South River organization’s 10,000th mark is a “monumental accomplishment”

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By VASHTI HARRIS
Staff Writer

SOUTH RIVER – The South River Historical and Preservation Society celebrated a major milestone by adding its 10,000th item to its catalog.

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A 1971 newspaper clipping that includes a photo of South River’s first firehouse that was destroyed by a fire was unveiled at the South River Museum on Nov. 16.

“It actually chose itself because it was the 10,000th item, but it’s just an example of some of the things that we receive from different people and that’s really how we get stuff, despite if it has been in someone’s attic,” South River Historical and Preservation Society’s President Brian Armstrong said.

“[Every] type of thing we get is very important because an article like this may have something that has been forgotten and may contain a piece of information about our town or someone’s history,” he said.

The formation of the Historical Society was initiated by Ann C. Rafano and Florence Clayton in August of 1988. They put together a list of 12 South River residents who they thought would have a strong commitment to the preservation of the history of South River, according to the organization’s website.

The society was incorporated on Oct. 3, 1988, by the original trustees Ann C. Rafano, Robert C. Rafano, Florence Clayton, Llewellyn Clayton, Woodis Booraem, Warren Booraem, Doris Booraem, Elizabeth Chando, Kathryn Paprota, William Reichenbach, Audrey Scheidig and Mary Weis.

“I headed the committee with the intent of having this celebration because I think for a group as small as we were to have catalogued over 10,000 items is a monumental accomplishment,” original trustee Robert Rafano said.

“South River has such a history. It’s unbelievable how rich it is. There was a brick industry here, a garment industry, there was big prohibition here, there were labor disputes that made ‘The New York Times’ front page because someone was killed during one of the labor disputes, and at one time the town had at least 30 bars,” Rafano said.

The society’s projects have also included the purchase of two oil paintings of “The Willett Sisters of South River” and the placement of the Old School Baptist Church, located on Main Street, on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places (Nov. 19, 1991) and on the National Register of Historic Places (Jan. 7, 1992). The church is currently in use as a museum and meeting place, according to organization’s website.

The society also holds the annual Richard K. Meyers South River History Essay Contest that is open to all graduating high school seniors who are residents of South River and who are planning to continue their education. Each student may submit a typed essay of no less than 1,000 words describing something that took place in South River in his or her lifetime. An event need only be of significance to the student; it need not have been a major event in South River’s history, according to the society’s website.

The society uses the essays as oral history for the museum while also using the contest as one way to engage younger residents.

“What I have been trying to do is trying to get more things that relate to the current people who live here, because whether I think history is a day old or a year old, it’s important,” Armstrong said.

The membership of the society is composed of residents of South River and others who share an interest in preserving South River’s past for future generations. Members include individuals, families, students, businesses and honorary and life members.

“I think we have accomplished a lot just by having [the Old School Baptist Church], which is the oldest building in South River, and having it restored on the national registry. I think these accomplishments were only possible because a group of people were willing to save South River’s history, because there’s no future without a past,” Rafano said.

For more information on the South River Historical and Preservation Society, visit rootsweb.ancestry.com/njsrhps/index.html.

To contact the society, email SouthRiverHistory@gmail.com or call 732-613-3078 (messages only).

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@gmnews.com.

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