Corrections or additions?
(This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
December 2, 1998. All rights reserved.)
History: Rocky Hill & Beyond
Jeanette K. Muser’s passion for ordinary people rooted
in small towns probably stems from the early years she spent on the
move. The 35-year resident of central New Jersey, who nonetheless
calls herself "a Midwesterner at heart," was born abroad of
American parents. Her first book, "Rocky Hill, Kingston, and
a history of three New Jersey villages settled 300 years ago, has
just been published by Arcadia Press ($18.99).
Until Muser was in sixth grade, her family moved around a lot. Her
father was an orthopedic surgeon with the Public Health Service and
her mother was a hospital dietician. The peripatetic family eventually
went back to Wisconsin, where Muser’s mother was raised and settled
in a Milwaukee suburb.
"History is in our family," says Muser, whose mother’s family,
the Stoddards, have been in this country since 1634. "They started
in New England and gradually moved westward," she says. Muser
maintains close ties with her Wisconsin family including writing a
biannual family newsletter.
Muser earned her B.A. in German from the University of Wisconsin,
and then went on to earn a master’s degree in history there. In 1964
she moved from Wisconsin to Princeton, then moved to Pennington where
she raised her now adult children. In 1987, she moved to Rocky Hill
with her second husband, Rainer Muser.
"The move to Pennington in 1971 was deliberate," says Muser,
"because I wanted to raise my children in a small town. I really
liked living there, and it may it have come from having moved around.
Maybe I wanted a sense of rootedness in a real place. Even the
Junction area where we had lived was so amorphous. It didn’t have
the sense a town."
When it came time to leave Pennington, the couple researched all the
neighboring small towns and chose Rocky Hill. A veterinarian, Rainer
Muser retired this year from Hoechst Roussel.
"I wanted to live in a place with sidewalks, where you can hear
church bells, and the occasional dog bark, and children on
says Muser. "Rocky Hill is a place where you can walk to the post
office and meet a neighbor, visit the library, or attend a borough
council meeting and hear about the latest town concerns."
Originally trained as a German and history teacher,
Muser changed careers and earned a second master’s degree in library
science from Rutgers. Although she had intended to become a corporate
librarian, she found herself back in the schools, but in a
with students that she liked better: She was librarian at West
High School from 1972 until her retirement in 1995.
"Rocky Hill, Kingston, and Griggstown" required nine months
of intensive work, says Muser. During the colonial era, these three
river valley hamlets saw numerous Revolutionary War troop movements
and enjoyed George Washington’s stay at Rockingham in 1783. A copper
mine and a quarry were early commercial enterprises, but it was the
completion of the Delaware & Raritan Canal and a railroad spur in
1864 that brought sudden commercial and industrial growth to the area.
The 200 images collected in Muser’s book focus on the lines and work
of ordinary people as the towns changed from rural hamlets to
centers and, more recently, back to quaint residential villages.
Part of the Arcadia publishing group’s "Images of America"
series, Muser’s project was unusual. "Other books in the series
are clearly driven by the photographs, mine was driven by the story
I wanted to tell," she says. Her greatest difficulty came in
her two opening chapters, "When Washington Was Here" and
Devil’s Feather Bed," chapters that tell the towns’ stories before
the era of photography. She uses paintings, engravings, maps, and
letters. "I was determined to tell the story of that era,"
Many pictures came from Rocky Hill Community Group Archives and
a private non-profit founded in 1964. Muser says the group
some "phenomenal things." It bought and renovated the Amy
Garrett House, which dates from the 1830s and which also housed the
community library for a decade. The group also created the historic
district that has preserved the town’s character. Muser now
a committee of one that is the Rocky Hill Community Heritage Project.
Muser also gathered materials from the archives and townspeople of
Griggstown and Kingston, and even found herself offering to set up
archives for the newly organized Kingston Historical Society.
"Kingston is a wonderful walking town that’s still trying to
a communal sense," she says, noting that it suffers a political
problem. "Kingston is in three different townships in three
Princeton, South Brunswick, and Franklin," says Muser. "It
is the only town in the entire state that has this problem, and it
makes communal action difficult."
Unlike Rocky Hill and Kingston, Griggstown is not a walking town,
but it has an active Historical Society, a lower percentage of
and many elderly descendants of early settlers. Many individuals came
forward with materials to lend or donate to the archival collections.
Since her retirement, Muser has volunteered as curator of the Rocky
Hill Archives and Museum. She won a grant from Somerset Cultural
to print the guide, and began giving walking tours. She writes a
column about Rocky Hill for the Montgomery News and is a member of
the planning board.
"It serves no purpose to have a room full of archival materials
if the community is not made aware of its rich heritage," she
says. "Many forget that history is not only the past but also
the present. It is just as important to apply one’s historical
to solving present-day problems and preserving buildings, spaces,
and nature to retain a sound quality of life."
The book, says Muser, "is my gift to those residents were so kind
and helpful in the preparation process." Sales at each of the
book signings benefit community group and historical societies.
— Nicole Plett
Griggstown," at the Griggstown Historical Society on
December 5, from 10 a.m. to noon. Also at the Kingston Historical
Society Open House, Lock Tender’s House, Route 27, on Saturday,
December 5, 2 to 4 p.m.
Washington Street, 609-924-0373, Sunday, December 6, 3:30 p.m.
And at Rockingham Colonial Candlelight Open House, Route 518,
Rocky Hill, 609-921-8835, Sunday, December 13, 2 to 4 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
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