Society looks ahead, rather than to past

Lawrence historical group re-evaluates mission.

By: Lea Kahn
   Aware of its past but unclear about its future, the Lawrence Historical Society has formed a long-range planning committee.
   The 13-member committee will work with the Stoolmacher Consulting Group to develop a mission statement, said Janet Bickal, president of the Lawrence Historical Society’s board of trustees.
   The Stoolmacher Consulting Group, which is based in Lawrence, will be paid $2,500 to help the society develop a long-range plan, Ms. Bickal said. The society received a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation to cover the cost of hiring the consultant, she said.
   Ms. Bickal readily acknowledged that the historical society does not have a long-range plan.
   For the better part of a decade, it had focused on working with Lawrence Township to restore the township-owned Brearley House, which is located at the end of Meadow Road. The 18th-century brick farmhouse was built by one of the pioneer settlers of the township.
   "Since May 2000, when the restoration of the Brearley House was completed, the society has needed to decide what our priorities should be," Ms. Bickal said. "Should we do another major capital project? Should we emphasize historical topics unrelated to the Brearley House or the Port Mercer Canal House (which serves as the society’s headquarters)?
   "We decided we needed to have a plan," Ms. Bickal said of the 200-member historical society. "We had a plan — to restore the Brearley House. We did that, and now we need to know where we are going in the future."
   That’s why the society applied for a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation and then hired the Stoolmacher Consulting Group. The objective now is to create a questionnaire that will be distributed to the 1,300 people on the historical society’s mailing list. The questionnaire will be anonymous, she added.
   The questionnaire, which is being designed, also will be made available on the Lawrence Historical Society’s Web site,, Ms. Bickal said. It will be available through the public schools and in the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of the Mercer County Library System, she said.
   "We want to get it out as broadly as we can," she said. "We want it get it in the mail before our Feb. 22 annual meeting. It will ask people whether they are familiar with what the historical society has done in the past or whether they have attended any of our events. People may suggest other things that we might do."
   The questionnaire also may ask if the society’s programs and membership reflect the diversity of Lawrence Township, she said. It may ask whether the programs encourage active participation by students, senior citizens and the general public. And it may ask whether the society’s activities have lead to a heightened interest in Lawrence Township’s history, she said.
   "Implicit in the plan is to increase active, participating membership," Ms. Bickal said. "We need to increase the active membership of our society, especially among young people. To do that, we need to show that we have compelling plans for the future."
   The results of the questionnaire and the long-range plan that it generates would be discussed at the Lawrence Historical Society’s annual meeting in 2005, Ms. Bickal said. It is expected to take a year to analyze the results and come up with a long-range plan, she said.
   The 13-member long-range planning committee includes Deputy Mayor Pam Mount, Schools Superintendent Max Riley, Delaware & Raritan Canal Parks Superintendent Susan Herron and Rider University professor Brooke Hunter.
   Also, archeologist Ian Burrow of Hunter Research, Lawrence Township Historian Richard Graja and historical society trustees Ruth Barringer, Paul Gatterdam, Caryn Goldenberg, Chris Lahoda, Dan Oberst, Don Meisel and Ms. Bickal.