UNION, NJ — The pandemic has placed much on hold, but as New Jersey begins to reopen, many businesses and organizations are welcoming back the community. The Union Township Historical Society is among the organizations ready to reopen to the public in the near future.
Despite not having reopened yet, UTHS held socially distant tours of Caldwell Parsonage in Union on June 7 to celebrate Hannah Caldwell Day. “We haven’t ‘opened back up,’” UTHS President Barbara La Mort said on June 5, prior to the tours. “This Sunday’s event is a one-off. We’re hosting it to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Connecticut Farms — that was Union’s name until 1808 — which was a turning point in the American Revolution. As the British retreated from that battle, Hannah Caldwell, the wife of Rev. James Caldwell, was killed by a British soldier. That’s why June 7 is Hannah Caldwell Day.”
Similar to La Mort, UTHS Vice President David Arminio was thrilled for the society to begin to offer tours again.
“Being excited to continue the tours of the Caldwell Parsonage after the coronavirus outbreak is an understatement. I would use the word ecstatic,” Arminio said on June 7. “Not only do we get to fulfill our mission to once again bring the local history to the people of Union and guests to Union, but the ability to do so is an indication that the threat to us is nearing an end. Maybe one day, we can have no restrictions within the parsonage.”
Before the pandemic began, UTHS would lead approximately 20 visitors at a time on tours of the Caldwell Parsonage. But the pandemic put a stop to the tours, as groups of 20 were no longer allowed to gather.
“The UTHS had to cancel tours because of COVID-19,” La Mort said. “Certain social-distancing guidelines have been put in place for this Sunday’s event on June 7. An individual or a couple or a family may tour the house one at a time for a 10-minute self-guided tour. Gloves will be provided, but guests are requested to bring and wear their own masks. Guests waiting to enter must stand at least 6 feet apart. The rooms will be sanitized with a portable UV light between the self-guided tours.”
Despite the many negatives, Arminio looked to the bright side of the coronavirus response.
“I can relate two positive outcomes to the isolation during the pandemic,” Arminio said. “One of them is that I was able to prepare a Zoom presentation to the members of the Rotary Club of Union about the history of Union using older and longer presentations. I had the time to modify, shorten and tighten up the PowerPoint and narrative to present to the Rotary membership. The other is that, because of the lockdown, Kathy, my wife, and I were able to go to the empty parsonage and paint walls, stairs, railings and floors and rearrange a display that otherwise may have been put off for quite some time. The pandemic was challenging because some of the projects that were in the planning stages had to be postponed. To replan their completion with the different contractors may be difficult.”
La Mort also found some positive aspects to the community’s response to the pandemic.
“This experience with the pandemic has been a challenging one because of the cancellation of UTHS events, loss of revenue and putting curating projects on hold. Some positive outcomes are working together with the Union Public Library and the Vauxhall Historical Society Inc. on a ‘Documenting History’ project about the pandemic, as well as surprise donations from Union residents,” she said.
Speaking of donations, UTHS has set a goal for contributions.
“Our goal is $11,300,” La Mort said. “That money is for the installation of two additional air-conditioning units for the comfort of our volunteers and visitors, as well as the preservation of our artifacts that can be affected by heat and humidity. We accept checks payable to the UTHS and mailed to 909 Caldwell Ave., Union, NJ 07083.”
According to the society’s website, the tours and programs that were scheduled for March, April and May were canceled because of the coronavirus. Those events would have produced much-needed revenue for the centuries-old house.
“The original Caldwell Parsonage, which was built in 1730, was burned to its foundation by the British after the Battle of Connecticut Farms,” La Mort said. “The parishioners of Connecticut Farms Presbyterian Church completed the rebuilding of the parsonage around 1783. The home is significant in American history because Hannah’s death at the site became a rallying cry for men to enlist in the New Jersey militia and help defeat the British 16 days later at the Battle of Springfield, which was the last major battle of the war that was fought in the North. Hannah’s death is depicted on the seal of the county of Union.”
Photos Courtesy of Barbara La Mort