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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Millville Elementary student blows a glass bubble, 1999
Millville Elementary student blows a glass bubble, 1999. Photo: Janet Peterson

Wheaton Village

Wheaton Village was founded in 1968 in Millville, New Jersey, to preserve and celebrate the legacy of glass making in the state and in America. Set on fifty acres, the complex houses fifteen buildings, which include a working glass factory, a folklife center, a glass museum, and a craft building where artisans demonstrate glass flame working, ceramics, wood carving, and tin smithing.

Visitors can watch daily glass making demonstrations at the village's T.C. Wheaton Glass Factory, modeled after the original 1888 factory, and learn about the history of glass making at the Museum of American Glass. The museum exhibits more than 6,500 pieces of American glass from early colonial to contemporary studio glass in nearly 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. Exhibits range from paperweights to fiber optics, Mason jars to Tiffany masterpieces.

As early as 1608, an attempt was made to establish a glass factory at Jamestown, Virginia, the first English settlement in the New World. Glass was America's first manufacturing industry, although England discouraged any manufacturing in its colonies. Not until 1739 was the first commercially successful glass company in America organized in Alloway, New Jersey. Southern New Jersey's natural resources, which included an abundance of silica sand to make glass, forests for fuel, navigable waterways to take the product to market, led to the founding of more than 225 glass factories in the state. The building of towns in southern New Jersey was directly linked to glass making, and New Jersey had more glass making towns than any other state. Many towns had several factories, sometimes up to twenty.

A German immigrant, Caspar Wistar was a prominent Philadelphian who brought German glassblowers to New Jersey to be partners in his new enterprise. Wistar realized that the colonies and growing frontier needed window glass for buildings, and bottles to store foodstuffs. Benjamin Franklin purchased glass from his factory for his electrical experiments. Wistar's factory operated until 1782. Most glass workers made their own glass in their free time. Afer glass making became automated, glass blowers often opened backyard shops to preserve the tradition.

Millville is the oldest town in the United States, still making glass. The first glasshouse was established in 1806, and three major factories continue to operate. Workers continue to make glass on their own time, and have created an American style of paperweights, most notably the Millville rose.

Documentation comprises a four-page report; fact sheets; a sixth-and-seventh grade Holly Heights student project, documenting a Wheaton Village glass artist, Tony DePalma, about his life and training in the art of paperweights; two museum booklets about glass, seven photos (some historic) and six slides; and a video about glassmakers.

Originally submitted by: Frank Lautenberg, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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