Clark museum hits another milestone in history

CLARK, NJ — During the weekend of June 3 and 4, the Dr. William Robinson Plantation Museum in Clark will celebrate its 325th anniversary with several events: a Civil War re-enactment; a presentation by the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe; and presentations on the Pirates of the Northern Star, 16th- and 17th-century medicine, and Colonial architecture in New Jersey.

A number of people have visited the “enchanted” Dr. William Robinson Plantation Museum in Clark during the past 325 years. Or, rather, their spirits have — or so some say.

“We like to use the word ‘enchanted’ instead of ‘haunted,’” museum director Scott McCabe told LocalSource on May 11. “I don’t want it to sound freaky, but I witnessed two full-body apparitions. It was the same full figure of an elderly woman dressed in 17th-century clothing.”

The “cold corner” of the museum is on the second floor, so-called because of the high levels of paranormal activity found to take place there, according to paranormal investigators who visited the site and announced the presence of three spirits. McCabe has a souvenir of the experience and showed a photo of one of the investigators standing in the cold corner. To the far left in the photo, there appears to be a face without a body. And so it is said the museum is rich in history — both natural and supernatural.

“We will be giving each of our guests a copy of our commemorative book for our 325th anniversary,” McCabe said. “It’s about 20 pages long and this time we’ll be adding photos of the home as well as the history of the house as well as the story of Dr. Robinson.”

According to, the museum was built on the 700-acre farm of Robinson, one of the first-known physicians in the area. He bought about 50 acres of land along the Rahway River and later bought the 700 acres adjacent to the house’s property. An immigrant from Scotland, he settled in the area with his wife and three children, and built the house in 1690. A total of five families, including William Robinson’s son, lived in the house until 1973 when it was sold to the town and made into a museum. It was restored by the local historical society and opened to the public in 1978.

A copy of Dr. Robinson’s will is on hand at the museum and it includes a list of everything found on the property. Maps of what was once Rahway — 127 years ago — hang beside the will.

“Some stuff is here but this house was lived in until 1972, so this goes back to the 1600s, so some stuff could possibly be his,” McCabe said. “We have a few books and a 1912 milk wagon from Sunrise Dairy in Bayonne.”

Other historical items on site include an old-fashioned foot warmer next to a more modern one.
“Hot rocks were placed inside the foot warmer to keep warm during Civil War time,” McCabe said.

The museum is known for its 17th century architecture, which includes one of the largest load-bearing summer beams in existence. Modern architects have long admired the rubble stone foundation and massive fireplace, which was once the only source of heat and was also used for cooking. Also noteworthy are the cellar, and the structure’s pitched roof and chimney. The floors on the first floor, the bed chamber and second floor are original.

“Architects came from New England to examine it,” McCabe said. “We have an original gunstock post to hold up the original structure. There are three viewing points of the original structure of the house. These are the original bricks made of mud and clam shells. Timber and wood were also used to build the house. There are two shelves of artifacts that were found buried around the property and inside the walls when they removed the sheet walls and exposed the original.

“It was modernized in 1972 so some of it had to be removed to expose the beams. Two archaeological digs revealed mostly bottles in the ground. We have an original betty and rush lamp, antique scales and a bloodletting knife. The museum is held together by wooden pegs; no nails were used to build this structure. No saws were used, either. Instead, a rough cut, which required the use of an ax, was how it was built.”

During the anniversary event, some of the supplies used by doctors during the Civil War era will be displayed.

“The doctors did everything back then,” McCabe said. “They were barbers, dentists, morticians and made house calls.”

All three levels of the museum will be open to the public and the outdoor activity will feature a hearth cooker. The museum originally opened in 1976 and additions have been made since.

“Eagle Scouts have added to the walkways,” McCabe said. “The outhouse was added. A lot of routine maintenance has been done over the years. We’re in the process of painting now. We’re going to have muskets, cannons and handguns from Scotland on display for the anniversary. There will be drumming and dancing.”

The museum is ADA accessible, and people of all ages are welcome to explore the premise. Candlelight tours will be offered the evening of Saturday, June 3. An old fashioned butter churn as well as many pictures are on display, and for repeat visitors, the displays are always changing, so there’s always something new to see.