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Lecturer: Joseph M. Laufer, Burlington County Historian

One of the benefits of living at Smithville, Burlington County, in the mid to late 1870s was the opportunity to attend events at the Smithville Lyceum. The Lyceum was introduced at Smithville by Benjamin Franklin Southgate, a friend of H.B. Smith and Agnes, his wife. Southgate was brought to Smithville from Vermont as a worker by H.B. Smith. The Lyceum consisted of evening programs for the people of the village (and invited neighbors from the surrounding community). The Smiths regularly attended the programs which were first held in the newly constructed schoolhouse and then moved to the Opera House when it was completed in 1875. The general purpose of the Lyceum was entertainment and education. The main event was a debate on some topic of concern or sometimes dialogues, declamations and recitations. Other activities included musical performances of vocal solos, duets, and quartets and instrumental music by the Smithville brass band.

In 2008, a Lyceum program was re-introduced at Smithville to commemorate this aspect of the history of this classic industrial village. Burlington County Historian Joseph Laufer uses the forum to introduce some of his newly formulated historical topics.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 – 7:30 p.m. Billiard Room, Smithville Mansion, Eastampton


Vincentown owes its initial development to religion and the exploitation of waterpower for industrial purposes. The land along the Rancocas on which it would be built was acquired by Vincent Leeds in 1743. It was not, however, until 1781 that the town's first institution appeared: the Friends Meeting House. Vincentown was not only a small industrial development, but also a service center for the surrounding farming community. Vincentown today is an archetypical survivor of a West Jersey country town. Only about 15 of its some 200 buildings postdate the 1930s. Vincentown's 19th-century townscape gives the village both its charm and its historical importance. The Village is listed on both the State and National Historic Registers. Relying on oral histories and the help of town historian Dorothy Best, Mr. Laufer has created an illustrated tour of the village identifying 80 locations and their historical and architectural significance. The audience will see why this quaint community freeze-frames a period of rural Burlington County history long lost to the development and sprawl which surrounds it.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009 – 7:30 p.m. Billiard Room, Smithville Mansion, Eastampton


According to historian Giles Wright, "No New Jersey County has a richer black historical presence than Burlington County. The black presence on soil that is today Burlington County is in fact older than the county itself." The Delaware Valley was known as the "cradle of emancipation," and some of the earliest forms of black organized life can be found in Burlington County. This illustrated lecture provides an overview of one of the most famous African American Families in Burlington County. While Dr. James Still, “the Black Doctor of the Pines” is probably most readily known, his brothers William and Peter have their own claims to fame. Their parents, Charity and Levin Still settled in Shamong, and despite their many struggles, raised a family of very successful and influential citizens, well ahead of their time. Mr. Laufer focuses primarily on the life of Dr. James Still based on his autobiography, “Early Recollections ad Life of Dr. James Still”, published in 1877. Dr. Still became a highly successful medical practitioner administering herbal medicine to his patients while overcoming prejudice and envy by the mainstream medical profession. He went on to become one of the largest landowners in Medford. The lives of brothers William (a leader in the Underground Railroad movement in Philadelphia) and Peter (whose story of survival is monumental) are also related as a part of the Still Family legacy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 – 7:30 p.m. Billiard Room, Smithville Mansion, Eastampton


This illustrated lecture is a spin-off of a speech delivered by Joe Laufer on May 30, 2006 at Memorial Day ceremonies conducted at a local Veterans’ organization. Mr. Laufer demonstrates that despite having been established by conscientious objectors (the Quaker colonizers), Burlington County has a rich military connection. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, the lecture locates monuments commemorating military battles, including a little known monument to the unknown county militiamen who gave their lives during the battle for independence. Civil War monuments include the Soldier at Rest statue associated with the history of Beverly National Cemetery, and the Black Civil War veterans’ tombstones in cemeteries throughout the county. The Arneytown Veteran's Cemetery is highlighted, as are four highways honoring Veterans, and the county’s official multi-branch Veteran’s Memorial in Burlington Township. The “Ultimate Weapon” monument and military museum at Fort Dix, and monuments at McGuire AFB are discussed. Laufer also locates and illustrates some very unique Veterans’ Monuments erected in the 40 municipalities of Burlington County. After attending this lecture, attendees will want to visit many of the sites discussed.





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