Budget cuts force layoffs at Farmstead

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

The historic Barclay Farmstead Museum will no longer host regular hours to the public, as its staff of four part-time employees was laid off. On June 14 the township announced its preliminary tax levy and a 10-percent reduction in the township’s work force.

Several residents and Friends of the Barclay Farmstead Museum expressed their regret at last week’s meeting and urged Mayor Bernie Platt to not let the museum go into disrepair.

Listed in the National and New Jersey Registers of Historical Places, the Farmstead has been a central structure in Cherry Hill since 1826 when Joseph W. Cooper purchased the original 168-acre lot as a summertime retreat. The land was passed down to his great granddaughter, Helen Champion Barclay, who sold the remaining 32-acres of the Farmstead to Cherry Hill in 1974.

Chief of Staff Dan Keashen said the general hours for the historic museum would no longer be open to the public. The Farmstead was open from Tuesday to Friday from noon to 4 p.m. On the first Sunday of each month the museum was open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Jackie Flechtner, a resident of Cherry Hill, said she was concerned that very little was revealed to the public in regard to the township’s plan to cancel the public hours for the museum.

“I realize that there are budget restrictions, but I was very concerned because nobody told the Friends of the Barclay Farmstead. They are a very active part of the Farmstead and nobody knew this was going to happen,” she said.

Because of the economic crisis and the cost associated with the museum, Keashen said those general hours will no longer be kept and the four part-time employees will be let go. By closing the museum on these days and reducing staff, the township hopes to save about $25,000. The historic landmark will still be maintained and will still have utilities, he said, but will cost much less to run.

“It’s an unfortunate part of the new normal in this economic climate,” he said.

Tours will still be offered at the museum, but they have to be reserved in advance, Keashen said. Interested groups or individuals can call the Cherry Hill Department of Recreation to reserve a tour time. The museum generally hosted only about 120 tours a year, he said.

He said that all programs — such as the Living History Day — will be continued at the Farmstead and are not going to be cancelled.

Another change of policy at the Farmstead will be to allow special events at the historic property, Keashen said.

A 2002 ban was levied against weddings, graduation ceremonies and other events at the farmstead. These celebrations will again be allowed at the Farmstead for a fee, he said.

The money brought into the township from the events may go back to rehiring one or several of the part-time employees and reestablishing general hours of operation for the museum. However, Keashen said the township would like to see more of a volunteer base for the museum in the future and not have to rely on part-time employees.