Liberty Hall Museum finds a wine bottle from 1798

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By Rafaela Teixeira | Published May 8, 2017

Kean University’s Liberty Hall Museum recently took inventory of the wine cellar and discovered a wine bottle dated back to 1798.

The brand of Robert Lenox Madeira has been around for many years and has been known as a long lasting wine. When shipping wine across oceans from Europe to America hundreds of years ago, Madeira was the brand that lasted long enough to still be consumed after much time on sea.

Bill Schroh, Jr., the Director of Museum Operations at Liberty Hall Museum, said that the rooms at Liberty Hall have not been lived in for 250 years. Every year, the team picks a room to renovate. In 2016, the project was the wine cellar. The staff not only cleaned out the room, but they listed and sorted through every bottle belonging to the Kean family.

Kean University owns all buildings and all grounds, however John Kean has the rights to all artifacts and content in the Liberty Hall house. Schroh said Mr. Kean can come in at any time and take a bottle with him.

“There is a possibility of the wine being great [or] also a possibility of it tasting like vinegar”, said Schroh.

The wine cellar had not been properly cleaned in 50 years, said Schroh. It was decided to take inventory as the walls were being painted and floors being redone.

Although it was important to keep the house looking relatively similar, it was decided by the University to make it adhere to the museum look. The cellar is now decorated with glass shelves to display the alcohol to visitors as an exhibit, as well as cigars, glasses and other objects that go in hand with drinking.

Schroh stated, “It made more sense to [take] inventory of all the alcohol, because it hadn’t been in our lifetime”.

John Kean, Sr.’s mother was the last person to live in the Liberty Hall house and was a resident of the historical property until 1995 before it being turned into a museum in 2000.

“There were bottles on top of bottles; some were bad, some were good, some were popped and emptied, some were broken; but there were just so many. There were at least 200 years’ worth of bottles in there,” he said.

Liberty hall. Credit: Rafaela Teixeira

Liberty hall. Credit: Rafaela Teixeira

Staff members were not sure of what they would find in the mysterious wine cellar. There were six cases down in the basement of the main house. All six were popped open to which the Madeira wine from 1798 was found, sealed and corked.

Schroh also stated that Mr. Kean had a great explanation of why there are high amount of contents in the house to sort through.

“Someone lived in this room (Schroh’s office), then that person died. Another relative comes live in the house and instead of throwing the other person’s stuff out, the person takes it all and puts it in the attic. The family did this seven times. Every time someone passed away, their belongings would be kept somewhere in the house”, this is how Mr. Kean described his family to Schroh.

Every generation contributed to the contents of the house. The team continues to sort through the objects and historical papers to make important discoveries.

For instance, a meal log was found where members of the Kean family wrote all the names of the people they invited to dinner and luncheons at their house in New York. Big names, like President Teddy Roosevelt, were found written in the document showing the connections the family had.

Members of the family also listed and took their own individual inventory lists of bottles purchased in their time living in the Liberty Hall house. This is helpful to the team because they can see where each bottle of alcohol comes from and more about the different brands.

The next project of the house the team will tackle is the Alexander Hamilton room. Alexander Hamilton was connected to the family as a friend of a friend, as well as a political associate, said Schroh.

He continued, “one of the spaces in the house is legend to him staying in the house when he lived in New Jersey in 1773. This room will be restored and decorated in colonial times to be dedicated to his memory.”

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