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Digging for the truth

Historical society series kicks off with researcher who studied British retreat of 1788

Special to The Sun
Local historian and independent researcher David Boulden used a hand-held metal detector in Camden and Burlington counties to confirm his beliefs about the retreat.

The Historical Society of Moorestown’s New Jersey History Speaks Lecture Series will feature local historian and independent researcher David Boulden on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the township’s library.

Boulden’s 7 p.m. presentation – “Facts and Artifacts” – will highlight his findings about the British retreat through New Jersey from Philadelphia in 1778.

“He reached out to us because he was working on a project where he was trying to trace the British retreat through New Jersey from Philadelphia in 1778, and he had heard a lecture at the Mount Laurel Historical Society in February of 2020,” said Lenny Wagner, president of the historical society.

Suspicious of some of the widely-held beliefs about the British retreat, Boulden put his mind and muscle to work delving into long-held theories. With a goal of confirming or challenging the conventional wisdom about the retreat, Boulden used a hand-held metal detector across Camden and Burlington counties, following the trail believed to have been taken by the British.

From August 2020 to April 2022, he walked more than 1,700 miles, dug countless holes and collected more than 2,500 pounds of items.

“He spent countless hours in the field collecting all kinds of artifacts,” Wagner noted. “ … He’s a pretty interesting guy because he’s very much into this. So it should be good.”

The lecture series runs from September through May. Architect Dan Nichols will speak on Wednesday, Oct. 11, to coincide with the historical society’s upcoming exhibit on protecting historic structures in town and the work of famed architect Malcolm Wells.

According to its website, a few months ago the library reached out to the historical society after discovering a model of the old municipal complex in its storage area. The complex was designed by famed architect Malcolm Wells and opened in 1973. The town hall section caught fire in August 2007 and sustained water, smoke and other damage. It was demolished in 2011 and replaced by the current complex in 2014.

“ … The subtext of this whole exhibit is the whole idea of trying to protect historically significant homes in Moorestown,” Wagner explained. “Not just ones that were built in the 18th century, but other ones that have historic significance. It could be just who designed them?”

“You don’t want to tear down a Malcolm Wells house even if it wasn’t built in 1778.”

Besides the municipal complex, Wells designed several other structures in Moorestown, including residential dwellings, office buildings and the Methodist Church. The historical society’s exhibit will focus on the two phases of Wells’ career, a period of more conventional designs and a second, more innovative and ecologically sensitive period.

The exhibit will also cover his relationship with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was Wells’ mentor. Following the exhibit, the historical society will host its annual history and ghost tours the last three Friday and Saturday nights in October.

“I don’t know anywhere else where you’re going to get any of this stuff,” Wagner observed of the historical society’s 2023-’24 season. “We hear a lot of people talk about how they appreciate … the look back on their town and how it always was …

“It’s a way for people to reconnect with the town that they grew up in, or it’s a great way for people who are new to the town to learn about its history.”

For more information on historical society’s events, visit https://moorestownhistory.org.

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