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Hooked on History

Hooked on History

Upper Township History

BOB HOLDEN GOT HOOKED ON HISTORY AS A CHILD. THAT LOVE TRANSLATED INTO A TEACHING CAREER AND ULTIMATELY, A BOOK ABOUT UPPER TOWNSHIP’S HISTORY.
The book, “Upper Township and its Ten Villages”— Beesley’s Point, Marmora, Palermo, Seaville, Greenfield, Petersburg, Tuckahoe, Steelmantown, Marshallville, and Strathmere— tells stories of what once was in the mainland area across from Ocean City’s south end.
“I’ve been a history buff since I was a kid. I remember my mom buying me all of these Golden Book history books,” said Bob.
Bob turned his passion for history into a career, graduating from Kutztown University with a teaching degree. A job offer brought him to the Ocean City area.
“I thought ‘I can work in the town that I used to visit’. I got the fourth-grade job and taught for 31 years. Great school board, great parents. I started the gifted and talented program,” Bob said.
After retiring, he joined the Historical Preservation Society of Upper Township and the rest is history.
“This book is really about things that aren’t there anymore,” said Bob. “Upper [Township] was just filled with farms.
Upper Township and its Ten Villages was released in February of 2020 after more than six months of extensive research and as it turned out, a lot of community involvement.
“We put out word that we were looking for people who had photographs and stories. Rather than borrowing the pictures, the Historical Society bought me a portable scanner. I had a legal tablet and wrote down what they told me,” said Bob. “I was able to collect well over the 185 photos required for the book.”

The book came out a month before the pandemic and became available throughout the township at Village Pharmacy and Dino’s among other spots. The timing turned into a blessing because people were inside reading a lot more in early 2020. All profits go to the Historical Society.
These days Bob gives lectures on history to children and adults, with artifacts that guests can interact with getting a real feel for life in the past. One of these items is a teacher’s bell used to ring in students for recess. Artifacts come from historical sites throughout the township or from archeological digs. The bell came from The Friendship School, a schoolhouse in Palermo dating back to the 1830s. Other artifacts date back way earlier.
“The archaeological team that dug found an 8,000-year-old arrowhead. The stone is stone from Pennsylvania. I pass the arrowhead around and the children get to hold it,” said Bob. “They’re not going to hurt it; it’s made of stone.”
Sometimes archaeological digs turn up artifacts where you’d least expect.
“The best place to look for things is where the outhouse was. Anything they broke or couldn’t use anymore they threw in the latrine. The archaeologists have found all kinds of fascinating things. Broken cups, a lock from a musket,” said Bob.
Many artifacts (like the lock from a musket) aren’t exactly commonplace these days, a source of laughter for Bob at school lectures.
“One of the things we have is a darning egg. They are wooden eggs that you stick up into a torn sock to stitch the sock closed. I asked students what it was and the answers were hilarious,” Bob said. “I have a giant ice hook and I tried to tell the kids that there were no refrigerators. In those days, people had to put the ice into the box. My mother told me stories that her chore was emptying the ice pan.”
A quick drive south on Route 9, one of Upper’s main roads, after you cross the 34th Street Bridge, and you’ll pass another of Upper’s historical treasures – the building that houses Kirk’s Pizza in Marmora.
“Kirk’s used to be a general store and there was a gas station out front. I met the woman whose father owned the business. She gave us tons of pictures,” said Bob.
Bob takes old photos to his school lectures. A closer look at these old snapshots is one way to understand the past.
“I tell [students] to get a magnifying glass and look at how they’re dressed, how they’re acting, and their facial expressions,” said Bob.
He’s hopeful that his interactive talks help children connect more with their local history.
“We’ve got to plant seeds.”

Find this story and more in the May issue of Ocean City Magazine

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