plein air paintings—artists are encouraged to paint scenes of Lambertville the day of the House Tour, but they are free to paint whatever and whenever they wish, provided they draw inspiration from our region. These changes have attracted more diverse artwork, as can be seen by this year’s contributions. We asked the artists about their work and sense of history.

Does history play a role in your paintings? If so, how?

As a former picture framer and art restorer, I have worked on many of the works of the Pennsylvania Impressionists of the turn of the 20th century. Being that intimate with an artist’s work will certainly influence how you work. I have been inspired by the works of John Folinsbee, Fern Coppedge and Theresa Bernstein, to name a few for their choice of subjects, depicting the working class and backstreets of town, as well as their use of bold brush strokes, texture and colors.

Susan Twardus Faith

Yes, history plays a definite role. I am looking and searching with my work. Searching for a place to call home. As an immigrant, I am both bilingual and bicultural. I have not forgotten where I came from and I am searching to find my place in this world.

Aida Birritteri 

Yes, history does play a role in my paintings. One reason is the architecture. I am in awe of the stone constructed homes and large barns that grace our area. The other reason is that I also enjoy and feel proud living and working near Washington’s Crossing, which is full of history and is quite inspirational.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

The big names of the Pennsylvania Impression school have inspired me from the beginning of my art work.  I still look back at their work frequently.  (The Michener Museum in Doylestown can be a great source of inspiration.)  But I’m equally inspired by present day painters.

Jeff Charlesworth 

The rich artistic history of the New Hope Impressionists plays a huge role in my paintings.  I have learned from viewing their paintings and photos of their paintings and have tried to understand why they painted a particular place the way they did.

Cindy Ruenes

Yes, of course, I was exposed to so much art growing up. My parents took us often to New York to museums, galleries and shows. They were also avid readers so there were loads of books, magazines and newspapers to study from. I’ve always looked to history for inspiration and information!

Megan Lawlor

I enjoy painting in the historic areas of Bucks County for its obvious beauty, and feel especially lucky to be creating and exhibiting in this area previously established as an artistic community by the New Hope School Of Impressionists whose work I greatly admire. And to the degree that some of my subject matter records historic venues I would guess history plays a role in my work, although I don’t engage specifically in historic narratives.

Pat Proniewski

Yes, it provides more of a reason to paint an image that everyone can relate to and understand.

Richard Hoffman 

I like to paint landscapes that feature the natural elements of our area that have been here through time. Our river and streams, hills and mountains, fields and farms. I normally don’t pick a dominant formal point like, a famous building or object, but let the overall natural image speak for itself.

Roy Reinard 

It is the moment when the light and the shadows are optimal that draws me to paint a scene that is historic in nature. Historic structures and the tall trees that might surround them offer a unique aesthetic experience.

David Sommers

More of these artists’ comments will follow in subsequent posts.

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Touring Mount Hope’s Hillside with John Holly

In 1903 Sarah A. Gallagher, at the age of 81, published “Early History of Lambertville, N.J.” She concluded the work with a remarkable poem in which she contemplates the industrialization of her city “while resting on Mt. Hope’s green hillside.” With its view of the city beyond the headstones and memorials, the seven-acre Mount Hope Cemetery at Lambertville is still an appropriate spot to reflect on local history. Every day many residents traverse Mt. Hope, now restored after a period of neglect during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

John Holly, the cemetery’s president since 2001 (the first president was Mayor Samuel Lilly, M.D.), created the website that includes a map from the late 1800’s and burial records of more than 4,000 people. John gave us a tour, beginning at the northwestern entrance, where the terrain slopes steeply down toward Swan Street.


This is “Strangers Ground,” where the poor were buried in unmarked graves, with no caskets or records. We estimate 300 people were buried here over 80 years, beginning around 1848 when the cemetery was incorporated and its charter stipulated free burials for the poor. Mt. Hope was actually established in 1801 and there were burials here before 1848. The myrtle ground cover helps prevent erosion, as do the trees. Although there are no headstones, Strangers Ground is not an abandoned field—it is an integral part of the cemetery, and it must be protected. A fence and a sign about its significance would be welcome.

We start to walk up the hill.


This area is called Goat Hill. Goats were likely the original mowers here—the grass is the kind you would feed goats, a visitor from Johnstown, PA told me. We mow part of the grounds every day, as long as the grass is growing. Last year we mowed from April into November.

The first of Mt. Hope’s 14 “grand monuments” we see is the Boozer Bench. Ebenezer Boozer, who died in 1887, was reportedly a wealthy man who handed pennies to local children and lectured them about obedience, which the inscription on the bench emphasizes. Past that, there is the holding vault, where the dead were stored during the winter until they could be properly buried in springtime. The cemetery’s tallest monument is the Moore family obelisk, with an engraved tribute to “Charlie,” who died when he was 25. The Johnson family obelisk is massive, making one wonder how they hauled it up the hill. The Larison memorial is made of zinc. Asher Ege’s impressive monument reads in 1875 at the age of 43 he “died suddenly, yet prepared.” The Taylor mausoleum, built in 1900, features stained glass windows. I placed a contemporary sculpture between it and the grave of Jamie Fox, the prominent politician who died in 2017.

We look down the hill.


The cemetery is organized in an alphabetized grid of rows that were called “ranges and divisions.” There are intermediate aisles or “alleys” originally for horses and carriages—today we can use these spaces for new burial lots. Some of the lots still have intact copper piping that demarcates the space but makes mowing difficult. You see many shade trees here, which is unusual for a cemetery. Lots of ash trees and Norway maples.

We walk down the eastern side. 


JP Miller, who wrote “Days of Wine and Roses,” is buried here. A number of headstones feature the symbol of a chain link, which mark the interred as members of the Odd Fellows, the fraternal society very popular in the 1800’s. John Hart Ott’s headstone notes that his grandfather, John Hart, signed the Declaration of Independence. One gravesite is for a reputed witch who may have been exhumed—there is a faint pentagram on the stonework.

Erosion or vandalism have affected some of the lots, as you can see when the stones are toppled over or tilted. The cemetery doesn’t own the headstones—the families do—so we cannot correct them. Next to a black walnut tree, you can see the squirrels have used the nearby headstones as a table to crack the nuts. They have laid out the shells neatly, as well.

Four large birds walk to us.


These are the Guinea Fowl we keep here. They have a shed where they sleep. They are invaluable because they eat deer ticks, and we get a lot of deer. Other wildlife here includes groundhogs, skunks, foxes, and opossums. Years ago I saw a coyote, who snatched a Guinea Fowl. There have been many bear sightings, though I’ve never seen one.

We walk to the grave of Sarah Gallagher, who died in 1907, four years after writing her history of Lambertville, and had played and dreamed on these grounds before the canal and railroad were built. Another local historian and past president of the Lambertville Historical Society, Yvonne Warren, is buried up the hill. In touring Mt. Hope and seeing many familiar names of local families, you are reminded that a strong love of Lambertville transcends many generations. We thank John for the tour and his preservation of the cemetery.


I know what my headstone might say: “I certainly hope someone is mowing this grass.”

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Even More Holiday Memories from Lambertville Area Musicians

Sue Jaques



Musically, I grew up in the late ‘40s, 50s and 60s, so the holiday songs hard-wired into my brain are mostly from that period. My dad played his favorites on our “record player,” later a stereo, for as long as I can remember. He was a Big Band guy, came of age in the late 30’s, and loved Les Brown (I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm), Bing Crosby and Perry Como (I’ll Be Home for Christmas), Irving Berlin (White Christmas), and Andy Williams (It’s the most Wonderful Time of the Year), to name only a few.  Because he liked those songs and I heard them a million times, I like them too.

In our family, the radio was always on, especially WNEW and WOR (John Gambling’s morning show). I loved it when Milton Berle played Christmas songs on his uke.  I learned to harmonize from those radio songs. Later on, I sang hundreds of holiday songs in choirs and a cappella groups.

My absolute favorite holiday songs are: The Christmas Song (Mel Torme), Merry Christmas, Darling (The Carpenters), Baby, It’s Cold Outside, and O Holy Night.

Our choice this year, Hallelujah, is just a beautiful, rich song that feels a bit Christmas-y (or maybe religious-y) because of its biblical references (Samson & Delilah, David & Bathsheba). As Leonard Cohen said, “[The song] explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”  I’d like to think that Lambertville people get that.

Laurie Vosburg

Laurie Vosburg and the Fa La La La La’s

“Deck the Halls”

Most of my family weekends growing up were spent with other large, musical families. I am one of five siblings who, including my parents, are musicians. My soon to be 90-year-old father can still pick out his favorite songs, play harmonica and keep impeccable rhythm, when most days his mind is a tad foggy.  My mother and sister have been teaching the angels to play music for many years now, but the memories of our childhood music-filled weekends still ring strong. At any given time, friends and family would visit our farm house, most would bring an instrument, sing, tap their feet or play the spoons. Music would go into the night, sunrise was the cue for new beginnings and more music.

Music transcends all, it facilitates many emotions and brings people together. I can’t remember a time there wasn’t music in our house, and it was always live. My mother could whistle any song—you’d swear she was part canary! Back then, Pop played guitar as well, but his harmonica playing is his first love. He taught himself while he served in the US Army. Simple people, simple lives. Holidays were the best at our house!  Christmas especially! Music was key and the focus of our day. We spent half the day at home, and the other at my aunt and uncles, with their nine children. Three sisters married three brothers, so all of us were pretty close. At one time or another we all did and still play music together. Our family reunions are stellar! Each year the younger family members perform on a pallet stage in the middle of my cousins’ farm… just like when we were kids. To watch my children continue on with the love of music and the connection they too have with family is truly amazing. Holiday music brings the warm and fuzzy out, from Rocking Round the Christmas Tree, Deck the Halls, River, and Winter Wonderland just to name a few warm my heart every time I hear or play them.

I know I can speak for the musicians I currently play with, that music brought us together, has gotten us through tough times, and keeps us pretty sane when life is too busy, especially at this wonderful time of year. I love the “warm fuzzy” feeling when we all get together and can just put aside this crazy world and sing, harmonize and play music together. See you on the flipside! Merry Christmas from all of us past and present band members! So fun to be a part of the Lambertville Historical Society CD!

— Laurie, Kevin, Ben, Vern, Mike L, Chris, Sher and my brother from another mother–JBKline

Both Sue and Laurie will perform at our 12/13 concert from 7:30-10:00 pm at The Birdhouse Center for the Arts, 7 N. Main Street, Lambertville.

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More Holiday Memories from Lambertville Musicians

Our next fundraiser concert, showcasing the Lambertville area’s best musicians performing traditional and original holiday songs, is from 8-10 pm Wednesdsay, November 29, at Havana, 105 S. Main Street, New Hope. There is a $5 suggested donation. All proceeds benefit the historical society. The CD, “Season’s Greetings from Lambertville 2017” can be previewed and bought here.

We asked the artists about their memories of and thoughts about holiday music. Two of the performers at the upcoming concert at Havana responded as follows:

Pat Foran

“Wishing It Will be a Merry Christmas”

A Christmas Eve blizzard in 1966 left us 12 inches of snow in Lambertville for Christmas Day. It was the only Christmas we could use a sled (a brand new Flexible Flyer) as we walked in the middle of mostly unplowed South Main street to pull gifts and food to and from our aunt’s annual Christmas dinner. I believe the last time kids were able to sled down from the top of Swan Street from Cottage Hill was 1965, during a very cold stretch of winter. The police used to block off the highway and let people sled down the big hill from the top of Swan Street at Studdiford Street, traveling right into and across the highway. It’s still good to take time out to be with family during the holidays, passing on the tradition of reaching out to each other at least once per year. So, songs evoking memories of family, snow, and sledding or ice skating, are the ones I enjoy the most now.

My family household growing up was filled with music much of the time, and especially for the holidays. I remember the classics from recording stars like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams. I believe my favorite songs from the past were “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” I think my favorite song now is the “The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme, which Nat King Cole was famous for, but there is also a good recorded version by Mel Torme himself. A close second would be Lou Rawls’ Bluesy version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” followed by the classics, “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

Gary Cohen

The Back Porch Jugband

“Run Run Rudolph”

For me, the go-to albums every Christmas season since 2004 have been “James Taylor: A Christmas Album” and “James Taylor at Christmas.”  James Taylor has always provided the soundtrack for my life, and his mellow and meaningful interpretations of holiday standards are exemplary. If you are a James Taylor fanatic, his interpretations are definitive.

We will post reminiscences and reflections from other musicians soon. We hope to see you at Havana!

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Holiday Music Memories and Musings from our Fundraiser Musicians

For the sixth year, the Lambertville Historical Society is conducting a fundraiser that showcases the Lambertville area’s best musicians performing traditional and original holiday songs. There are 19 songs on the CD, “Season’s Greetings from Lambertville 2017,” which can be previewed and bought here. The contributors will perform their songs and others at three concerts. The first is from 2-6 pm this Sunday, November 19, at The Elks Lodge, 66 Wilson Street, Lambertville. There is a $5 suggested donation. All proceeds benefit the historical society.

We asked the artists about their memories of and thoughts about holiday music. Two of the performers at the upcoming concert at The Elks Lodge responded as follows:

Jane Paul

The Jane Paul Project

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

My Dad was a huge big band fan. He actually sang with a band in his youth and always told us the story of being at the Paramount Theater in New York in 1939 when the Benny Goodman Band came up out of the stage floor swinging. Radio was big in our house. We had WNEW playing American standards all day—it was family competition to “name that tune”—song, singer and band—within the first few notes.

Christmas music too was all about the standards. I remember singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in a church concert on a Sunday morning. It was very exciting because it was going to be broadcast on the local radio station. That morning, my mother had a medical issue that had to be dealt with immediately. So Dad took Mom to the doctor and sat in the car so he could hear me sing. He always said it was wonderful but of course, he was my Dad!

We are all shaped by our past and I still love all the great secular Christmas standards—many ironically written by Jewish composers. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and Livingston and Evans’ “Silver Bells” are two all-time favorites. But perhaps the most beautiful of all is a religious song, “Silent Night.” I remember the annual Christmas Eve service at church when the lights were turned off and we all sang that song by candlelight. Magical.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has always been one of my favorite holiday standards, but I think that I now understand it better. It has been beautifully recorded by so many great talents but in my opinion, no one really captured what I think the song is truly about. It’s a very sad song about impending loss. The lyric encourages the listener to live in the present as there may not be a future. The original lyrics were so very dark that they were changed for the film, “Meet me in St Louis” to lyricist Hugh Martin’s chagrin. So, on this year’s CD we offer our take on it—very simple and understated and sad—as I feel it best reflects the intention of the lyric.

Tom Florek

Santa P and the Elves

“Nevertheless, It’s Christmas”

Whether you’re a kid or a kid inside, it’s hard not to fall in love with the recording of the barking dogs singing “Jingle Bells.”  I have always marveled that an idea as radical as “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All” could become so powerful that people would need to be distracted from it by unrestrained mercantilism. I see the commercial nature of the holidays as a beautiful reaction to the fear that “Peace on Earth” cannot ever be achieved. Black Friday is our culture’s meltdown, it’s the way we collectively say, “We need a hug.”  The barking dogs don’t care about mercantilism, they never did.  They are singing pure processed joy.  They have nothing to offer us but the hug that we need.

We will post reminiscences and reflections from other musicians soon. We hope to see you at The Elks Lodge!

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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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