Friday, July 12, 2024

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Ramsaysburg

Concert series at Historic Ramsaysburg Homestead

Located at 140 Route 46 East, Delaware, this historic park of 12 wooded acres is a local treasure of history and future adventure. For the public, it offers a place to engage with the Delaware River, have a picnic or see an outdoor concert with a cooler and a blanket.

In an interview with Knowlton resident Dennis Melillo, the passion of the site’s musical capacity is revealed. Melillo helped form what today is a musical scene at Ramsaysburg. He said he was reading the paper 12 years ago and saw an ad for folks to come to a meeting at the site.

“My wife went to the meeting, and she came back with three jobs,” he said.

“We had a couple of Christmas parties in the barn and it always struck me how the inside of that barn was like the box of a guitar. And the sound was beautiful in there,” Melillo said of the uniqueness of the historic barn, the vast space, cathedral ceiling and upper attic openings. “So, I spoke to Tom Drake, Bill Suggs and Carl Schuster. The four of us went in there and started cleaning the barn. There were old shingles all over the walls and when we took them down, behind it was beautiful, pickled wood.”

They cleaned it up, hung lights, created a stage and the space evolved through several different configurations. They accounted for stage placement and traffic noise, and then they tried it outside. This is now the third year that they’ve held it outside.

“We had a combination of jazz and classical because that is the kind of music that you don’t hear up here a lot. We thought about bluegrass. We did pretty well, especially with the North American premiere of a string quartet,” Melillo said, referring to the August 2019 Jorgenson String Trio.

An interesting musical background

Melillo reflects behind the uniquely modern, poly-clear spectacles of a man with a well-rounded experience.

“I have been a musician since I was a kid. I studied but never trained,” he explained. “I was a chiropractor for 40 years. We lived here since 1988. My office was in Montclair. I retired after the pandemic. I make music in nursing homes now. And work on my property.”

Melillo plays jazz guitar. He describes it as a big jazz box, electrified with a particular jazz sound.

“This is quite an oasis,” he said, looking around at the picnic tables near the huge, red barn and toward the tree-lined river. “We come down here just to go down to the river, let the dogs splash, or our grandson play. Or come down to have dinner. I wish to have more folks to come from the community.”

Ramsaysburg is a special place

When asked what makes Ramsaysburg so special, Melillo replied, “The sound in the barn.”

“We had a harpist in the barn. We couldn’t have people come in 2020. So, I told the performers we’re going to tape them. We had Walt Bibinger with Nancy Coletti and broke that down and had the harpist with a violin player,” Melillo said, referring to the August 2020 COVID Concert at the Ramsaysburg Barn, which featured the Walt Bibinger Trio, Nancy Coletti and classical harpist Andrea Witchen.

“They all helped me and called me the ‘Fearless Leader’ and we did good work and everyone was enthusiastic,” Melillo said, regarding the involvement of the Friends of Ramsaysburg, the committee and volunteer involvement. “Getting a grant from the county and after reports about every three months like having a term paper, I resigned and then a month later found Jeff (Rusch), who had done concerts at his house.”

White Township residents and Friends of Ramsaysburg volunteers: Jeff and Sandi Rusch. Photo by L. Ward
White Township residents and Friends of Ramsaysburg volunteers: Jeff and Sandi Rusch. Photo by L. Ward

About four years ago, White Township resident Jeff Rusch was asked by Melillo to take over the music event management and responsibilities at Ramsaysburg due to his Knowlton Riverfest involvement and work at WNTI.

“Writing the grant is a lot of paperwork as a government program, with lots of facts and figures, justifying what you are asking for and how money is spent,” Rusch explained. “The county grant is administered by Warren County Cultural and Heritage Division of the Department of Land Preservation and the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. So, there is a lot of ‘cross your T’s and dot the I’s.’”

“First, there is submitting the form to get the answer, which can take up to four months for a response,” Rusch said, explaining that his wife Sandi helps him with everything from mental strength to administrative support: “I would not be doing this without my wife’s support. When I just can’t anymore, she reels me in, calms me and then everything is hunky-dory.”

Sandi said she does all the typing and paperwork for Jeff.

Rusch feels the same way as Melillo about Ramsaysburg musically.

“Perfect for an outside concert,” Rusch said. “They built this beautiful outdoor amphitheater. Rick (Clarkson, Knowlton resident) and all the help, putting the wall up in the back of the barn to create more sound buffer. And the Eagle Scouts donated the permanent stage, teenagers with shovels and rocks built it for Ramsaysburg as volunteers.”

Upcoming shows and happenings

There will be a show on June 29.

“The AJ Croix band and the Joe Cirotti Trio are two bands that played together before and that I have known for 25 years on the local music scene. You meet one band and that turns into another band.”

What drew him to music? Rusch responded like a tidal wave of reflection and exuberance.

“Oh, it was having a sister 10 years older than me. When she was 16 listening to popular music in 1962, 63, 64. Music changed, and she was on the cusp. And we were close, my room next door. The Frankie Avalons, Del Shannons, Four Seasons, pre-Beatle, and then all the rock and roll; Beatles, of course, Stones, Zeppelin, Southern rock, a little bit of everything.”

For upcoming events at Ramsaysburg, visit

Laura Ward with long pink earrings on
Laura Ward, Contributing Writer

Laura Ward is a gallerist at Infloressense in Belvidere, NJ, whose motto is "poetic synthesis of all the cultural arts." Born in West Orange, NJ, Ward had a unique childhood growing up in a three-story, three-generation, 1895 Victorian where she learned gardening with her great-grandfather, theater with her grandmother, and typing with her mom. Ward spent the last two decades in the architectural design industry, followed by her present pursuit into the entrepreneurial world of art and event planning. Ward lives in the esoteric Delaware Village Historic District and volunteers at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead. Ward spent 11 years in Florida where she graduated with an English B.A. from FAU and later The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an art history minor.