When I decided to use the Van Allen House as a source for my digital archive and web exhibition I knew that the house had connections to the American Revolution with George Washington staying there. But when I really looked at the artifacts in the house I realized that it was not only a museum dedicated to the Revolution, but also to the town of Oakland, New Jersey. During my research I found two items, a typewriter and blacksmith tools that were used by Sidney Kingsley and Henry R. Hopper.
Looking more closely at these two men I realized they were not only connected to Oakland, but to state of New Jersey as well. However, when I researched them I discovered a problem that had an important consequence effect on my entire project. Despite the town’s fascinating history and people, Oakland is not a town that has been really looked at by historians. They have preferred to look at the larger cities/areas when researching New Jersey. I hope to demonstrate that this should not be the case because Kingsley and Hopper illustrate the fascinating history has Oakland and this history should be looked at by historians.
Sidney Kingsley, born Sidney Kirschner, was a dramatist who wrote several critical acclaimed plays such as “Dead End” (1935), “The Patriots” (1943) and “Men in White” (1933), the last won him a Pulitzer Prize. He was born in October 22, 1906 in Manhattan. When Kingsley was in Cornell University he started writing plays, and after earning a B.A. degree in 1928 he acted a little. Kingsley brought a farm in Oakland, New Jersey in 1935 where he lived with his wife, actress Madge Evans. He later became the founding chairman of the New Jersey’s Motion Picture and Television Development Commission in 1977, which is still around today. Sidney Kingsley died on March 20, 1995 at 88 years old.
Henry R. Hopper was the last blacksmith Oakland ever had. Born in 1877 Hopper was born into the business with his father and two older brothers being blacksmiths as well. Hopper was the last blacksmith to close shop, temporary, in Oakland, in 1916. He went to Haskell, New Jersey to work at the DuPont Company and stayed there until Dec. 28, 1918. Other jobs Hopper had were Tax Collector in 1920, School Custodian in 1928, etc. He was also the president and a founding member of the Oakland Fire Department. He died in 1969 at the age of 92.
As I have shown these two men alone give Oakland some real historic value, especially Hopper. Sadly, very few historians have bothered to record the history of these two men’s time in Oakland, or, for that matter, Oakland’s history. I have found two books that really talk about the town and the people in it. This should not be the case because in a state like New Jersey, it is the little people, not only the big people, who make the history. So historians should not only look at the big cities of Oakland for history, but the small towns as well because they can provide just as rich, even richer, history than the major areas.