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Behind the Scenes at a Century-Old Institution

Photography by Hoag Levins ... | ...October, 2008

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The first behind-the-scenes tour in the 109-year history of the Camden County Historical Society brought a steady stream of visitors through the institutions's secret places on Oct. 26. Some, like Mike Benson (above, left), curator of the 103rd Engineer Battalion Armory museum in Philadelphia, pored over the Society's large gun collection. Others (above right), roamed the storage rooms that hold tens of thousands of historic objects.

The labryinthine cellars beneath historic Pomona Hall were a favorite of many visitors. The structures under the earliest section of the 18th-century mansion date back nearly 300 years and have massively thick walls and tunnel-like passageways. The basements are now an extensive storage and archive facility.

Society board vice president Sandy Levins (above, left) points out timbers from the 1777 wreckage of the Augusta, a British war ship set afire in the Delaware River. The trove of farming machinery and implements (above, right) was of particular interest to Richard Shapiro, who drove in from Bala, Pa., for the tour.

The area used for the Society's conservation work was also opened during the tour (above, left). It allowed visitors to see how centuries-old documents, books and maps are repaired and preserved. One rare item was a hand-carved cider wagon toy from the 1840 campaign of William Harrison, who became the ninth U.S. president. His election slogan was "Log Cabin and Hard Cider," which suggested he was a simple frontier hero.

In the mid-20th century, one basement wall (above, left) was inset with local Colonial-era road markers. Upstairs, visitors also got to tour the large attic of Pomona Hall where this stairway (above, right) leads to the roof and a view of the nearby Cooper River.

The Society's large textile collection was also opened to view (above, left) It includes three centuries of clothes, hats, shoes, military uniforms, quilts and samplers. Ranging across a similar time period is a collection of fans (above, right).

Many of the afternoon's visitors, who had never been to the Society's three-building complex before, also wandered its museum. The collection boasts a large collection of Civil War artifacts.

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