The History of the Historical Society of West Caldwell
The Historical Society of West Caldwell, located in West Caldwell, NJ, a suburban town in Essex County, was organized in 1977 by members of the local 1976 Bicentennial Committee of Caldwell and West Caldwell. After the Bicentennial the residents felt strongly that a continuing organization dedicated to local history was desired, so they organized the HSWC as a not-for-profit corporation. The purpose of the HSWC, as stated in its Bylaws, “is to bring together those people interested in history, especially that of West Caldwell and vicinity; to acquire and encourage the preservation of documents, pictures, other artifacts, buildings and sites of historical significance.”
In the years that followed we have developed an organization and initiated projects and activities that express our continued commitment to the pursuit of these goals. These include the following:
Building and maintaining an archives on Caldwell area history, with an emphasis on West Caldwell’s history. We seek and acquiring items for our unique collection of West Caldwell and western Essex County historical items, including images of items that are not available for donation or purchase.
Preservation and interpretation of the historic Crane Homestead, is at the heart of our program. Built by Zenas Crane in 1854, it replaced an earlier family farmhouse that had burned in 1848. The Crane family is one of Essex County’s founder families, having arrived at Essex County in 1666 as part of the Gov. Robert Treat Colony that created Newark. The Crane farm, settled shortly after the Revolution, was owned by Crane family descendants, until it was sold to West Caldwell Township in 1983. That year we began operating our program in the Homestead, under an agreement with West Caldwell Township.
Family History: Building and maintaining a genealogical database of founding families and later immigrants, sponsoring workshops on genealogy research methods and resources, and taping interviews with longtime residents for creation of oral history resources;
Developing and presenting educational programs for West Caldwell students and the adult community;
Supporting the programs of other area local historical societies;
Membership in the organization is open to local residents and other members of the public who are interested in preserving West Caldwell’s history. The HSWC relies upon volunteers to carry out its activities, but has sought out and utilized the expertise of trained historians, educators, archivists and preservationists to serve on our Board and provide consultation. The HSWC has often benefited from the support of residents of neighboring towns that do not have historical societies.
The HSWC is a repository for donations of historic material from local residents. We have created exhibits on themes ranging from historical china, antique clocks, pewter ware, needle craft, local dairy memorabilia, women’s fashion accessories, hats, lighting (from the candle to the light bulb), Civil War medical implements and antique toys. Every Christmas, members decorate the Homestead in a different theme and we have participated in annual holiday tours of historic homes sponsored by a local Woman’s Club, the local Kiwanis-Rotary, the Essex County Office of Cultural Affairs and the League of Historical Societies of West Essex.
In 2004 HSWC authored a book on the history of the town, “Celebrating a Centennial” that is a popular and well-regarded local history.
One of our most challenging and exciting projects was the conservation and display of a rare War of 1812 2nd Regiment NJ Militia flag carried by a Caldwell, NJ militia company. Discovering the history of this flag was demanding of time and effort and we benefitted from the help of military historians and museums as well as grant support from the NJ Historical Commission.
Additional NJHC support enabled us to digitize our collection of rare NJ glass negatives (and the collections of two local partners, the Caldwell Public Library and the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association), as well as local maps and a rare 19th century newspaper.
Recently we joined with others in New Jersey to recognize the 350th Anniversary of NJ through programs and projects that expressed the 35oth themes of innovation, diversity and liberty. We also participate in the NJ Histori Fair every May.
The HSWC has an ongoing collaboration with the West Caldwell Public Library and the Friends of the Library in developing programs on history-related topics as well as genealogical research resources. This year we are supporting the celebration of the Centennial of the Library.
Recently we collaborated with local historic preservation organizations and the Caldwell Merchants Association to celebrate Historic Caldwell Day.
The HSWC has also initiated public exhibits of historic art and historic buildings. The 2015 exhibit, “Art of Our Ancestors II” was the second project undertaken to locate and present local artistic achievements to the community. Currently we are exhibiting "The Art of Rachel Farrington." It will be available at the Library for the month of July in 2016. Next year we are planning an exhibit of paintings and engravings by William N. Hasler, a talented musician and artist who has been better known as the pharmacist and owner of Hasler's Pharmacy. After this exhibit we may remember him as an artist who also happened to be a pharmacist.