Step back in time to this historic village’s Revolutionary roots

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

It’s a bustling village full of people on the job like the stone cutter, printer and blacksmith.

“It’s important for people to connect to their history,” said Mark Nonestied, division head for the Middlesex County Office of Arts and History. “There’s a tremendous amount of history in this county, and we hope that we can provide that connection.”

Lots of that history can be found at East Jersey Old Town Village in Middlesex County.

The village was founded in 1971. There are about 15 historic buildings on the property which originally came from the surrounding area. Eventually, they were moved to Johnson Park in Piscataway.

“They were historic buildings that were threatened with demolition,” Nonesteid said.

Saved to serve a new purpose, interpret the history of the area during the 1700s to 1800s. The Middlesex County Office of Arts and History assumed responsibility of the village 30 years ago. It’s open year-round. From April through October, living history interpreters educate visitors about their trade.

“We start with a raw piece of iron, we put it in the fire, heat it up red hot, it’s about 2,000 degrees. You have to keep it roughly at that temperature. Once it gets too cold it starts to crack, and you can’t form it,” said Robert Bozzay, a blacksmith at the village. “So I go by the color of the metal. When I see it getting too cold, I put it back in the fire, I reheat it, and I do the next process and keep working it until it gets the shape that I want it.”

Nearby in the print shop is a letterpress from the 1890s.

“Step one is you have to put ink onto the press, and step two is you have to take whatever you want to print, and you have to put it into the press,” said Rachel Lee, a printer. “Then step three is you move the press with your foot, pushing the pedal up and down. And you put paper into the press, and the paper and whatever you’re printing press together, and when they come apart whatever you want to print is on your paper — the mirror image of whatever you had arranged to print in the first place.”

As the printer continues to print, the stone cutter chisels away.

“Patience is the one word that stone carvers use an awful lot. Things do take a lot of time; stone does not go anywhere too quickly,” said John Zielenski, a stone cutter. “But the more skilled you are at it, the more you know how to cut a chunk out or how to cut pieces out quicker. And the more you do it, the better you get at it, just like anything.”

All this work can make the villagers hungry. This open hearth is a reminder of how people cooked hundreds of years ago.

“The methods may be different, but that’s the other thing, these things are all similar because they’re still foods that we eat and partake of today; it’s just the cooking methods were different,” said Bill Ciamba, who works in visitor services for the village.

Another building showcases reproductions of Revolutionary wartime equipment, including swords and uniforms. Historical interpreters are also there to take you back to the 1700s.

“I got involved in this because I got a direct ancestor back to the Revolutionary War,” said historical interpreter Edward Glidden. “And it’s sort of carrying forward his lineage, you know, the family history of it.”

“Basically we’re performers that are trying to educate people,” said volunteer Gary Beauregard. “We try to make everything so that when you look at one of us, you can say, ‘That’s how they looked? Yes.'”

The staff and volunteers at the village hope visitors enjoy the experience — as much as they do.