The Edelman Fossil Park of Rowan University is a $73 Million dollar museum and grounds which is rapidly taking shape in Mantua NJ behind Lowe’s and Target. This truly is a World-Class museum being developed in a somewhat unexpected place!
The ground-breaking for the Museum took place just 9 months ago on October 9th, and already the grand scale of the core museum project can be seen… well not yet to the public.
Once completed the museum will total a massive 44,000 square feet on multiple levels.
The full museum property is 65-acres and the museum will be at the center of it, perched above a former marl quarry where 66-million year-old marine and terrestrial fossils capture the last moments of dinosaurs on earth.
When conceptualizing a design for the Edelman Fossil Park Museum, we drew inspiration from the incredibly unique nature of the site, as a window to another time on earth located in the most unlikely of placesThomas J. Wong, AIA, Design Partner at Ennead Architects
42Freeway was aware of this project for years but unfortunately we missed the October ground-breaking. So here we are many months later finally sharing our take on the project, history and a few updated drone images.
But don’t worry… we’ll be on top of things going forward as they progress towards the grand opening next year.
The property is currently closed to the public as construction continues.
This truly is an amazing place being developed right in the heart of 42Freeway territory.
Keep scrolling, reading, and checking out the photos!
I wanted to insert here, if you are into Podcasts you REALLY have to listen to an amazing episode which features the history of the Mantua Twp fossil park site. Featuring all the key players in the story and a really interesting and professionally done production. And only 39 minutes in length.
Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala – Mantua Township
Also, be sure to follow the Edelman Fossil Park Facebook page as they are posting regular construction updates.
Keep scrolling for details, images and photos!
Mantua Township Fossils- Unparalleled Educational Resource
Absolutely Mantua Township is worthy of a World-Class museum. Why not? But to many it just may not make sense. A $73 Million fossil museum in South Jersey? Behind a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Mantua? What are we missing?
Well it turns out that the acreage behind the Lowe’s on Woodbury-Glassboro road is home to a very unique and special green marl sand.
For many decades the property was home to the Inversand Company, who mined the green marl sand for sale as a water filtering agent.
Capturing things is what made the sand excellent for filtering, and it seems it was also perfect for capturing and preserving fossils from animals and plant life of 65 MILLION YEARS AGO!
Fossils: Everything Old Is New Again
Way back in June of 1962 the Courier Post wrote about fossils in South Jersey and identified 10 places to look for them. A then 13 yr old Gary Garwood of Sewell was featured as being a frequent visitor to the Inversand property where it was stated he was finding shellfish fossils.
Other online references say that fossils have been found at the site going back to the 1930s!
That being said, for another 50 years after that 1962 article, the Mantua fossil property continued to mostly fly under the radar of the public.
In fact the fossils were so far out of the public’s mindset, in the early 2010s it was expected to become an apartment complex!
Then came along Professor Ken Lacovara who learned of the property after moving back to the Mantua area.
A 2012 article written at NJ.com describes the excitement and importance of the property, as told by then Drexel Associate Professor Ken Lacovara.
it could represent “the very last moment of the Cretaceous Period. That would make this site the only place in the world where you could touch a skeleton and know the creature died on that very bad day. It would make this a place of global importance. An unparalleled educational resource”Professor Ken Lacovara to NJ.com in 2012
While today Dr Lacovara is the Fossil Park Director and Founding Dean of Rowan’s School of Earth & Environment, back in 2011 he was absolutely instrumental in seeing the massive importance of this site and starting the process to pull others in to help him save the property.
His first stop was at the Municipal offices of Mantua township, which led him to Michelle Bruner, Mantua’s Economic Development Coordinator who had this to say at the time (2012):
“This is a site that, until you visit, you don’t really know it’s right in your own backyard. And it could be a national foundation for something amazing. We will continue to work with Hungerford & Terry (Inversand) to make the best use of this site.”Michelle Bruner, Mantua Township Economic Development Coordinator to NJ.com in 2012
Also to thank is a very caring company Inversand (Hungerford & Terry) and their president Alan Davis. Davis and the company recognized the greater benefit of the property as a preserved research and museum location. They worked with Dr Lacovara and Mantua Township to preserve the property..
Ten years ago the fossil pit was kept dry by pumps working constantly to keep the ground water out. The marl business for Inversand was literally and figuratively “drying up” and a plan was needed to keep the pit secure and in the right hands.
It’s clear that just 10 years ago the goal of preserving the property rested with just Inversand, Dr Lacovara and the Township of Mantua… working an idea but lacking the funding.
Rowan University and Jean and Ric Edelman
It’s funny how things sometimes “just work out” and the planets come into alignment so that great things can happen.
Dr Lacovara was a Associate Professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University.
As the Sun Papers tell the story based off an episode of Pindrop Farflung Podcast, a former colleague of his at Drexel, was Dr Ali A. Houshmand who went on to become the President of New Jersey’s Rowan University.
Rowan is a few short miles from the Mantua fossil site.
Dr Houshmand had interest in the site as a Rowan property and he reached out to his old friend.
The two met up for breakfast at Glassboro’s Angelo Diner, and at the end of the meal they had a plan for a fossil park on the site, and a new Rowan School of Earth & Environment.
In 2016 Rowan purchased the 64 acre fossil property from Inversand.
Later that same year, Rowan alumni Jean and Ric Edelman announced a $25 million gift to Rowan, jumpstarting Ken Lacovaro’s dream to make the site much more than a pit with fossils… it will become a world-class learning destination.
The site now became the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University.
The Edelmans then purchased another 40 acres in 2019 which sit between the fossil site and the Mantua Creek. (At this time 42Freeway isn’t clear on what the future plans are for the extra 40 acres of land)
Edelman Fossil Park & Museum of Rowan University
Soon the project took on a life of its own. With funding secured, architects were hired, and the project moved into development… in just a matter of years.
From the Fall 2021 press-release:
Set into the 65-acre fossil park, the museum will perch above a four-acre former marl quarry where, within its muddy depths, 66-million-year-old marine and terrestrial fossils record the last moments of the dinosaur world. Centered around exploration, preservation, and education, the 44,000 square foot museum will feature an integrated design filled with immersive exhibits, surrounded by a network of nature trails and the quarry, where visitors can actively dig for fossils, alongside researchers working to uncover new information about the events that led to the world’s fifth mass extinction.
The facility will be the largest public net-zero emissions building in New Jersey. It was important that adding a modern building would not quickly degrade what has been protected for millions of years.
100% of the energy used by the museum is planned to be supplied from renewable energy produced on-site. The property will feature geothermal wells which provide ground-source heating and cooling and a photo voltaic solar array.
No fossil fuels will be combusted for museum operations and no greenhouse gasses will be released into the atmosphere.
The park experience is being developed to provide the maximum experience for visitors from entry, to the museum and then the quarry.
Nature trails will lead visitors to the museum leaning experience, which will then lead out to the fossil quarry.
Visitors will get hands-on fossil experience!
Within the Museum, the building was designed with the idea that the building is a window through deep time.
Ok I know you’re thinking it so I’m going to say it… JURASSIC PARK!!! In South Jersey! But with real fossils!
The museum will feature three galleries with fossils from the Late Crustaceous Period, full scale recreations of extinct creatures, hands on learning experiences, live animal attractions, and even a virtual reality area to take you back in time.
The museum will also feature a 150-seat theater and event space, as well as an outdoor veranda with views of the quarry, playground and gardens.
And all of this is expected to be open in less than a year… Spring 2024!
This article was more about the history of getting TO the fossil park and a teaser on what it will offer. We’ll have more on the full museum and other features in subsequent updates.
The project design team is a collaboration between Ennead Architects and KSS Architects, with exhibit designers Gallagher & Associates and landscape designers SEED Design LA.
Links and Location
Edelman Fossil Park (CURRENTLY CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC)