Sometimes, archivists emerge from our dim repositories and make field trips in order to secure the accession of culturally valuable historical materials.
The HCHS Archives team has been enjoying a road trip for the past several weeks! For several consecutive Monday evenings, the archival volunteers have been working in the barn of Mr. Carl Cathers, of Stockton, NJ. Carl is a longtime Stockton resident who has made a habit of collecting and preserving historical records of interest concerning Stockton, NJ, and its people. His barn is full of historically important documents, research, photographs, genealogy, clippings, maps, and ephemera. We have been sorting, evaluating, and boxing almost 50 cubic feet of historically relevant materials he has collected. When we are finished, Mr. Cathers will donate the entire historic collection to the Hunterdon County Historical Society so that it may be preserved for the future historians of Hunterdon County.
The collections, so far, cover three principle areas of interest. The first is the material that Carl has collected about Stockton itself, including photographs, organizational notes, records of clubs and businesses, and clippings and stories about the town over a long period of time. The second area is a group of records that were left to Carl from Austin Davison, another longtime Stockton area resident, who was an artist, painter, and also a local historian. The third group of records is the personal papers of Anne Elstner Matthews, the star of stage and radio (the actress who portrayed Stella Dallas in the long running radio soap opera) who settled in Stockton and owned the River’s Edge restaurant for many years.
Any one of these collections would make a fine and valuable addition to the HCHS Archives, but the fact that all three are coming to us is a great windfall.The Society has to thank Mr. Cathers, both for his appreciation of and contribution to local history, but also for his remarkable forethought. When approached by the Society, and confronted with the concept of donating his collection, Mr. Cathers considered the importance of his materials and their impact on future genealogists and historians, and decided to donate the collection while still intact and entire. The Society would also like to thank Marfy Goodspeed, longtime Society member and historian who alerted us to the presence of the Cathers Collection and facilitated our contact.
Although the collection that Carl has assembled is an outstanding and unusual example, it is not alone. There are probably collections that are similar in content (if not in scope!) in the homes of many local historians throughout the county. Sadly, many of these collections are never preserved. Without provision for the destination of these collections of papers in a will or other document, the collections are often dispersed, misplaced, or worse, outright destroyed.
Therefore, if you own or have knowledge of interesting and important collections of historical material, and want them to be preserved in a well-equipped and professionally organized archive for future generations, don’t be shy! Let the HCHS know about these collections, and perhaps we can make arrangements to make a field trip to your neck of the woods! As you can see, we love field trips!