Atlantic County plans to restore the historic Estell mansion, vacant for a number of years, for use as a veterans history museum.
The palatial home was built in 1832 by the wealthy Estell family, who owned the nearby glassworks. It has been vacant for nearly two decades since the county purchased the property in 1993.
“There has been an ongoing emphasis on veterans in Atlantic County,” said Cindy Mason Purdie, administrator for the Atlantic County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. “They were looking for a use for that building ... and doing something for the veterans certainly would be something they’d be willing to fund.”
Purdie said state grants had allowed the county to fix the home’s roof and stabilize its basement, but funding wasn’t available to shore up the floors to allow the building to be used as office or exhibit space. A combination of county and grant funding, as well as donations from the public, will help complete that process, she said.
Atlantic County Veterans Services Officer Bob Frolow said the idea of a museum has been considered for a number of years, but the right location had not been found.
“This was ideal for it, since it’s county property,” he said.
Frolow said the mansion’s proximity to the Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery, which opened on the site in 1986, made it a natural choice.
The next step for the newly formed commission, he said, is to work out the details of converting the historic home into a museum and what to include in the exhibits.
In addition to the museum, the project will also likely include space for the county’s veterans services office, Mason Purdie said.
Historian June Sheridan, who is also on the commission, said the project is a positive step in that it preserves two pieces of county history.
“I think it’s great that we’re recognizing the veterans from Atlantic County, from the Revolutionary War up to the present,” she said.
The mansion was home to Rebecca Estell Bourgeois Winston, the first mayor of Estell Manor and New Jersey’s first female mayor. In the 1970s and ’80s, it was used as a private boarding school and later by the Department of Corrections as a school for juvenile offenders.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson appointed former county executive and veteran Richard Squires to head the commission tasked with planning the museum. It also includes 15 other county officials, historians and veterans advocates.
“We believe a museum is not only a fitting tribute to our courageous military heroes, but it will also serve as a wonderful educational resource for our youth as well as visitors of all ages and from all areas of the county and perhaps beyond,” he said in a written statement.
Mason Purdie said it is still early in the process, but those interested in donating materials or money for the project can reach out to her office.
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