Historic Cold Spring Village was founded in 1973 by Anne and Joe Salvatore as an open-air, living-history museum of 1800s farm and rural life in Cape May County - and by extension, of the roots of shore life in South Jersey.
It took eight years to restore the 30 acres enough to open its buildings to visitors, and the village has been through lots of changes over those four decades of history as a museum. But one constant has been close involvement by Anne Salva-tore, a mostly retired nurse and teacher whose title today is executive director of the village, off Route 9 in Lower Township.
The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum has a much more recent history, in all kinds of ways. Its roots as a historic place go back to 1943, when the Naval Air Station Wildwood opened on the Lower Township mainland as a training base for World War II pilots and air crews.
And its roots as a museum go back to 1995, when Joe Salvatore - known professionally as Dr. Joseph Salvatore, an orthopedic surgeon who practiced for decades in Bergen County - saw a huge, and hugely dilapidated, building at the Cape May County Airport and wondered out loud about it.
"What's that?" he said earlier this month, repeating his question from that day. The answer, he says, was an immediate offer to sell the 92,000-square-foot, wooden building to him - for the princely price of a dollar.
He agreed, and the rest is history - in the form of a museum of the history of what happened at this airfield during its brief, but busy, life in World War II, and of developments in military aviation in the decades since.
The NASW also has been through a lot in its own history since it opened as a museum in 1997, but one thing that never changed was its leader: Dr. Joe Salvatore, now mostly retired from medicine, is and has been the museum's chairman.
Back at Cold Spring Village, a mile and a quarter from the aviation museum and not far from the Salvatores' Lower Township home, Anne emphasizes she and her husband are hardly the only important people at the historic facilities they founded. There are trained, paid, professional staffs doing day-to-day operations at HCSV and NASW, and volunteer directors watching the big pictures.
"It takes lots of people," Anne says. "We both have boards (of directors) - it's not a Joe and Annie show. ... We have fabulous people who work for us. We couldn't do it by ourselves."
Still, both are deeply devoted to their separate museums - to the point they both work for their causes free.
"They don't take a dime from either place," says Joe Cirrinicione, the recently retired Lower Township school superintendent, a board member at both institutions. "And this isn't widely known, but they put their own money into both places to underwrite so many things."
Cirrinicione met the Salvatores when his school district would send kids to Cold Spring for field trips - the village draws several thousand students per year on historic class trips, mostly in May and June. And once he got to know them, he got to believe in them.
"It's just incredible how they give of themselves," he said. "Joe and Anne are not kids, but they work incredibly long hours and long days."
For the record, Anne's devotion to capturing history has its limits.
"Never ask a woman her age," she answers, with a smile, to a guy who just rudely made the mistake of doing that.
But when she has an audience, she's eager for the opportunity to tell and sell the Cold Spring story. She goes into rich detail about its history - the oldest of its 26 buildings dates back to 1691, which makes Coxe Hall Cottage the oldest building still standing in Cape May County.
And those historic buildings were rescued from all over the county by Cold Spring Village, which draws about 30,000 total visitors per year - 80 percent of them from out of the county, Anne says. Those statistics make it the biggest museum of its kind in New Jersey, she adds.
In its summer season, the Village has a staff of more than 30, "Cape May County people," she emphasizes, all in period costumes, and many of them active or retired history teachers, or history students. Part of the history these interpreters try to show, and not just tell, is that "farming and fishing is what started Cape May County," she adds.
In the 30-plus years the museum has been opened, Anne - who has filled roles ranging from cook to her current title - often has been one of those historically costumed characters.
"And in years when we had less staff, I was in costume every day," the executive director adds.
She goes on in such detail about the village that as she does, her husband takes the opportunity to tease her, accusing her of hijacking a joint interview with a monologue about her favorite place.
"Now Annie, you can't hog all of this," Joe says, with a smile of his own, as his wife of 47 years continues her tale. And when a question comes his way, he starts his answer with a warning: "I'm not as verbose as my wife."
But he is equally happy to tell the story of the aviation museum, and to take a few visitors on a tour of the place after a short drive to Cape May County Airport.
And actually, the doctor admits that when he asked on his first visit in 1995 about the sprawling wooden building, he knew what it was - or had been. As a kid growing up in Wildwood when the Naval Air Station was active, from 1943 to 1945, he used to see its planes fly over his hometown.
That wasn't hard to do: In its busiest month of October in 1944, the station's records show almost 17,000 training flights took off from the airfield. And all that flying came with risks built in - the records also count 129 crashes on or around the base, and 42 airmen who died training to go to war. Now, the NASW is dedicated as a memorial to those 42 Americans.
But Joe - whose early professional career included a few years as a U.S. Army doctor - couldn't know then how much work it would take to bring the historic Hangar No. 1 back to life, except for one thing that was obvious from the outside: It needed a whole lot of new glass.
By official count, the hangar has about 4,400 window panes - and at least half of them were broken by the time this history buff decided what a "spectacular" museum it could make.
All that missing glass had let lots of birds in - "There had to be a thousand pigeons in there, and that's no exaggeration," says Cirrinicione, the Salvatores' friend - and that had about the effect you'd expect: Early visitors remember a good 6 inches of pigeon droppings crusted onto the hangar's floor when they got there.
Since then, the NASW has drawn more than $3.3 million in grants - "My wife is getting jealous as I say this," the doctor warns a visitor. It has also stuffed its hangar with 26 military aircraft from World War II-age on. Joe admits to being a big fan of the Internet, partly for all the surplus stuff it has led him to for his museum.
He notes those 26 planes are exactly the same number of buildings Cold Spring Village has - and adds the aviation museum draws about 30,000 visitors per year, or roughly the same number as the village. Not that there's any friendly competition between them, of course.
"At night for us, pillow talk is, 'Where did you get that grant?' Or, 'Who visited there today?'" Joe says.
And these two historic institutions are happy to join forces when they can, with the biggest annual example being Cold Spring Village's annual "Feasting on History" fundraiser - hosted at the NASW. This year's, on May 7, will be the 13th rendition of the restaurant gala, which features signature tastes from 40 local eateries, breweries and wineries, and takes in $45,000 from 700 hungry guests to support the village's mission.
All those people need a big room, of course, so it's fortunate the boss at Cold Spring Village happens to be on good terms with the boss at the NASW, which happens to own the largest all-wooden structure east of the Mississippi River.
Cold Spring Village is happy to be able to fit in all those customers, who pay $75 per person. And Joe Salvatore is happy to tease his historical colleague/wife one more time as Anne gives more details of her major fundraiser.
"And we," he complains, "don't get much rent from them."
Contact Martin DeAngelis:
6 p.m. May 7 at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, at Cape May County Airport. Tickets are $75, or $700 for a table of 10. For tickets or more details, call 609-898-2300,
ext 18, or visit hcsv.org