All photographs were taken by Kenneth Purzycki.
By Steve Sears
The Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society was formed for a very good reason: an interest from the locals in history.
The key point is this. History happened here, near spots where highways now are home to speeding cars, strip malls and developments. Yes, that history relates to the Morris County town, but it’s also New Jersey history, northern New Jersey history, and United States history. Unless the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society brings to mind and helps locals and history buffs by educating and aiding memory of these places and events, they’ll perish.
“That is sort of what we’re really trying to do,” says Nancy Brighton, treasurer of the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society, as well as the chair for the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, both groups working closely together.
“Because the town has used dollars and taxpayers dollars in purchasing and maintaining historic properties, and we have a number of properties in private hands or institution hands, we want to help them preserve what they have, and we feel like we’ve made a commitment to maintaining history that you and actually see and touch, as opposed to where you go and read it in a book,” she says. “We’re trying to work with both the town and with other people and with other groups to help keep some of that safe from development as best we can.”
In addition to Brighton, the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society Officers include President Randy Tortorello; Vice-President Barbara Seaman; Corresponding/Recording Secretary – Jessica Soit; and Archivist Sandy Kron. The Board of Trustees include Robert Peluso, Mary Purzycki and Carol Tiesi.
The mission of the group may be found on the website, http://parsippanyhistoricalsociety.org.
Why the 1998 formation?
“I think what really started to happen was there was a lot of development going on in town,” she says. “Unless there was somebody or some group to speak for it [preservation of older houses in town] – Parsippany’s historic building, and Parsippany had quite a few then, and still does now – they were going to start disappearing.”
The Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society works with the town regarding the historical properties it maintains. The town owns the buildings and provides physical maintenance, but the PHS helps keep them open and interpret them.
“One is the Parsippany Museum, also known as the Bolwsby/DeGelleke House on Baldwin Road; one is the Littleton Schoolhouse over on Littleton Road and Route 10; one is the Smith/Baldwin House over on South Beverwyck; the Petroglyph and Rock House; and then the most recent acquisition is Forge Pond and Dam behind Smith/Baldwin,” says Brighton.
As far as the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society goes, it does not just touch on historic properties, although that is a huge focus. What about historic persons that lived or memorable events that occurred there?
“What we try to do is each year try to pick a theme,” she says. “Last year, 2017, we did some World War I oriented programs; we’ve done Civil War. What we really try to do is take that national event and link it back to that person or persons in Parsippany. For example, the Civil War, in the Presbyterian Church cemetery, there are a number of individuals that are buried there that fought in the Civil War, and we took three men that had interesting careers. We wrote about them, and in one program we had in the fall, when people came to visit the house, we actually had a funeral for one of the gentlemen. For World War I we did the same thing for a World War I nurse, and she went overseas to do nursing, so we interpreted her. We sometimes do characters and dress up, sometimes we do exhibits at the Parsippany Museum that tell about different people’s lives.”
The group faces many challenges, primarily members and memberships, which is needed. Meetings are held the third Wednesday of every month except January and July, and membership forms are available at the historic sites. The Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society seeks members from a variety of age groups.
“There’s a lot of setting up, cleaning up, getting things all together, and then there’s the actual putting on of the presentation.”
Brighton also adds, “We have a lot of members who are older, which is great because they are retired, and they can do things anytime of the day, but some are limited physically, and volunteering becomes a challenge. It’s also good to have members who are younger so that you know the organization is going to continue.”
Attendance at events is greatly encouraged especially if there are a variety of age groups, aids asking for grants. It’s a great means of supporting the mission. Events are listed on the website, group’s Facebook page, and local papers. The Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society also accepts monetary donations.”
The mailing address is PO Box 6266, Parsippany, N.J., 07054.
“Anybody and everybody is welcome to join the society; you don’t have to attend a certain number of meetings, we are just to happy to have people who are interested in in general the history of Parsippany,” she says.
Peluso, president and founder Parsippany Area Visitor Center in addition to being a Trustee with Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society, adds a definitive closing statement.
“Parsippany has a rich history and the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society provides many opportunities to explore and learn about our community and its founding families,” says Peluso. “I’m proud to be a trustee while we celebrate Parsippany’s 90th anniversary this year. Parsippany continues to transform and it’s an honor to preserve our past and look towards our future.”