Time Capsule: A life-long passion helps preserve Sussex County's history

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:55

Story and Photos by Rosa Casper WANTAGE-On Ralph Space's tombstone in the Beemerville Cemetery are inscribed the words: "He preserved the past for the future." Space Farms is a vibrant memorial to a man whose life came close to spanning the 20th century, and whose obsession with amassing Americana created an unparalleled collection that literally reflects cradle-to-grave life in Sussex County during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. Today, Ralph Space's grandson Parker runs the 100-acre recreational complex, and serves as Wantage Township's mayor. Parker also is sometime fire chief and current volunteer firefighter in Beemerville. The Beemerville Fire Company stands directly across the street from Space Farms. "Over 100,000 people visit Space Farms every year," said Parker Space. "Grandpa had the foresight to see value in things that most people would have thrown out. Now, the collection is worth millions." Space began collecting when impoverished people began traded items for food at the Space General Store in the 1920s. Now the farm's 11 buildings display more than 100,000 items including farm tool and equipment, automobiles, carriages, wagons, antique firearms, clocks, toys, coffins and hearses, as well as American Indian artifacts and bottles of preserved snakes and other creatures. Not only does Space Farms house a vast - and occasionally macabre - collection of just about everything that men, women and children in Sussex County rode on, played, worked, hunted, and cooked with (and on), told time by, and were taken to the cemetery and buried in, it also includes the nation's largest private collection of North American wildlife. The most famous Space Farms resident bear, Goliath, died in 1991 at age 24. Goliath came to Space Farms as a cub, and grew to be 12 feet tall and one ton heavy. During his lifetime, the Alaskan Kodiak entertained a generation of visitors, and entered the pages of the 1990 Guinness Book of World Records as the largest living terrestrial carnivore. The monumental bear, now stuffed, still stands guard on his hind legs at the Space Farms entrance. The Space family came to America around 1750. Although they originally settled in the Lafayette area, some family members bought land in the Beemerville area of Wantage. The family history is interwoven with the history of the county. Space Farms Zoo & Museum is located on Route 519 in Beemerville and is open from 9-5 daily May 1 thru Oct. 31 Admission prices are: adults (13-64), $10.95; children (3-12), $6.50; seniors (65+), $9.95.