Liberty Hall Museum Chronicles New Jersey History

By Erin Delmore

“We are a treasure trove of learning about the history of everything that happened in New Jersey,” said Liberty Hall Museum Director of Museum Operations Bill Schroh.

The Liberty Hall Museum is nestled in the Kean University campus — and its most recent former inhabitants aren’t all too hard to guess.

“Well Liberty Hall Museum was the home of the first governor of New Jersey, William Livingston. The original house was built back in 1772 and it was the home of the governor until he passed away in 1790. Then it was also the home of the Kean family until 1995,” Schroh said.

The museum includes an expansive main house, plus a firehouse and carriage house. It features yearly events like a fashion exhibit including designs by Dior and Bendel. It’s a draw for residents, students, scholars and families.

Around 50 percent of the museum’s yearly visitors are schoolchildren — 6,000 of them. They come here to learn about life in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

“This is a field trip unlike any other. We have dramatic presentations during the day, we teach them about the American Revolution in a different angle than they will learn from their textbooks or classroom experiences. So, it’s just very unique,” said Coordinator of School Programs Maryellen McVeigh.

“We also discovered a little unknown piece of history that became suddenly very popular — Alexander Hamilton, with the play that happens in New York — Alexander Hamilton lived in Elizabethtown for nine months when he first came to America. As a matter of fact he lived here at Liberty Hall with William Livingston,” said Gordon Haas, president and CEO of the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce.

The newest addition to the museum complex: a fire house museum featuring trucks from Elizabeth and Union and a collection of artifacts. In the main house: an exhibit opening in April about the United States’ foray into World War I. And on the ground floor, an exhibit that started as a surprise even to curators.

“Recently, you’ll see it when you go into the building, they uncovered in the wine cellar that was boarded up during prohibition or bricked up during prohibition, they discovered a bottle of Madeira wine dating 1792,” Haas said.

“It was a favorite in the 18th century of folks like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and William Livingston,” Schroh said.

For Schroh, the museum’s future mission comes from a great thinker of the past.

“I’ll steal a quote from Ben Franklin, who I just love. He said back in the 1700s that, New Jersey was a powder keg tapped between both ends, between New York and Philadelphia and New Jersey gets squeezed and New Jersey history doesn’t get the recognition it should,” Schroh said.