Archived Jamesburg Articles

A night out at historic Buckelew
By: Melissa Hayes, Staff Writer08/19/2005

Buckelew Mansion showcases Jamesburg High School memorabilia.

   JAMESBURG — As a tour group made its way into the Jamesburg High School room at Buckelew Mansion on Wednesday night, it was greeted by borough Police Chief David Lester who was perusing old yearbooks.
   A Chicago White Sox uniform worn by Jamesburg High School graduate James Weisert, a former player, in the 1930s hung on a wall next to newspaper clippings about fellow graduate Frankie Hayes, a catcher, and a six-time American League all-star.
   The room contains the few remaining sports trophies and other memorabilia from the school, which closed in 1979.
   Chief Lester laughed as he flipped through old yearbooks. He recognized freshmen and sophomores in the 1968 yearbook who were juniors and seniors when he entered the high school in 1970.
   "This interests me," he said.
   Chief Lester's brother, Mark Lester, was a member of the school's last graduating class. When Chief Lester graduated in 1974, there were 98 kids in his class, but by the time his brother graduated, the number had dwindled to 41.
   The chief was happy to be at the event, introducing himself to the families that stopped in for a tour.
   Ron Becker, a Jamesburg Historical Association member, came up with the idea to open the house on a weekday and give community members the opportunity to meet borough officials.
   Even Mayor Tony LaMantia was on hand, hanging out in the model train room, which houses a scale model of historic Jamesburg.
   Mr. Becker said he had read about several local towns participating in National Night Out, an annual event to bring the community, police department, fire department and local ambulance squads together, and wanted to bring something like that to the borough.
   Mr. Becker said this was only his first attempt to have a National Night Out-like event at Buckelew Mansion and he hopes to expand on it in the future and give the community up-close looks at the equipment emergency officials in the borough use.
   "We're going to try to get everybody involved next year," he said. "We'll try to get people out to meet the volunteers in the Fire Department, the volunteers in the EMS, the Police Department and elected officials."
   Chief Lester said he thought the event was a good idea.
   "Hopefully this will become an annual event," he said.
   The night was filled with stories about the borough's history.
   Mr. Becker spoke about growing up in the borough when it looked like the model in the train room.
   He remembers going to the Stardust Soda Shop with a dime when he was 7 years old. It was his first date.
   "I had a dime so I bought two Cokes, you know 16-ounce ones," he said. "Then my date changed her mind and wanted a cherry Coke. That was 6 cents and I started to cry. So the owner was real nice and gave it to me for a dime," he said.
   Ruth Jones, a historical association member, was giving tours of the second floor of the house and pointed out an 1886 domestic sewing machine.
   "My grandmother had one of these and I always thought it was the neatest thing," she said. "She finally taught me to sew and after five minutes I realized it was a lot of work just to sew a seam."
   Ms. Jones explained that the machine had to be pumped and working it was no easy task.
   The mansion also houses a new exhibit on the Helmetta snuff mill, which opened in 1883, closed in 1993, and is slated for demolition in the near future.
   Tom Bodall, the borough historian, was able to acquire several donations of old mill items, including a window, bench, tools and old canisters of snuff.
   Snuff, a form of tobacco that is sniffed rather than smoked, was sold in various shapes and sizes, including small and large tins and what looked like sausage casing.
   "You'd always smell the snuff when you walked by or drove by," Mr. Bodall said.
   Ms. Jones said that the Buckelews were connected to the Helmes, the family that Helmetta is named for, because Mary Townsend Buckelew married George A. Helme.
   The night-out event attracted about 20 community members, all of whom had never visited the house before.
   Melvin and Nancy Canas recently moved into a historic house on Davison Avenue. Their attorney, Steve Philpitt, who was also at the event, recommended they go and learn about the borough's history, Mr. Canas said.
   "It was very interesting," Ms. Canas said after completing the tour.
   Her husband said it gave them a glimpse into Victorian life.
   "It was a difficult life back then, especially for the ladies," he said.
   Marise Burger, a member of the historic association, said the burial stone out by the garage behind the mansion was found at the Canas' new home.
   "This was a leftover that was left in the barn," she said.
   Ms. Burger said that in the late 1800s and early 1900s most homeowners were buried on their property in small family plots, but were later moved to Fernwood Cemetery on Perrineville Road, because that was the prestigious place to be buried. The burial stone found on Davison Avenue was a leftover that never made it to the cemetery, Ms. Burger said.
   Buckelew Mansion is open to the public the second and fourth Sunday of each month. The next event is Buckelew Day on Sept. 10, when the property will be dedicated as Buckelew Park and a flagpole will be donated by the American Legion. For more information, call (732) 521-2040.

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