Debunking the Myths Surrounding the “Deserted” Village of Allaire

This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.

The Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum named posthumously for its founder James P. Allaire. The museum interprets an iron-producing factory town during its peak year, 1836. The village offers a variety of craft demonstrations and activities such as blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and carpentry. 

 In this latest post, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Felicity Bennett. Felicity Bennett is the Museum Collections Coordinator. Her role is both an archivist and handling museum collections. For the first time in the museum’s 60 year history, there is a full-time paid staff position whose sole purpose is to look after the collection. The role was usually handled by volunteers or added to other positions in the past. In her new role, she is looking to further professionalize the museum and organize the collections.  

KC: Who was James Allaire and what was his significance to Allaire Village?

FB: James P. Allaire is our founder for the Allaire Village, and during his lifetime it was actually called Howell Works. He was a steamship engine manufacturer, and he had an office in both New York City and Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we’re located. What we were doing was harvesting bog iron, which is a renewable source of iron, and smelting that down into workable iron. It was basically a forge used to manufacture all the parts for the engines that would get shipped to New York for boats.

KC: What types of materials are in his collection? What items are particularly interesting to you?

A 7-page Deed from James P. Allaire giving property to his second wife Calicia.

FB: So, in addition to the museum collection, our archival collection has more of his business documentation, such as his deeds. He did purchase a lot of land from local farmers and everything to build this kind of manufacturing town.  We also have some of his personal papers, photographs and other things of that nature. I would say the most interesting to me is the personal papers of his son, Hal Allaire. He was just kind of an eccentric man and he lived here after the village forge shut down. He basically turned into a recluse and kind of let everything become deserted and in ruins. There were still people living here and he did entertain quite a bit in the house, but he was more interested in letting everything return to the forest.

KC: What are some misconceptions surrounding Allaire Village? What information from the collection helps free some of these misconceptions?

FB: So, there is the misconception that it was deserted or abandoned because the original title for our museum was the Deserted Village of Allaire. A lot of the forge and businesses shut down, but there still were people living here, and  there’s never really a gap in ownership. So we do have in the collection, we have a lot of the deeds saying who owned it and when. We also have a lot of photographs showing people doing something similar to motor tours.  Because during the turn of the century that was a really big public tourist activity. People would get in their little cars and drive on tracks because it was a new adventure at the time.

KC: So, I remembered when I searched Allaire Village online, it was listed as a haunted historical site. I heard about you all receiving inquiries from paranormal investigators.  

FB: Those websites are very inaccurate a lot of the time. As far as the history goes, I saw one saying how Hal was a child ghost, that he was a little boy,  and he died when he was in his 50s. So, definitely not a child. I have seen stuff confusing his [James’] two wives. You have to be careful using websites because one, ghosts aren’t real, and a lot of the history isn’t correct. 

KC: Is there additional information that you would like to add about the collection?

FB: We do continuously find more information by going through our archive. I think that’s really interesting how we can continue to learn just based on what we find, like reading someone’s old diary or something.

KC: Is there anything specific that you’ve learned like any of the materials?

FB: So we’re actually putting together an exhibit about the later years of the village. I had never known the name of who owned the village between Hal and Brisbane and who sold it to the state. I recently found out that it was a man named William Harrison, who was a friend of Hal, who purchased it and paid off taxes and then sold it.

KC:  I remember when learning about Arthur Brisbane, there was a lot of misinformation surrounding his contributions.

FB: Brisbane was a huge newspaper editorialist and did a lot with Hearst newspapers and magazines, which are still around today. I forget off the top of my head which ones are still owned by them,  but I know it’s a lot.

KC: What do you hope visitors would take away from their experience at Allaire Village?

FB: My hope is for visitors to be engaged with history and to see the relevance between life in the village and today. There are a lot of parallels in how people live then and now. This is really the start of the industrial revolution and a lot of the industry and businesses visitors see in the village had a direct impact on societal and economical changes that happened over the last century. I also want to see more people get involved in local history, because there’s always really interesting things to learn. 

An Interview with Micaela Blei, Award-Winning Storyteller, Educator, and A Finding Aid to My Soul Host!

The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is collaborating again with our favorite professional storyteller, Micaela Blei, for our archivist and archives-centric storytelling event, A Finding Aid to My Soul, on October 6, 12:00 pm — 1:00 PM CT.

Micaela Blei, PhD, is a storyteller, educator and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s a two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner, former Director of Education for The Moth and former third grade teacher who has told stories, taught storytelling workshops and hosted shows around the world. She gives keynotes and research talks on storytelling and empathy at conferences and universities nationwide. Micaela’s stories can be heard on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast, the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts, and many others. You can find out more about her upcoming online courses and hear more stories at

Check out our first interview with her in 2019.

This is your third time hosting COPA’s A Finding Aid to My Soul. Last year we took this event online for the first time. What surprised you about last year’s event? What do you think the benefits are of an online event? 

It was a surprise how well it worked! I was nervous at first: it was our first time working together for a show that was fully online. But I was thrilled when people shared their reactions— that they found it meaningful, connecting and most of all fun. I think the benefit of an online event— and this isn’t news to us, now that we’ve been doing things online for over a year— is accessibility. It was amazing to see people logging in from all over, who might otherwise not have made it to a live event.

You offer coaching and storytelling workshops to all kinds of groups. What is it like working with archivists? 

I find archivists to be really fun to work with, partly because of my own personal fascination with libraries and archives! I worked in an archive as an undergrad (at Beinecke, for the amazing Pat Willis) and it has always felt like the career I never had. Also, archivists understand stories! You all are immersed in stories all the time, and you’re communicators in so many modes— to the public, to stakeholders, to the people whose archives you are stewarding. In short— you’re my favorites.

Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator? 

Just that I’m thrilled to be back working with SAA and I truly can’t wait to work with some new archivist tellers this year!

Listen to a story by Micaela Blei, Arielle Petrovich, instruction and outreach archivist at the University of Notre Dame; and Kira Lyle, grad student at the University of South Carolina on Archives in Context podcast, Season 3, Episode 2: Finding Aid to My Soul, Part 1.

Don’t forget to pitch your story! Last week our call for stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Virtual Event went out.

Pitches are due August 31. Selected storytellers to be notified by Sept. 5. 
Pitch it here! 

PITCH YOUR STORY! Call for Stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Virtual Event on October 6

“Storytelling provides safe conditions for daring decisions.”

—Micaela Blei
Graphic with pink angles and yellow circles on purple background. Text in yellow and pink. See caption for text.
Pitch Your Story! Call for your unique, moving, or humorous archival stories for “A Finding Aid to My Soul” Deadline: August 31, HTTPS://SMR.TO/P67427

When did you decide that you wanted to be an archivist? What was your first encounter with an archives? How did you handle a challenge in your work? What is a unique, serendipitous, moving, mysterious, special, or humorous experience you’ve had as an archivist?

If you would like the chance to share your story, then pitch it to us! In 100 to 200 words, tell us about your archives story. (Please don’t give us a cliff-hanger; you should summarize the whole story.) Great pitches will let us know what happened, what changed for you (or the world!), and what was at stake.

During “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” archivists from a variety of institutions and experience levels will share 5-minute true, personal stories of their connections to archives they have encountered. The virtual event—on Wednesday, October 6, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm CT—will be hosted by award-winning storyteller and educator Micaela Blei (The Moth, Risk). Sponsored by SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, it is part of American Archives Month and will be recorded.

We’re looking for a wide range of voices to share their experiences. Absolutely no storytelling or performance experience necessary. Bonus: Micaela will be available to support you as you practice your story. 

You may think that your story is not “dramatic” enough. We beg to differ! We want to hear stories with high stakes as well as small, intimate stories of the work you do and the personal ways it connects to your life. If it mattered to you, it will matter to us, too. (If you need some inspiration, listen to selections from past “Finding Aid to My Soul” events on the Archives in Context podcast.)

Pitches are due August 31. Selected storytellers to be notified by Sept. 5. 
Pitch it here! 

Want to listen to more? Selections from past Finding Aid to My Soul events can be found on the Archives in Context (season 3) podcast.