UNION COUNTY, NJ – “Four Centuries in One Weekend: A Journey Through Union County History” took place on Saturday October 16 and Sunday October 17 at more than 30 historic sites in Union County. At each site, guests received passport stamps, ensuring a true Union County time travel experience. This was felt by the guests who visited the Liberty Hall Museum, which is part of the Kean University campus, and the William Miller Sperry Observatory, on the Cranford campus of Union County College.
Guests had the opportunity to tour the Liberty Hall Museum, a 50-room Victorian mansion housing historic artifacts documenting more than 225 years of American life, according to the passport describing the historic site. The grounds of the house include beautiful French gardens, a brick stable and other buildings. Liberty Hall was originally built for New Jersey’s first elected governor, William Livingston, who received guests including George and Martha Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Eventually, the Kean family took ownership of the property and donated it to the Liberty Hall Foundation in 1997.
Kayla Doyle, Acting Director of Collections and Educator at the Liberty Hall Museum, one of the property’s tour guides, spoke about the event across the county and discussed the importance of the house.
âToday we are doing the last day of the ‘Four Centuries in One Weekend’ event. Yesterday we had it too and we had a pretty good turnout. We had about a hundred people, and we were delighted to present our house, âsaid Doyle on Sunday, October 17th. âFour Centuriesââ¦ allows people to visit other historic places across cities. We are here at Union. People stop here and then can go to Elizabeth or Hillside to visit another place which is great as it promotes everything that is happening in each place and allows people to learn one. little more on the story, and teachers use it as an extra credit assignment. It also allows people to explore and venture.
âThe house has been here since 1774,â she continued. âWe have had a lot of families over the generations. Originally it was Livingston’s house. However, many Livingston kids weren’t happy moving to the middle of nowhere in New Jersey. The British ransacked the house in search of Livingston, as he was a traitor and supported the Patriots. Unfortunately, when Livingston passed away, his son, Henry, sold the house in 1798 and it went to three outside owners from the Kean and Livingston families. Fortunately, a woman named Susan Livingston Kean Niemcewicz asked her son to buy it back in 1811. About 150 years later, Mary Alice Barney Kean wanted to convert this house into a museum. She was very attached to history, as she allowed private tours, was a storyteller and organized intimate snacks. We’re just continuing the legacy she had. I love how you can see America’s change right in this house.
With an interesting mix of formal and informal, the perfect garden located on the grounds of the house is called the Labyrinth and was created by Lord Bolingbroke of England. Guests were able to explore the well-tended garden, which is shaped like two angels.
Doyle explained how they were able to tackle the event this year.
â(The event) was a little overwhelming, because we haven’t seen crowds like this in a long time,â Doyle said. âDue to the pandemic things were a bit slow, but with this event on Saturday afternoon we had at least 20 people on each visit from noon to 4 pm. We had to have two tour guides, in order to split it up. So, it was overwhelming, but we were thrilled to see the turnout we got. We were amazed at the number of people who came. I liked it because people could see the gardens. They got to see the hard work of our gardeners. They got to see the hard work of our educators and, also, they got to see what was going on here at Liberty Hall. I am happy that we participate in this event every year.
Tour guide and high school history teacher William Corman also spoke about the gem that Liberty Hall is to the Union County community.
âWe give people a sense of what this house was like and the history of this house,â Corman said on Sunday, Oct. 17. a lot of people come here and get excited about the history and learn something new. A lot of people don’t know Liberty Hall exists, and it’s kind of hidden from Morris Avenue. It’s really nice to see so many people come here and take an interest in it.
Elsewhere, guests had the opportunity to explore the William Miller Sperry Observation, located on the Cranford campus of Union County College. According to a brochure promoting the historic site, the William Miller Sperry Observatory began with an endowment of $ 150,000 to Union County College by Mrs. Frederick W. Beinecke and her son, William. It was consecrated on May 21, 1967, in honor of his father, William M. Sperry. The observatory houses a 10-inch refractor and a 24-inch Ritchey-Chretien reflector. Founded on November 14, 1949, Amateur Astronomers Inc. took up residence at the Sperry Observatory; with over 200 members, the IAA is one of the largest astronomy clubs in the United States. The club supports a wide range of free functions in the service of the UCC, its members and the general public.
Robert Ruggiero, who heads the solar observation program, described the historical view and significance of the two telescopes housed by the observatory.
âOn Saturday we had 40 people, so we’ll see what happens today,â Ruggiero said on Sunday October 17th. âThe building dates back to the 1960s. One of the telescopes was opened in 1972 and the other telescope we bought. It was also remade and reconfigured into a different telescope than the one before, which was of better quality, and that was a few years ago.
âThe two telescopes we have are a 10 inch refractor, an F15 under a dome, and it’s the 24 inch Cassegrain telescope, which is a mirror reflector telescope that uses mirrors instead of lenses,â a- he continued. âIn terms of what’s better, in general, the larger the diameter of the main element, the more you can see in deep space and the more detail you can see. The bigger, the betterâ¦ depending on the weather conditions. Sometimes bigger plays against you because it magnifies the problems in the atmosphere. There is in fact no such thing as a perfect telescope. It all depends on the size of the telescope and its location. Most of the large telescopes are found on top of mountains, because there is less atmosphere to look at and less disturbance, so you can get a better picture, and also, in dark areas where there is no light pollution, so you can see a lot more in space. “
Seeing an influx of visitors for this event, Ruggiero spoke about what hasn’t changed over the years and mentioned how this experience continues to have an impact.
âYou have different limbs coming and going,â Ruggiero said. âWe have a core group that’s still there and it’s pretty much the same. People are moving and people are retiring, and we have college students coming to join us. It’s just a normal flow that you get with an organization.
âIt’s good to see people wanting to get a better education in what’s out there. It’s exciting to see people learn and get excited about what they see, because it’s one thing to see a picture in a book and quite another to see it on TV. But there is a human factor that comes into play when you see it visually for yourself. You can’t put a price on it.
Instrument Qualifications President Alan Witzgall, former President and Vice-President of the IAA, is currently training members in the use of the two telescopes. Witzgall spoke about the observatory’s place in the âFour Centuries in One Weekendâ event.
âYesterday we hosted around 40 to 50 people,â Witzgall said on Sunday, October 17. âBut it’s a little less now, because they have other places they would like to go.
âThis event was fun,â he continued. âA lot of people who live a few blocks away always say they’ve never seen the observatory before. The concept of âFour Centuriesâ is great, because there is a very rich history here at a time when people seem to want to rewrite history left and right. There are still some standards that are here that are irrefutable, and that is one of them. The college and the IAA have welcomed just about everyone who comes here. We are all united by one thing: the love of science and astronomy.