Developing a mobility-friendly way to visit historic sites built over 100 years ago is a problem solved by a team from County College of Morris (CCM).
The collaborative effort involves blending the art of photography and the science of engineering with virtual reality technology. The innovative result will be available to all guests of The Willows, an 1854 Gothic Revival style mansion built by General Joseph Warren Revere, grandson of Paul Revere, located at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm (FLHF) in Morristown.
Visitors to the 213-acre New Jersey and National Register Historic Site have the opportunity to step back in time and explore the 170-year-old home complete with 19th-century costumes and furnishings. Visitors must, however, climb stairs to reach the five bedrooms on the second floor.
“It’s inaccessible for people who might have mobility issues,” says Hrvoje Slovenc, associate professor of photography at CCM. “There is no elevator and the stairs are steep and narrow, which makes it very difficult for some.”
The problem was solved at CCM’s CoLab, an on-campus facility curated by CCM chemistry professor Brian Olson that serves as a think tank.
“At CCM, we engage with students with accessibility needs,” says Olson, “so it’s a natural step to work with the community to improve accessibility.
First, Slovenc visited The Willows and, using 360-degree cameras, took an assortment of high-end photographs of the periodic rooms. Then, on campus, Nicole Schwartz, assistant professor of photography, guided the student photography club using the photos to create a virtual reality tour.
“Each 360-degree shot is a collage of six individual images that the students worked diligently to put together,” says Schwartz. “The final visit consists of 16,360 photographs.”
According to Olson, “The CCM photo program brought virtual reality technology to college, and it created so many opportunities.”
Attention to detail was an important part of the process. Eric Pedersen, adjunct professor and coordinator of the Mechanical Engineering Technology and Physics Laboratory at CCM, made a scale replica of the sculpture on the upright piano at Willows Mansion.
“He cut the sculpture on one side and the description on the other side,” says Slovenc. “Students from CCMakes, the Maker Club, are working on the 3D scans Eric produced to 3D print an ornate mirror as well as the intricate fireplace carvings in The Willows.”
The CCM project is part of a larger mission at FLHF, which, in conjunction with the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is working to bring New Jersey’s first farmhouse alive. accessible to everyone. The FLHF transports visitors back in time to the 1880s for an authentic experience of daily farm life.
CCM is proud to bring this innovative educational tool to such a Morris County Park Commission preservation that allows people to interact with costumed guides, learn how to do old-fashioned chores, and explore exhibits, depending on the college.