Historical Society capstones exhibition series on local institutions

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Two local educational institutions will be forever stapled in Bordentown when the Historical School No. 2 and Manual Training and Industrial School (MTIS) sites were recently bestowed with commemorative banners.

As part of an initiative between the Bordentown Historical Society and community partners, Building Bridges, they presented an exhibition series from February through April this year with lectures and presentations on the Historical School No. 2, local segregated elementary school which operated from 1842-1948, and MTIS, the statewide boarding school located south of town which operated from 1886-1955.

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To cap off the series, members from the two local groups convened at the Friends Meeting House on May 4 to showcase the banners which will be placed at the sites. Multiple people with ties to the local institutions were on-hand at the event as well whether they we alumni or had relatives associated with the schools.

An Historical School No. 2 alumnus at the event, Bob Moore, expressed gratitude and appreciation toward the community group’s efforts to reexamine and present the history on these institutions as well as their significance to Bordentown.

“It means everything to me,” Moore said. “It shows an intertest in black life in Bordentown […] A lot of the people around here probably were not aware of some of the things that went on. You could say the schools were segregated and [the people] didn’t even know it.”

Although the schools may have been segregated, Moore was quick to point out that life in Bordentown for him was anything but divided beyond the classroom. Moore said that he was engaged with many white friends outside of school whether they played sports together or hung out at the movie theater.

Another alumnus at the event was John Medley, who attended MTIS from 1950-1954, said that the recognition and efforts of the local community groups to present this exhibition series to staple their place in Bordentown.

“It’s very exciting to have [the history of these schools] revived to help spread the history and legacy of the schools,” Medley said.

Building Bridges Co-Founders, Terry Johnson and Jan Nielsen, who helped partner with the Historical Society to organize and present the events for the past three months, discussed the series’ goals and successes.

For Johnson, having graduates from the Historical School No. 2 not only reconnect at lecture events to reminisce in their experiences held much significance, but to kickstart the conversations in the community on these two institutions can help unify Bordentown residents too.

“It means so much to the alumni of School No. 2 that they can show their grandkids that there was something there in that spot – that they are part of the history of Bordentown,” Johnson said. “What I see is that there is an energized interest, not just from the black community, but the white community as well in the rich history of the school – that people are actually going to the sites of where the schools were and that there is a conversation.”

 

Nielsen said that one of her favorite parts of the series were the engaging stories between the alumni and its unique part in the telling of Bordentown’s history.

“I get a kick out of the interviews with students from School No. 2 that told the childhood stories of living on Miles Avenue or the white kids going to one school and the black kids going to the other school who would meet up and all play together,” Nielsen said. “The whole richness of that history of the relationships of these people who are still alive that can share that with us. That’s not written down anywhere.”

Historical Society President Tim Rollender felt that one of the series’ main goals was to embark on gathering the full story of Bordentown’s past.

Rollender explained that while Bordentown’s history can be exemplified through some of its more aesthetically prominent features or historical events, it’s the stories and history of its people that can capture a better telling of Bordnetown’s past.

“It is one more element in the whole important picture of Bordentown’s history,” Rollender said. “We are doing our best to tell the whole picture as best and complete as we can.

“One thing I want to push is that Bordentown’s history is substantially about its people. It’s not wrong to say that it was about the architecture of the furniture or any specific event that happened here. I think it’s reflective of the time that we are in right now where we are interested in telling the stories of its people. This was an opportunity to collect a wider array of stories than what was really possible to collect in the past.”

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