Jersey Reflections: County History


By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine

Visit at least six Cumberland County historical sites before August 28, win prizes.
Organized by the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society (VHAS) and the Cumberland County Historical Society, “A Race Through Time” is a unique historical tour of Cumberland County. It will give residents and visitors alike an opportunity to spend some time at local historical sites from July 1 to August 28 and to win prizes at the event’s conclusion.
The race is open to all and it’s a simple process for those interested. Participating organizations will display a sign of two runners on a blue background and, beginning July 1, anyone interested can visit one of these sites, fill out a registration form and receive a passport, a map and a guidebook listing the groups involved in the program.
Over the eight-week period, participants can leisurely visit the official sites listed for each town where they can have their passport stamped. Stamps from a minimum of six different sites can be turned in before August 28 for a participant to be eligible to win prizes in a drawing at the Lummis Library in Greenwich on the final day. Prizes will include gift certificates to local restaurants and stores and unique gift baskets.
According to the event’s press release, “Visitors will have the opportunity to experience Cumberland’s past from the days of the Native Americans through World War II.” It identified the historic sites participating in the program, naming two official Vineland sites, VHAS and Palace Depression, as well as the Cumberland County Historical Society, Millville Historical Society, Bayshore Discovery Center, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Maurice River Historical Society, Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Museum, Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, Mauricetown Historical Society, Millville Army Air Field Museum, Port Norris Historical Society, and the George Woodruff Museum of Indian Artifacts.”
Additionally, participants “who stop at any of the West Jersey Podcast Trail sites can earn extra points and the chance for an extra chance in the drawings at the end of summer.” VHAS curator Patricia Martinelli explained that the podcast sites were established a year ago by the Cumberland County Cultural and Heritage Commission to raise people’s awareness of local history through audio stations. Participants in “A Race Through Time” are asked to take a selfie at each podcast site as proof of their visit. For every three submitted, Martinelli said, you get an extra chance to win a prize.
Participants will find that some of the podcast sites are already included in the race, but additional stops will include Millville Bank, Cumberland Bank, Bethel AME Church, Garton Road Shul, and Potter’s Tavern.
The county has been well represented since the colonial era and some of its achievements are still heralded. The 1774 Greenwich Tea Burning, the 1775 dissenting voice of the Plain Dealer, created by an anti-British collective at Bridgeton’s Potter’s Tavern, and the 1781 Battle of Dallas Landing fought on the Maurice River near Port Norris are just several examples of how this area played a role in America’s fight for independence. In more recent times, as the press release for “A Race Through Time” points out, “The Millville Army Air Field Museum was the first airfield in the country selected to serve as the first line of defense during World War II in the event that enemy airplanes flew too close to the eastern seaboard.”
When asked if there are any significant sites with which participants may not be familiar as they undertake this historical tour, Martinelli said, “One that comes to mind is the Othello-Springtown area just outside of Greenwich. These were historically African-American communities and they were settled by some of the folks who escaped from slavery coming across the Delaware Bay. There’s a wonderful little church there, the Springtown AME Church that dates to the 1830s. You feel the age of the place and the significance it must have held for the people who lived there at one point in time.”
For Martinelli, “A Race Through Time” has a dual purpose. “We want it to be a fun experience to show that history is not something that exists outside of daily life,” she said. “It’s part and parcel of what we live with. You’re part of history every day and what we’re trying to preserve of the generations that came before lends a certain amount of weight to your daily life.”