Volunteer Spotlight: Paul Muir

Interview with Emily Manz, Executive Director, Preservation New Jersey

Paul Muir is a Preservation NJ Board Member. He has served as the Executive Director of the Red Mill Museum Village for the past 5 years. He is also President of the Guild of Clinton, a Board Member of the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce and Chair of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit Roundtable among several other civic responsibilities at both the local and county level. Paul is also a lifelong entrepreneur starting various businesses with his core operations being a metal recycling business derived from his family’s original business started in 1938 as well as automotive operations including an independent repair facility and a nationally recognized award-winning automotive restoration business. For our Volunteer Spotlight this quarter, our Executive Director caught up with Paul, who always find time for Preservation New Jersey to find out why he’s passionate about preservation.

EM: When and how did you get involved with Preservation New Jersey? What do you like about being part of the Board?

PM: I am a relatively new Board Member joining in 2018.  I wasn’t the first, but at the time was the only Board Member actively managing a historic site.  I believe I was recruited to bring that perspective. Historic site managers bring a unique perspective of how the buildings we save and preserve are used to support the local economy, build culture and create community.  I enjoy being a Board Member for two reasons, the first is seeing our preservation efforts grow throughout the state and the increased awareness we create about the value of historic preservation.  The second is my fellow Board Members.  It is always great to spend time with people advocating for the same cause, but the depth of knowledge and commitment of my fellow Board Members is unmatched. 

EM: What excites you most about working in preservation in New Jersey?

PM: I would consider myself a student of economic development and while many think that involves new construction, that is not always the case.  Growing up in New Jersey I have witnessed the cyclical changes between urban and suburban migrations and how that impacts the community.  Preservation of historic buildings and appropriate adaptive re-use is often the start of a renascence for older neighborhoods.  Once started it provides a foundation for economic growth and stability, increased cultural opportunities for those who live and work in the area and to build strong communities.  I obviously love the original stories associated with historic buildings, but get really excited when these building become the focal point of their neighborhoods once again.

EM: As a historic site manager, what kind of activities or initiatives at historic sites do you feel best promotes learning? 

PM: As a historic site manager I focus on building community.  I found that our younger families and children are so distracted by many things including modern technology that gathering and learning together and from each other is lost.  Historic sites can be the place for families and the community to gather and share.  At the Red Mill Museum Village we see 4,000 school students annually for school trips (non COVID restriction time) and this serves our educational mission, but we send those students home with a free admission card to bring their parents back.  All of our programs, lectures, and exhibits have a community aspect geared to engage not just learning but open up conversations.  Our Military Heritage Day fills our 10-acre site with re-enactors from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam which shares the history, but we begin the day with a Veteran’s Ceremony and presentation of a Quilt of Valor.  The day starts with a gathering of the community, the people currently present are sharing in the history together.  We even hosted a birthday party for an 8-year-old boy who wanted to celebrate during our Military Heritage Day. This was a great example of what we did with an event that had been geared toward only one interest group and was declining in attendance, now engaging multiple generations.  Creating those opportunities is critical for historic sites and is proven in the results.  As we craft our programs, our exhibits and update our core exhibits to better integrate involvement of the larger community we have seen our general admissions number rise by 28% and have experienced increased financial support as well from individuals and corporations who see the impact we have on the community.

EM: What is your favorite event at the Red Mill?

PM: This is tough to answer, we are a small staff, but put all we have into crafting each event, from Military Heritage Day, to Farm and Factory Day to our Festival of Trees during the holidays.  But, I would have to go with our annual Kids Day.  This event is geared toward families who may not have yet come to the museum and we create a magical experience with fun hands on activities throughout our whole museum site.  We also partner with NORWESCAP and their early childhood development centers which bring their own unique flavor of fun as they present a hands-on station in addition to ours.  Admission is reduced to $10 for the entire family that day to churn butter, make ice cream, enjoy live children’s music and fabulous story tellers.  I love the event because it fills our site with families enjoying history in a fun and engaging way.  Each year I stand at the end of the main pathway through the village and take a photo as it is inspiring to see so many people together, sharing and enjoying history.

Emily Manz is Executive Director of Preservation New Jersey. She resides in Newark, New Jersey and enjoys improving her historic home and yard.