Established over 300 years ago, Somerset County is rich with an extensive history that dates back to 1688. In partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey (SCLSNJ) will continue their dedication to providing residents with the opportunity to learn about and preserve local history by connecting them with educational opportunities.
SCLSNJ Adult Services Librarian Ken Kaufman, a Somerville resident for nearly two decades, has extensively explored the County’s history, witnessed its growth, and uncovered some intriguing facts about the place he calls home.
“I have always been curious about what came before, and how people lived differently in the past, especially in the places I frequent,” said Kaufman. “Research reveals how time changes these places.”
Through research, Kaufman discovered a number of transformations that occurred in different parts of the County over the last few centuries. One little-known fact is that Manville was a farmer’s field in Hillsborough until a little over 100 years ago, and was not declared its own town until 1929.
Kaufman also found that a nearby corner of Bridgewater Twp. was the setting for clashing armies during the American Revolution in April 1777, as well as the rise and fall of Calco Chemical Company in the 20th century. Legacies of these events remain today with the Van Horne House and the American Cyanamid Superfund Site, which are located near the TD Bank Ballpark, where the Somerset Patriots play baseball.
“It’s interesting to me that Alfonso’s Trattoria, a popular restaurant in Somerville, is located where there was once a fine furniture store, while a more intimate dining spot in town, Da Filippo Autentica Cucina Italiana, resides on the block where there was once a bustling moving and trucking company,” said Kaufman.
Kaufman will present two exclusive programs that focus on the history of Somerset County this spring. The first program will occur on March 21 from 7-8:30 p.m at the Somerville branch, located at 35 West End Avenue in Somerville. During the presentation, Kaufman will explore the history of SCLSNJ beginning with its headquarters location the Jacob Todd house. This program will also review the mobile library service of SCLSNJ from over 60 years ago as a contrast to the branch and computer-based service offered today. To register visit: sclsnj.libnet.info/event/1391469.
In addition to the program about the Library System, Kaufman will discuss genealogical resources pertaining to early families of Somerset County on May 15, from 7-8:30 p.m., at the Peapack & Gladstone branch, located at the Municipal Complex on School Street in Peapack. During the program attendees will explore documentation that chronicles the Mellick family, who settled in the County in the 1700s, and more. To register visit: sclsnj.libnet.info/event/1391600.
“We are very excited to have our own local history librarian, Ken Kaufman, presenting during our series of NEH grant program,” said Grant Coordinator Rebecca Sandoval-Sloat. “Ken possesses a vast knowledge of history, specializing in both local, New Jersey history as well as genealogical research and resources. An investigator with exceptional skills, Ken has helped countless people to trace their own history and regularly teaches courses on ancestry as well as how to utilize the resources offered by SCLSNJ for this purpose.”
Starting in 2018 SCLSNJ partnered with NEH to preserve the collective memories of Somerset County and beyond through programs and community digitization events.
“Our partnership with NEH has helped raised awareness of preserving the county’s common heritage, while providing a focus on the many places within its borders that transformed from a rural to suburban setting,” said Kaufman. “The grant funding enabled SCLSNJ to sponsor presentations highlighting particular preservation media, such as land and genealogical records, postcards, photographs, textiles, and recipes, in addition to music and jewelry craft traditions.”
For more information about NEH and a complete list of programs visit: SCLSNJ.org/NEH.
The Somerset County Library System of New Jersey Common Heritage initiative has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these Library programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.