The history of Lawrence Township over the course of the last 120 years or so is the focus of a new book hot off the presses of Arcadia Publishing.
Part of Arcadia’s popular “Images of America” series, Lawrence Township Revisited is packed with over 200 fascinating and rarely-seen photographs that document the people, places and events that have made Lawrence what it is today.
Produced by the Lawrence Historical Society – with the bulk of the research and writing done by the society’s president, Laura Nawrocik, and volunteer Ashley Morris – the book is available online from the publisher or the historical society.
Copies of Lawrence Township Revisited will be also available for purchase during the Lawrence Historical Society’s annual meeting, which will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday (Feb. 24) at Lawrence High School. (Those wishing to pay via credit card should so so in advance via the historical society's website.)
At that meeting, township historian Dennis Waters and Michael Siegel from the Rutgers University Geography Department will discuss the history of the township’s various neighborhoods when they present their lecture “The Street Where You Live: How Lawrence Became a Suburb, 1900-2000.”
With its cover adorned by an image of the members of the Lawrence Volunteer Fire Association (now known as Lawrence Road Volunteer Fire Company) posing with a hand-drawn chemical fire apparatus that was purchased shortly after the fire company was organized in May 1914, Lawrence Township Revisited presents it pictorial history through chapters that detail the progression of specific aspects of the township: Business; Community and Military Service; Emergency Services; Houses and Neighborhoods; Houses of Worship; Parks and Recreation; People and Families; Schools; Transportation; and Weather.
Lawrence Township Revisited is, as the name would suggest, a sequel to Lawrence Township, written by Kathleen Middleton and first published by Arcadia in 1991. It’s still available in local bookstores and online from the publisher.
“The [historical] society worked with the Friends of the Lawrence Library to present a photo exhibit of historic images as part of the library's 50th anniversary program in 2011, which generated a lot of positive feedback,” Nawrocik said, explaining how Lawrence Township Revisited came to be. “The society board of trustees was discussing options for bringing the photos to the public in a more permanent manner, either via a display or in print when the township clerk's office received a solicitation from Arcadia Publishing asking if there might be a local author interested in working on Volume 2, so we took them up on the offer.
“Fortunately, we had been looking at the photos in the township historical collection for the 2011 photo exhibit and had a pretty good idea of the material we had to work with before we got started on the book,” Nawrocik continued. “Initially, it took about two months to identify about 400 potential photos and another month to get that number down to about 250. The research phase weeded out about 50 more photos that did not lend themselves to good captions. Overall, it took about six months to compile, research and write the book and another three to work with the publisher on editing the drafts.”
The many people who helped with the creation of Lawrence Township Revisited are acknowledged at the start of the book.
Nawrocik believes Lawrence Township Revisited has much to offer readers. “Previous books about Lawrence history have focused on the township's founding and early years, while this one focuses on the most recent 120 years of township history. We purposefully selected photos to cover a wide range of topics, neighborhoods and events that might not have been covered in previous works so many of the photos and stories will be new even to long-time residents,” she said.
“We really wanted to tell the story of how the township changed over the last 120 years to move from a farm community to the bustling suburb of today. Readers should learn a little bit about how their neighborhoods developed and might be surprised to see some of the quirkier items we dug up, such as the fact that the current DMV station on Route 1 used to be a forest fire service airport or that a beefalo farm used to be near the Port Mercer Canal House.”
Among Nawrocik’s favorite photos in the book are an image of the Johnston house near the corner of Princeton Pike and Darrah Lane “because it shows a fruit and cider stand that would seem so out of place today, but was the product of a working farm in 1955 while the neighborhood was being built up around the farm,” and an image of a woman “wistfully looking over Whitehead pond - it invites you to wonder what she is thinking and you find yourself transformed to a different time and place.”
But her favorite photo is one showing then-Sen. John F. Kennedy passing through Lawrence Township in September 1960.
“I have to thank a former township resident who moved away long ago and contacted the society to research a bet she was trying to win versus an old elementary school friend for helping us find this photo. The two school buddies both remembered seeing President Kennedy in a motorcade down Lawrence Road, but disagreed on the date,” Nawrocik explained.
“My research took me to the website for The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which had a list of speeches given by President Kennedy before and during his presidency. I located a possible date and was able to find an Evening Times of Trenton article describing the motorcade from Princeton to Trenton that mentioned an enthusiastic reception that stopped the motorcade in front of Rider College,” she continued.
“The staff at the university located the photo in their archives and were generous enough to allow us to use it in the book. Perhaps the best part of the picture is not that is shows a time when a presidential candidate could mingle with college students without much more security than a local police officer, but that we located it simply by a former resident recalling their experience with Lawrence history.
“The story really underscores how important it is for residents to share their stories, memorabilia and photos. The society is always interested in adding to the collected history and encourages residents and former residents to share what they have with us. One goal we have for the book is to open a dialog between the society and residents to uncover more interesting anecdotes and memories,” she said.
The hardest part of creating Lawrence Township Revisited, Nawrocik confessed, was cutting so many wonderful photos out of the book for space reasons. So does that mean there could be a Volume 3 someday?
“Anything is possible. The township archive certainly has a good collection of photos and slides available and who knows what may turn up as more people share their photo collections,” she said. “One collection we will certainly be working with, even if it doesn't turn into a book idea, is a set of about 1,000 slides taken by Mike Angelotti around 1974. The slides document almost every square foot of the township and the society will be working on some ‘Then and Now’ presentations in 2014 to show how the township has changed in 40 years.”
Lawrence Township Revisited, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888)313-2665.