The Hightstown-East Windsor Historical Society was founded in 1971, on the initiative of the Junior Friday Club. On June 21, 1974, the Society bought the house that it now uses as its headquarters, the Ely House, for $40,000. Several local families purchased furniture from the Huldah Ely estate for the Society to display in its new headquarters. This Greek revival style house dates from ca. 1850. Three different families lived in the house before the Elys bought it in 1917. At least two generations of the Ely family lived there. Many of the Society members began volunteering to rehabilitate the house. Volunteers spent the next 5 years scraping, painting, and plastering. It wasn’t until the fall of 1979 that much of the work was done downstairs and ready for the open house.
On October 3, 1990, the Society had the remaining “freight station” of the Camden & Amboy Railroad, moved from the Coca Cola (Minute Maid) Summit Street property, through the middle of Hightstown to the back of the Ely House property. Coca-Cola paid $40,000 to have it moved because the company needed the property on which the freight station stood. It took 9 years to renovate the freight station for the Society’s museum and library holdings.
The freight station, originally built in 1869, stood on Railroad Avenue. It was moved by locomotive to Summit Street in 1917, near Mercer Street. In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased 6 acres of land south of Summit Street, and it was in this area that the freight station was moved and lengthened to 130 feet. When it was moved to Ely House property in 1990, only the old original section of 80 feet was moved to the site. In mid-April 1995, the first substantial construction work on the freight station, since the permanent foundation was completed in 1991, was begun.
With the bequest from the executors of the Sara Hutchinson West estate, the Society received $276,000. This sum of money made it possible for the Society to refurbish the freight station, build a deck, attach an enclosed exhibit area to the Ely House (the station foyer) and put new wood siding on the exterior of the Ely House. When all the work was completed, the freight station was dedicated and named the Sara Hutchinson West Educational Center. This celebration took place October 3, 1999. Housed inside the newly refurbished structure are a museum and library, rest rooms and a small kitchenette, all wheel chair accessible. The building is now used by children for programs, for school tours, and used by several community organizations for meetings. Outside the building is an original iron railroad crossing sign refurbished for the Society by the Lions Club. Also, on the site are several “sleeper” stones, which supported the rails, upon which ran the famous “John Bull” engine.
The mission of the Hightstown-East Windsor Historic Society is to:
- Preserve and share photos, objects, publications, and the Historical Ely House.
- Educate the public about the history of Hightstown and East Windsor Township.
You can help! There are many ways to support the Society.