Back when men farmed the land, women scrubbed clothes on a washboard, and families gathered in the parlor at the end of the day to listen to music on the phonograph, the Endicott and Reardon families settled in rural Cape May County.

It was the early 1900s, and both families had come from jobs in the mills in Lewiston, Maine. Some, like Henry Endicott, came to work the railroad that ran from Avalon to Ocean City. In 1929, when Myrtle Endicott of Sea Isle City married Leon Reardon of Seaville, the two families joined.

The Endicotts and Reardons were some of the earliest residents of northern Cape May County. They were sea captains, soldiers, schoolteachers and housewives. As times progressed and the stuff of their lives became old or obsolete, any items they no longer used were carefully stored away.

Most of those slices of everyday life — tools, games, housewares, furniture, clothes, quilts and other artifacts, hundreds of items, some dating back more than a century — were eventually handed down to Harriett Reardon Bailey, the only child of Myrtle and Leon.

They are now displayed in The Endicott Reardon Family Museum she founded at 3036 S. Shore Road in Seaville. Opened in October of 2016, the museum is a houseful of family treasures she curates and shares with love.

Most of the belongings came from her parents and grandparents on both sides. Other treasures came from members who married in from the Adams and Lake families.

Reardon Bailey said she used to do some antique collecting, but no longer looks to add to her trove.

“People keep trying to give me things, but I have enough of my own,” she said while giving a tour Friday. The storing, cataloging, organizing and arranging takes time, she said. “And lots of help.”

She will make an exception for items that are unique or especially relevant. One example is pedal organ from Sea Isle City United Methodist Church that Reardon Bailey played while growing up. She acquired it before the church was torn down to make way for a larger church, where she still plays the organ a couple times a week.

Reardon Bailey said it was in 2000, after the death of her husband, George Bailey — a former principal in Ocean City who started the Cape May County Special Services School District — that the concept of creating a family museum began to take shape.

She sold property she owned in Sea Isle and used the money to custom-build the museum behind the home of an uncle, establishing a museum foundation and a board of trustees. 

She had the builder incorporate architectural elements and millwork similar to that of the house she grew up in. Then she filled it with family treasures.

“When I come in, I feel like I’m walking home,” she said.

About 20 volunteers help maintain the displays and give tours.

Visitors take a step back in time as they go through the various rooms, where items are grouped according to themes such as kitchen, career, leisure, military service and community life.

Even her grandmother’s wooden cooking utensils and Reardon Bailey’s dolls, books and toys were preserved, many of them in near-pristine condition.

“I was an only child, and I never broke anything,” she said. “And my mother never threw anything away.”

Her most cherished items are the dolls, which fill an entire room and then some. Many are collectors’ items. She has a Mary Hoyer doll that came from a store on the Ocean City Boardwalk, where her mother would buy patterns to make doll clothes.

“She would give me a quarter and I could buy something. In the ’40s and ’50s, 25 cents could a buy a lot,” Reardon Bailey said — such as a pair of doll shoes.

While she loves to surround herself with things from the past, it could be said that Reardon Bailey was a woman ahead of her time. She went to college (Glassboro), became a teacher (Ocean City Elementary School), traveled widely, and “married late” when she was in her 40s.

Her fondness for cruises is reflected in a room filled with photos and memorabilia that she and other family members collected from their travels around the world.

The “Reardon boys” — her father and his three brothers — would take road trips twice a year and attended many of the World’s Fairs. They kept journals, listing everything from what they saw to the money they spent on gas and lodging ($48 and $68, respectively, for the 1933 trip to the Chicago World’s Fair).

Reardon Bailey said she sees the museum as a means to share bits of history while educating people about a time when life was in ways both simpler and harder; days when families would gather in the evening, and the quiet was not because everyone was staring at a cellphone, but because they were sewing, playing cards and enjoying casual conversation.

The museum — where she works with things she cherishes that remind her of family and the places she has been — is the culmination of a dream.

“I’ve been fortunate,” Reardon Bailey said. “I’ve had a great life.”

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