WHAT IS THE "WENONAH MUSEUM?"
By Jack C. Sheppard, Sr.
The short answer is that it is a collection of Wenonah-related historical memorabilia, artifacts and documents with the Wenonah Military Academy object collection as its core.
The collection is a real potpourri of interesting information including cadet uniforms, decorations, class photographs, Academy sales brochures and sports team photos and stories. There are also a ceremonial rifle and swords.
For town-related memorabilia there is a collection of July 4th programs and news reports of celebrations providing pretty convincing evidence that celebration of the day have been held continuously in Wenonah since July 4, 1872. Not many towns in America can make that claim.
There are also "flat-files" of Wenonah-related engineering drawings of sewer and water line locutions and street improvements contributed by the family of long-time Borough Engineer Bill Baum. Other paper records are Wenonah founding documents starting in 1870 with the organizing papers of the Mantua Land & Improvement Company, created for the purpose in 1871.
As a reminder of just how fragile historic records can be we have all of former lifetime resident and volunteer historian Milton Webb's photocopies of pretty much everything mentioning Wenonah from the annals of the Gloucester County Historical Society. Unfortunately, the copies are on cheap, acid-containing copy paper and are slowly fading from sight. While they are still legible they are invaluable information sources of life in our town and region for well-over a hundred years. WHS members have seen some of this collection in the "100 Years Ago in Wenonah" stories in the Society newsletters.
Lastly for this report are the photos and slides that comprise the "Origins of Wenonah" Power Point presentation that is presented to the Wenonah fifth grade students each year in June. [View the slideshow by clicking on the link below.]
The next question from interested persons is usually "where is the museum located and how can we see it"? And that's when the museum location problem comes into play.
The museum space and collection is on the second floor of the Wenonah Community Center, the former train station at Mantua Avenue and the railroad crossing. The building is over 120 years old, fragile, not fire protected, and access to the second floor is via a narrow, winding, one-person wide stairway. Because of these limitations the museum cannot safely be opened to the public. As a result, the decision was made several years ago to handle the collection by more modern means utilizing digital photography and computer-aided storage and display for the purpose.
Utilizing volunteer labor under the direction of Wenonah resident, Julie Ream a tremendous number of hours were spent identifying, photographing, categorizing and storing most of the valuable, identifiable and meaningful items in the collection. Storage, especially of the most fragile items such as Cadet uniforms and other perishables have been preserved using museum grade, acid-free wrapping materials which should assist in protecting these items into the foreseeable future. Most of the Military Academy items have been photographed and cataloged before being placed into appropriate storage locations. All materials have been provided identification numbers and recorded on electronic spreadsheets, a dedicated museum-quality software program ("Past Perfect") or both.
As a consequence of my efforts in assembling the museum and my learning of its history from even before Wenonah's creation I can state without fear of contradiction that Wenonah is an interesting and beautiful, but fragile place in our region, a great place in which to live and raise a family. I am familiar with most of the other 23 towns in Gloucester County and give my word that there is no other that matches the physical features and involved citizens as there is in Wenonah. I encourage all off our residents to join the Wenonah Historical Society to learn about, and to become participants in our community family. Both you and Wenonah will be better for it.