The Ridgewood Historical Society chose all three, and its upcoming Schoolhouse Museum exhibit, “A Community’s Journey” paints in broad strokes the story of Ridgewood from its Dutch roots to the present day, exposing the threads that tie the village to the state and national history of the last three centuries.
That history is evident in the “diversity” and “liberty” sections, dedicated respectively to the ethnic groups that have lived in the village before and since its Dutch founding, and the soldiers who have served since the American Revolution.
The homage to diversity tells the story of a significant journey from a restrictive community to one that embraces varying religions and cultures.
“It’s the journey we’ve been on, from a very restrictive community where everybody wasn’t welcome, to where we are today,” said Sheila Brogan, the president of the historical society. “We’re not alone in the journey.”
The items displaying the changing times include a restrictive deed sold to a developer in 1919, specifying the condition that the Beechwood Road property never be sold to minorities.
You’ll also see the 1931 real estate listing that continued the prejudice of the original owner, and finally a document from a 1945 court order striking down such restrictive practices.
The exhibit is of a journey to acceptance that did not always move smoothly, however; documents from a slave transaction, completed after emancipation in New Jersey had already begun, are found in the historical society’s collection.
With the displays that catalogue the changing community through the inclusion of the Irish, African Americans, Jews and later Koreans, the museum’s exhibit of a changing Ridgewood has the potential to alter the history of the museum itself.
This exhibit, the fifth since the museum began rotating special exhibits in the place of a permanent historic classroom setup, is the first time that the museum has used materials from outside its own collections, which were largely obtained when the adjacent Dutch reformed church sought a space to tell its own history.
Curators solicited materials from 15 religious congregations, among other residents, in putting together the display of diversity, and museum staff said the hope was that in the future the historical society’s permanent collection may grow to better reflect the range of cultures in the village.
“This is something new for us, because mostly we’ve used our own collection,” Brogan said.
“They’ve been really supportive of the exhibit,” Roberta Sonenfeld, who designed with exhibit with Brogan, Vicky Herbert, and museum consultant Bari Falese, said of the congregations that have lent materials.
The journey to diversity, combined with a section dedicated to veterans, makes for a heavy exhibit. But there are some light moments, as in the “innovation” section, which chronicles the history of performing arts in the village – among the cast of characters is “Rouclere,” an eccentric magician who ran in Houdini’s circle and owned a hotel on Ridgewood Avenue.
The all-encompassing take on the Ridgewood’s history will be open to the public beginning Oct. 14, and run until July.
“I think this is an exhibit that will lend itself to a whole lot of people,” Brogan said. “I think we have a story to tell. And if people don’t learn about their community, I think it’s their loss.”