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Events Will Celebrate Lawrence Township History Month

The Lawrence Historical Society’s annual lecture - this year focusing on citizen-soldiers from Lawrence who took part in the American Revolution - will be given Oct. 14. On Oct. 27 another event called “People, Places, and Periods” will take place.

October is traditionally recognized locally as Lawrence Township History Month, with a variety of events planned to celebrate the township’s rich past.

This year is no different, with two special events planned. Township Historian Dennis Waters appeared before township council at its meeting Tuesday evening (Oct. 2) to discuss the two upcoming events.

The Lawrence Historical Society’s annual Mary Tanner Lecture will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, at Rider University. Entitled “Maidenhead Patriots,” the lecture by local historian  Larry Kidder will focus on citizen-soldiers from Maidenhead – as Lawrence Township was originally called – who took part in the American Revolution.

“As you know, at the time of the revolution Lawrence was known as Maidenhead and we were part of Hunterdon County. The citizen-soldiers of the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment came from what are now Lawrence, Hopewell, Ewing, and Trenton, but much of its leadership was drawn from the founding families of Maidenhead,” Waters said.

“We all know that the major armies of the Revolution all marched through Maidenhead at one time or another, but this should be a great opportunity to learn about how the locals participated in all of that.”

The second event, being called “People, Places, and Periods,” is a partnership between the historical society and the Lawrence Township Community Foundation, and will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Lawrence High School.

“A number of local experts have been kind enough to volunteer their time and expertise to be on hand to discuss various facets of Lawrence’s history, including the D&R Canal, slavery and the African-American experience, Lawrenceville Village, historic houses, and preserving old photographs,” Waters said. “We will have video equipment on hand so that residents can come and share their own memories.”

Waters also took time to update council on a project that began last year in which the township has teamed up with Rutgers University to scan in neighborhood site plans from the township's archive.

“The cartography laboratory at Rutgers has now made high-resolution scans of almost 300 subdivision site plans from the township engineer’s office. We have just a few more and then we will be done with all of them,” he said. “These plans document the 100-year history of Lawrence’s development as a suburb, and they will form the basis of my talk at the annual meeting of the historical society in February. And if residents are curious about the history of their neighborhoods, we are also developing a web interface that will let them view these scans online.”

He also reported that the township had recently acquired a collection of historical documents and other items from the Mershon family, one of the township’s founding families.

“We are just getting into it, but already we can tell it will be an important resource on township history and we are glad to have it in a place where it can be accessible. It includes some remarkable 18th century documents, some on parchment,” he said.

And Waters said the historical society’s collection has been mined to put together a second volume of historic Lawrence Township photographs, which will be published by Arcadia Publishing early next year.

Meanwhile, he said, the historical society is seeking input from the community on how best to commemorate in 2013 the 200th anniversary of the death of Capt. James Lawrence - the War of 1812 hero for whom the township is named - and also the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway (Route 206) which “was a turning point in the history of the automobile in America.”

“Also, in 2013 Mercer County will mark its 175th anniversary with a number of events, including some here in Lawrence. I have been asked to join their advisory committee so I will keep you posted on that,” Waters added.

 

Below are Waters full comments about Lawrence Township History Month made to township council on Tuesday:

Thank you. Good evening. As always, it’s a pleasure get the chance to give you an update on our plans for October – which is Lawrence History Month - as well as to highlight other recent activities and some things to look for in the year ahead.

We have two major events planned to mark Lawrence History Month:

The Lawrence Historical Society’s annual Mary Tanner Lecture this year is entitled “Maidenhead Patriots.” The speaker will be local historian Larry Kidder. Larry has been researching a book on the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment during the American Revolution. As you know, at the time of the revolution Lawrence was known as Maidenhead and we were part of Hunterdon County. The citizen-soldiers of the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment came from what are now Lawrence, Hopewell, Ewing, and Trenton, but much of its leadership was drawn from the founding families of Maidenhead. We all know that the major armies of the Revolution all marched through Maidenhead at one time or another, but this should be a great opportunity to learn about how the locals participated in all of that. It will take place on Sunday, Oct. 14th, 2 o’clock, at Rider University.

The second big event will give the entire community a chance to get engaged with the full scope of Lawrence history. We’re really excited about this. It is called “People, Places, and Periods,” and it is jointly sponsored by the Lawrence Township Community Foundation and the Lawrence Historical Society. That will take place at the high school on Saturday, Oct. 27th, from noon to four. A number of local experts have been kind enough to volunteer their time and expertise to be on hand to discuss various facets of Lawrence’s history, including the D&R Canal, slavery and the African-American experience, Lawrenceville Village, historic houses, and preserving old photographs. We will have video equipment on hand so that residents can come and share their own memories. Needless to say, we are very gratified that the Lawrence Township Community Foundation is making a commitment to local history, and I would also like to give a special shout-out to Richard Krawczun for getting the ball rolling on this.

One thing that we had hoped to do for History Month will not be happening, and that is the grand re-opening of the Port Mercer Canal House following the damage from last year’s floods. The state has an ambitious restoration plan and has begun some preliminary work on the site, but their timetable is their timetable, and at this point we do not know when that is going to be finished.

Another update on a project I told you about last year. The cartography laboratory at Rutgers has now made high-resolution scans of almost 300 subdivision site plans from the township engineer’s office. We have just a few more and then we will be done with all of them. These plans document the 100-year history of Lawrence’s development as a suburb, and they will form the basis of my talk at the annual meeting of the historical society in February. And if residents are curious about the history of their neighborhoods, we are also developing a web interface that will let them view these scans online. Thanks again to Jim Parvesse, Brenda Kraemer, and especially Sue Snook for their support and patience with all of this as I parade in and out with armfuls of site plans.

A couple of notes regarding the township archive at the Lawrence Room at the library. First, we are very pleased to have completed accessioning an important family collection from one of the founding families of Maidenhead, the Mershons. The original settler, Henry Mershon, came here in 1700. His descendents are now scattered across the country but many of them return to Lawrence each year for a reunion. Since the 1930s they have kept their collection of family documents, photographs, and artifacts at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, but about a year ago they began looking for a new home for this collection. And we’re very happy that this summer they chose the township archive to be the permanent repository. So about a month ago we moved the collection across to the library. We are just getting into it, but already we can tell it will be an important resource on township history and we are glad to have it in a place where it can be accessible. It includes some remarkable 18th century documents, some on parchment.

The second item is that we have once again mined the rich collection of photographs in the archive to publish a new book. Some of you may remember this book from almost 20 years ago. In February it will have a companion volume – from the same publisher - called “ Lawrence Revisited.” The dedication reads: “In memory of Winona Nash and Robert Immordino, for their tireless dedication to the preservation of Lawrence Township history.” Laura Nawrocik of the Historic Society and intern Ashley Morris took the lead on this project.

Finally, a few things to look forward to in the year ahead. The big one, of course, will be the 200th anniversary of the death of our town’s namesake, Capt. James Lawrence. It was on June 1st, 1813, that he was wounded in battle and uttered the immortal words “Don’t Give Up The Ship!” He died three days later. We are just beginning to think about how to commemorate this anniversary, so this is a call to the community for ideas. To get us started, I do want to thank Nick Loveless, who recently handed over a boxful of material he saved from the 150th anniversary celebration in 1963.

Also, next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Lincoln Highway, which passed through Lawrence along what we now know as [Route] 206. The Lincoln Highway was a turning point in the history of the automobile in America, and the Lincoln Highway Association is planning a number of events. At the least, we should expect a couple of commemorative caravans to pass through town next summer.

Also, in 2013 Mercer County will mark its 175th anniversary with a number of events, including some here in Lawrence. I have been asked to join their advisory committee so I will keep you posted on that.

And I think I will leave it at that. As always, I thank you for your continued support for the local history project here in Lawrence.  

 

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