Rob Reid, president of the Galloway Township Historical Society, stands in of front of old post office, the potential site for a museum for local artifacts.

Edward Lea

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A large map from 1872 dominates one wall of the dim meeting room in Galloway Township’s rambling municipal complex.

Rob Reid moves an obstruction away, leans in closer and points to a collection of dots: “Johnsontown.”

That long-vanished village existed east of North New York Road. A few homes remain near the birthplace of Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the early 20th century Atlantic City politico/boss reimagined by HBO in the series “Boardwalk Empire.”

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Like the artifacts in the room, the site is historic, but few people even know it exists.

A sign from the former Gross’ Highland Winery sits on the floor near the map. Old records fill a shelf. Some black and white photos hang on the wall.

Reid, the president of the Galloway Township Historical Society, hopes to transform the township’s motley collection of relics stashed in an obscure municipal room and elsewhere. He envisions something more approaching what he helped do in Absecon: a large, sunny space with plenty of local artifacts for local residents to poke around in.

While officials are optimistic about the project, the society will likely have to fill out a little more paperwork before it can proceed.

The Township Council passed a resolution at its Tuesday meeting authorizing the historical society to move into the former municipal complex post office.

Councilman James McElwee asked that the resolution be pulled from the agenda for discussion, saying he was not part of previous discussions about the building being used by the society. McElwee questioned whether or not the township had looked into renting the building to a private business.

But Mayor Don Purdy said it is not right for the township to compete against other township properties that are paying taxes or soliciting tenants.

"We shouldn't be in the business of being a landlord," Purdy said.

The former post office is the former Gross family residence, purchased along with the rest of the winery in 1986 for the current township complex.

The post office closed Jan. 1 after failing to produce enough customers to justify its existence to municipal officials. Reid said once the U.S. Postal Service removes its counters and supplies, then the Historical Society could begin moving in.

Arch Liston, township administrator, said the society would be responsible for preparing the building for its new life as a museum. “We’re not paying for it,” Liston said. “They are.”

City Councilman Tony Coppola said the society does a good job now, but the open nature of the township building meant “you could walk right up and take off with one of these artifacts.”

Reid agreed. He stores some artifacts at his home, as well as at the Absecon Historical Society, where he serves as president.

Reid said once the post office moves out, the society would solicit and rely on donors to paint the walls and finish the floors, as well as make other needed changes to the building. The well-maintained exterior was in perfect condition.

When complete, the building would have a rotating number of displays on the ground floor, where it would share space with the township public access television station, GTV. The second floor would be used for storage.

Township officials are relying on Reid’s legacy as the Absecon Historical Society president. The group, a registered nonprofit, reported raising $112,821 and spending $10,263 in 2010, according to its most recent tax return. Almost all of the money was raised through gifts, grants and contributions, according to the returns.

In recent years, the Absecon society was able to renovate a former bank building into a repository of the small town’s past.

By comparison, the Galloway Township Historical Society has long been run informally. The township passed an ordinance in 1987 designating the society as the official agency of the township’s history. The ordinance required a township councilman on its board and said township officials must at least consider budget funding for it, although it is unclear how much has ever been expended.

The Galloway Township Historical Society is not a registered nonprofit, unlike other local historical societies, including those in Somers Point, Vineland, Stafford Township, Avalon, Longport and Egg Harbor City.

Without the formal nonprofit designation, donations to the Galloway Township Historical Society may not be tax-deductible. Nonprofits are also generally required to file detailed tax documents if they receive more than $50,000 in a given year.

The society has had its own bank account and collected dues for more than 20 years, Reid said.

It also raised some money in recent years with a photo book on the township history, but said the current budget was zero.

When asked about the nonprofit designation, Reid said he considered the society to be an arm of the township, and that it had never sought nonprofit designation for 25 years as a result. But he said the society would comply with whatever is required.

Coppola said he was optimistic about the society’s plans, but said he would recommend the society formally establish itself as a nonprofit before proceeding. “I’m sure if they take over that space, that our CFO is going to have to get involved and make sure that things are done the right way,” he said.

Staff writer Donna Weaver contributed to this report.

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Follow Derek Harper on Twitter @dnharper


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