Although incorporated in 1901, Tabernacle’s history easily dates to before 1778, according to the Tabernacle Historical Society website, the approximate year when John Brainard established a small church at the intersection of today’s Carranza and Medford Lakes roads.
It was known as the Tabernacle in the Woods.
In February of 1975, a group of 10 local residents met to discuss establishing a local historical society “to protect, preserve and promote” the township’s history.
That continues today. And with the help of recent grants the historical society got from the county and state, a number of projects are on the horizon.
Burlington County Commissioners have approved the distribution of $58,711 to nine local organizations to assist with operations and advance their historic preservation projects. The society will receive $7,421 of those funds. Its president, Richard Franzen, said the group initially sought $9,895, so with the lesser amount, members had to decide what areas to prioritize.
They came up with three. One is to restore a copy of the rare Otley Whiteford map that dates back to 1849. The society will use about $3,000 from the county to restore the map and use additional funds from a previous donation to complete its restoration.
The second area of focus is to conduct research on the approximately 20 or so Civil War veterans buried at the Old Tabernacle Cemetery on Carranza and Chatsworth roads. That research will help the society organize a living history-type event planned for October so people can walk through the cemetery and learn about the veterans through reenactors.
The effort will involve the purchase of the Civil War veteran pension files. But not all of the buried veterans have pension files, so the society will have to research them further, Franzen noted.
The third area of focus for the society involves an innovative project the society started last year. Part of researching about the history of the area was looking at old local newspapers from the 1800s. In particular, the society is interested in microfilming the New Jersey Mirror and the Central Record publications and will use the grant funds from commissoners to continue digitizing the newspapers.
Franzen said the project has been a collaboration with the Burlington County Historical Society and the county library.
On the state level, Franzen confirmed on Jan. 26 that the historical society will receive a $6,860 grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities to study the role of African Americans in the history of Tabernacle.
The study will include three areas. First, ground-penetrating radar will help the society find out how many Blacks are buried at the AME cemetery, which opened in 1868 on Carranza Road.
“We believe there are 75 or so burials,” Franzen said.
The second area will include researching the genealogy of African American families also buried there. The third area will involve oral histories of Black families in Tabernacle to see if there is a connection with the families who had called the township home. Franzen said the society plans to use assistants and graduate-level students to accomplish both the interviews and research.
Franzen said the idea for the project was kicked around and has evolved.
“We don’t know much about the cemetery,” he explained, adding that the burial ground was once abandoned and is now maintained by a couple of residents. The African Methodist Episcopal Church once stood at the site.
For more information on Tabernacle history, visit tabernaclehistoricalsociey.org.