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

Griggstown,"

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

Princeton

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

playgrounds,"

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

relationship

with students that she liked better: She was librarian at West

Windsor-Plainsboro

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

commercial

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

illustrating

her two opening chapters, "When Washington Was Here" and

"The

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,"

she says.

Many pictures came from Rocky Hill Community Group Archives and

Museum,

a private non-profit founded in 1964. Muser says the group

accomplished

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

constitutes

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

develop

a communal sense," she says, noting that it suffers a political

problem. "Kingston is in three different townships in three

counties:

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

commuters,

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

Commission

to print the guide, and began giving walking tours. She writes a

monthly

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

knowledge

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

Jeanette K. Muser signs "Rocky Hill, Kingston, and

Griggstown," at the Griggstown Historical Society on

Saturday,

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.

Also at Rocky Hill Community Group, Community House, 62

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.


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