Since this summer has been so cool and breezy, and work has been light and easy, I took another half day trip on a Friday, a few weeks ago. Turns out there are plenty of museums in New Jersey, however most of them are far from my work place, and not en route when I go home, so I’ll have to visit those some other time. In the mean time, a museum that was along the way is…
Liberty Hall Museum, located in Union, New Jersey
Liberty Hall Museum is located within Kean University, so it’s not hard to find, there are signs pointing the way even outside of the university. The museum is open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday. Regular adult admission is $10 and student admission is $6. (The person who worked there thought I was a student; I’m quite please to know I still look young enough to be one.) Since the museum is located in a university, one would think that visitors will have to do that whole university visitors’ thing: park in a special lot far away and pay who knows how much. But not at the Liberty Hall Museum, they have their own visitors’ parking lot, and best of all it’s free and right in front of the visitors’ center.
As I approached the museum, I saw a sign posting times for the guided tours, and thought, “hey they offer guided tours in addition to letting visitors roam freely.”( I’m not particularly fond of guided tours, so I didn’t bother too much with the sign.) When I entered, another thought suddenly hit me, “there was only the guided tour of the museum, you can’t wander as you please.” As I realized that, I wanted to turn around and leave, however I couldn’t exit as the museum employee already saw me and I was the only person there, so I paid my admission fee, and prepared for the guided tour.
The Liberty Hall museum tour is my first guided museum tour, and it was a VIP experience. The tours are every hour on the hour. I arrived at about 20 min pass 2pm, so I apparently missed the 2pm tour and would have to wait till 3pm. However the museum employee informed me there wasn’t a 2pm tour as people didn’t show up, thus he decided to do the tour with just me so that I wouldn’t have to wait until 3pm. It was a very considerate thing to do, but I was freaking out at that moment because I’ve never been on a guided tour, I don’t know how to behave: am I supposed to ask questions? can I wander away a bit? can I linger at particular exhibits? In addition to that, I knew nothing about the museum, so I was most likely going to stare at my guide like a wide eyed child. Nevertheless, the 2pm tour that was just me and my guide, an older gentleman who has worked at the museum for 11 years, began.
The tour begins with a 10-15 min orientation video that gives visitors a history of the house and the people who lived there. From the video, I learned that the house was built in 1772, and originally belonged to a William Livingston, who was the first governor of New Jersey. The house was sold at one point, but was repurchased by a relative to William Livingston, and thus became the Kean house, as the new owners carried the Kean last name. After the video, my guide and I crossed a big garden to get to the museum house. Photography is not allowed inside the museum house.
The Liberty Hall Museum is a three story house that contains 50 rooms. According to my guide, one of the features that makes this historic house special is that it was never a boarding house. In addition to that, the folks who lived there never threw a single item out, thus a lot is known about the origins of the items in the house, as there are even receipts for some of the items. The best part of the museum was the second floor which consisted of the bedrooms. The bedrooms were all individually themed, and consisted of artifacts relating to that particular theme. For example, there a was room called the “Martha Washington” room because she supposedly slept in that room, hence the room was decorated according to the time period that she lived and consisted of artifacts from then. Even though the Liberty Hall museum is a historic house museum, it has special exhibitions too. When I visited, the exhibition was on the travels done by the various Kean family members, hence in a several of the bedrooms, there were artifacts highlighting the travels of the Kean clan, such as photographs, souvenirs, maps, etc.
Aside the bedrooms, the basement, which was the servants’ quarters, was a real eye opener. The museum had a really old clothes washer and dryer that I didn’t recognize as such, and would never have guessed that’s what they were. In addition to that, the museum house had an open hearth kitchen and various cooking utensils that were used for cooking in the hearth. (My guide was very thorough, he even explained to me what the utensils were for, as I didn’t recognize some of the items again.)
The tour lasted about an hour, thus I spent a total of about an hour and half at the museum. For guided tours, the guide is very important as they make or break the tour, as demonstrated by these two ladies who left the 3pm tour midway. (My tour just finished, and they were leaving, so my guide and I bumped into them.) They mentioned that their guide wasn’t that enthused about the museum, and thus didn’t seem well versed in the museum house’s history, hence they knew they weren’t going to enjoy the tour much. (I spoke with one of the ladies, and she mentioned that she has done several museum tours, and thus knew what to expect from the tours.) Because I had a great tour guide, the Liberty Hall museum tour (and my first museum guided tour) was a really good experience (although I still prefer roaming free). So go take a guided tour of the Liberty Hall museum, and see for yourself the house that has been around as long as America has been. (Just be on the look out for the older gentleman guide, he’s the one you want to lead your tour!)