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Put N.J. In Its Place In American History

The South Jersey Museum of American History provides expansive historical context.

Context is everything.

That's a lesson clearly valued at the South Jersey Museum of American History, at 123 East High Street in Glassboro. It has taken into account the particular historical positioning of New Jersey, while at the same time remembering how the state fits into a much broader story.

"The South Jersey Museum of American History has a national scope. We include southern New Jersey history, but our emphasis is on the entire United States,” said the museum’s curator,Jeffrey Norcross. "We cover five major areas of history: pre-Columbian, Colonial, political history, antique tools and equipment and farmsteads.”

The range of artifacts that can be seen at the South Jersey Museum of American History is impressive, documenting a natural history record that goes back much farther than America itself, up to the formation of the colonies and the state of New Jersey, and into the modern era with a focus on politics and the materials that are generated from Presidential elections.

There's so much information contained in one convenient space. That's why we've picked the South Jersey Museum of American History for this installment of Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town, but in reach, and worth the trip.

DAY TRIPPER DIGEST

Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours.

Why it’s Worth the Trip: A visit to Glassboro alone is an opportunity to get away from the usual, and the South Jersey Museum of American History provides a wealth of insight and objects to look over.

How to Get There From Here: Detailed driving directions.

You’ll Probably Get Hungry: With only a bit of driving, you can try many different types of food near the South Jersey Museum of American History. Start with the Landmark Americana Tap & Grill, or if you’re feeling “saucy,” try the Bomb-Bomb BBQ Grill. For some Asian flavor, there is the Tokyo Mandarin, or if you’re looking more for a quick slice, try Little Italy Pizza and Wings. Plus, being in such close proximity to Pennsylvania, you might suddenly develop urges for cheesesteaks, which can be remedied at the Cheesesteak Factory.

While You’re in the Area: If it is a sunny day, take a walk through the New Street Park. If it isn’t, grab a book at Barnes and Noble, see what Spiderman and Batman are up to at The Comic Book Store, work on your plié with gear from On Point Dance and Activewear (how’s THAT for a transition?). Remember to stop by the Heritage Glass Museum, and if you have the time, head toward the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to make your educational day out complete.

Norcross is a graduate of the University of West Florida, with degrees in history and religion, and has undertaken field work at more than 130 historical sites. He gave some insight into the museum’s five major fields of inquiry.

“Our pre-Columbian covers all the periods chronologically from the beginning of the Paleo-Indian, 13000 BCE, to the end of the late Woodland, 1600 CE. Individual site exhibits augment the period displays. Artifacts range from axes and pestles to ceramic pots and shell beads,” Norcross said

Norcross said the Colonial displays are presented in the individual site exhibit format. These include multiple sites from Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A wide variety of artifacts are present at the museum, from a 200-pound fireback (a piece of heavy cast iron, sized in proportion to the fireplace and the fire, which is placed against the back wall of the fireplace) to various-sized cannon-shot.

“The political history displays are a comprehensive exhibit covering all presidential elections from 1824 to date. This is an exceptional series of very colorful exhibits displayed chronologically. [This is] arguably, our best exhibit,” Norcross said.

The last two areas of exhibition at the museum show the functional side of the state through the tools and items that caused it to build and grow—in many respects, literally.

"The Antique Tools and Equipment exhibits provide a whole range of artifacts, Many patrons find a tangibility with the three dimensional artifact, recognizing them from their grandparents or great-grandparents' home. Young students are amazed they are not plugged in," Norcross said.

New Jersey is nicknamed The Garden State, and while that moniker doesn’t fit now as well as it used to, the state’s agrarian past is a large part of its history, revealed in the museum’s collection of farm items.

“The Farmstead exhibits contain both displays of agricultural tools and individual sites. As with the antique tools and equipment, many patrons appreciate these exhibits, containing cradle scythes, corn shellers and many more artifacts,” Norcross said.

There is a lot that can be learned about America as a whole from the vantage point of the state of New Jersey, and thanks to the South Jersey Museum of American History, it all comes together in a single space.

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