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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Endicott Reardon Family Museum Presents a Snapshot of 20th-Century Life

An old photo of the house originally built on the Endicott-Reardon property in Upper Township. The house was once struck by lightning – the museum was built on that same plot of land.

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UPPER TOWNSHIP – The Endicott Reardon Family Museum, located at 3036 Shore Road in Upper Township, presents a look at life in Cape May County during the mid-20th century. It was a time of growth, resourcefulness, and perseverance, and above all family ties, while spanning both economic downturns and wartime exigencies.

All this and more is on display at the museum, where the belongings of a family’s lifetime invite you to step back and experience what life was like back then.

The front of the Endicott Reardon Family Museum in Ocean View.

The museum was created by Harriett Reardon-Bailey, herself a lifelong Cape May County resident. Fulfilling a dream, she housed the extensive collections that came down to her from family members over the years, and carefully kept and chronicled her family heirlooms.

“Her house was spectacular,” said Rachel Dolhanczyk, a board member at the museum and a close friend of Harriett’s before her death in 2021. “She had so much incredible stuff in her house, her basement, her garage. Anybody who visited her was in for a treat. Her attic had hidden doors, she took advantage of every nook and cranny,” she said.

Harriett Reardon-Bailey, founder of the museum.

Her mother’s side, the Endicotts, moved from ‘faraway’ Pleasantville to Sea Isle City in 1915, just a year before the city’s trolley system was decommissioned. The Reardon family, on her father’s side, moved from Maine to Seaville in the early 20th-century and purchased 52 acres of land, where the museum is today.

The museum’s collection — full of personal belongings from nearly every member of the Endicott Reardon Family – has been meticulously cataloged and arranged at the free museum. “It’s like walking through a house from the mid 20th-century,” Rachel explained.

The items themselves exemplify how dramatically consumer culture has changed since the mid-20th century. Garments today are made cheaply all over the world, often in factories with horrific working conditions. But most of the clothes that Harriett and her family wore were made by hand, either by a relative or by somebody who the family had a concrete connection with.

Harriett’s mother’s honeymoon dress is on display at the museum. “It’s handmade by a family member, of course,” Rachel said.

Though the collection is regal, it is not showy or gaudy. The Endicott Reardons were deeply connected to the land they lived on. When the original house, later struck by lightning, was constructed in Seaville, dozens of members of the family toiled and labored to help.

Harriett Reardon-Bailey in 1942.

“There is a charming sense of frugality that motivated a lot of what the Endicott Reardons did,” Rachel said. She gestured to an old notebook with a hand-written material list for that original house. “Harriett’s father looked at house plans in a catalog and copied them by hand. They built the house themselves, and the total cost of the materials was just $800,” she said.

Though the museum presents an intimate look at a single family’s legacy, it isn’t really about them. “It’s about showing life, real life, during that transformative period of history. It just happens to be through one family’s lens,” Rachel said.

The family collected salt and pepper shakers during their Great Depression-era travels. The shakers were inexpensive gifts for those back home.

The museum hosts free in-person programming that takes visitors through different focal points of 20th-century life. Their next special event, “Boys in Glass Houses,” is on July 25 at 2 p.m. Jim Talone and J.P. Jamie Hand will describe the glass mills of South Jersey in early America, and the role that many young boys played in that industry.

Harriett, before her death, told the museum’s board members that the museum should be a communal gathering space. The museum is always looking to host local organizations, non-profits, and clubs.

To learn more about the museum, visit them online at www.ermuseum.com, give them a call at 609-624-0600, visit them in person at 3036 Shore Rd, Ocean View, and visit their Facebook page.

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