Extended hours, new twists to bounce back in 2022
As the 2021 season approached, management at the historic village of Allaire feared the pandemic would keep visitors away.
They were happy to be wrong.
“In 2020, we’ve come down to a 30% operating level,” said executive director Hance Sitkus. “In 2021, we were hoping for 50% and we ended up at 75% in fact.”
All signs point to an explosion of interest in 2022 as the pandemic winds down. As a result, Allaire Village is expanding its hours. From April 2 to the end of November, the village and its historic buildings, houses and businesses will be open five days a week: Wednesday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the past, this calendar was contained between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“We’ve been very encouraged and very grateful during the COVID times for how people have continued to support us,” Sitkus said. “Now that we are hoping to come out of COVID, we see an opportunity in our 200th year to really go all out. We expect a slight upside and we felt we could meet this challenge.
The story continues under the gallery
Tours are bouncing back
In April 1822, James P. Allaire purchased 5,000 acres of land in what is now Wall and Howell. The village you’ll find there today in Allaire State Park includes 13 buildings of the former Howell Iron Works Co., which flourished as a self-contained, isolated community of up to 500 people from 1822 to 1846. A snapshot of life during the Industrial Revolution, it has become one of New Jersey’s most popular living history sites and is operated as a nonprofit with limited state assistance.
After being closed in the spring of 2020 and losing over $200,000 as a result, the village opened in late June of that year and began charging general admission fees. The $5 fee (for ages 4 and up) applies on weekends only.
One sign that interest is rebounding is the booking of school visits.
“We used to do 9,000 students in a given year,” Sitkus said. “In 2020, there were no tours. In 2021 there were summer camp visits. This year, with the relaxation of the mask policy (statewide), we have been encouraged by some tours that have been booked with us. We never expected to regain all the touring momentum we once had.
As part of the expanded public schedule, Allaire Village is launching a series of guided tours. At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from April through November, a 90-minute guided tour will be available for $5. Specific thematic “pop-up” visits at the weekend are also in preparation. And village officials are offering new visitation programs for homeschoolers, camp groups, and Girl Scouts and Girl Scouts (including “patch program” activities).
Found in Storage
In the vein of the ramp-up, Allaire Village has hired its first full-time museum curator in 2021 to sift through the objects that have collected in the archives and put the most interesting ones on rotating display.
“We really want to capture the moment of what it was like to live in the 1830s, to immerse people more in the history and the experience,” Sitkus said. “People come here and remember the blacksmith shop – the hammer, the iron and the anvil, the noise and the smell. We want to make that connection with more objects and artifacts for people. We’ve done a lot of collecting various artifacts and objects over the years; what do we have that’s been in storage for the last 50 years that needs to come out and be part of an exhibit?”
Among the items: blacksmith and carpentry tools, quilts and hundreds of photos of the village’s appearance from the 1870s to recent years.
Just last week they found documents from when Allaire was the local postmaster – documents and drawings depicting his handwriting. The postmaster was a crucial civic position at this time, and some of the documents paint a portrait of an Allaire “greeting people at the station and driving them back to the village,” Sitkus said. “It was interesting to find out.”
Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]