From left, Jennifer Coons of Somers Point, Debbie Donvan Weathers of Mays Landing, and Sally Frye-McCout of Absecon, descendents of Longport Borough’s first fire chief, Christian Luther Frye, attended the opening of a new oral history exhibit at the Historical Society Museum.


LONGPORT – The Historical Society Museum, Saturday, May 20, hosted the opening of a new exhibition to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the borough’s incorporation. It is one of a series of events being held this spring and summer to celebrate the borough’s Quasquicentennial with the theme, “Community,” Longport Public Library Director Ricky Gerhardt said.

The library received a grant from the Atlantic County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs to create the living history display, which includes audio recordings and printed transcripts of interviews with prominent Longport residents about the borough’s history.

The museum boasts eight themed rooms including the Police Room; Devonshire Room of historic homes and hotels, ferries, trollies, storms’ The Map and Reference Room; and the Betty Bacharach Room for the former Home for Afflicted Children.

Longport resident Herb Stern.

Resident Herb Stern was interviewed for the piece on the Devonshire Room, which depicts some of the first homes in Longport.

“My brother-in-law and I bought five, 20-foot wide lots for $2,000. That’s where I built my house,” he said. “The house cost $16,000 to build.”

When asked what it would be worth today, Stern simply replied, “A lot.”

Stern said Gerhardt interviewed him last year to talk about the town and how it has changed over the years.

Others interviewed include Kate and Tom Subranni, Lynn Belinski and Mayor Nicholas Russo. Margate Fire Chief and former Longport Beach Patrol Chief Dan Adams was interviewed about the history of the Beach Patrol.

Gerhardt said he was pleased with the way the historical tribute played out since the library took over management of the museum a few years ago. The library’s Board of Trustees has been able to infuse some technical upgrades after taking the museum over from its prior all-volunteer staff.

“It was the first grant for the museum, so we were very excited about that,” Gerhardt said. “We selected Longport residents who had direct connections with the development of the borough over the years. It was a long process transcribing their words into text.”

Each of the interviews is about 15-25 minutes long and recorded on devices that can be played back with a of a touch of the hand.

“The ones with the push-button players hold less information, and we have other players for the longer interviews,” Gerhardt said.

Visitors can browse the photographs and artifacts while listening to the oral histories.

Museum staff had talked about doing an oral history project for several years, Gerhardt said. The idea was to add to what former Mayor, historian and author Michael Cohen had recorded on cassette tapes for his book, “Longport: The Way We Were,” which is sold in the Porch Store.

“We finished up in January but held off releasing it until we started the 125th anniversary year programs,” Gerhardt said.

Longport’s first Fire Chief Christian Luther Frye.

Descendants of the first chief of the first Longport Volunteer Fire Company, Christian Luther Frye, attended the event on Saturday. They included granddaughters Sally Frye-McCourt of Absecon and Debbie Donvan Weathers of Mays Landing, and great-granddaughter Jennifer Coons of Somers Point.

“My grandfather was the first baby born in Longport,” Frye-McCourt said. “The doctor who delivered him arrived on a horse and buggy.”

She said the family donated some of the artifacts from his career as a firefighter to the museum. Among them was the very first firebox alarm system used to call volunteers to the fires.

“One ring was for the Point area, and so on,” Frye-McCourt said. “He even got a patent for it.”

Next up for the library’s list of celebratory events is an art exhibition created with the help of the Ocean City Arts Center.

“The theme is storms,” Gerhardt said.

Artists and members of the community were invited to do some of the paintings on spheres that will be located outside the museum. They were painted with a coastal theme to create storm awareness, Gerhardt said.

“They will be in front of the museum starting June 17 and throughout the summer,” he said.

The library is also excited about its upcoming Summer Reading Program, which will focus on “community.” The sessions will be held on Saturday mornings and include input from the Police and Fire departments and the Beach Patrol.

“We’ll even have a juggler,” he said.

The Quasquicentennial Committee, a group of resident volunteers, is planning a “Town Picnic” that will be held 6-10 p.m. Thursday, June 22 on the grounds around Borough Hall. The committee held a formal reception at Borough Hall on March 7 to celebrate the borough’s official incorporation date.

At the end of the summer, the library will cap the celebration with a concert and bonfire on the beach.

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Categories: Downbeach

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.