A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Principe de Paz in Cliffwood Beach

La Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Principe de Paz (First Presbyterian Prince of Peace Church) has been meeting in the old Bayview Presbyterian Church at the corner of West Concourse and Greenwood Avenue for the past five years. Their congregation served the Puerto Rican and Cuban communities in Asbury Park for more than twenty years as a Presbyterian mission development project before coming here.

Julissa Alvarez-Garcia, the commissioned lay pastor at Principe de Paz, has been involved with her congregation since Asbury Park. She worked with a Presbytery committee to facilitate the move, which included a lengthy layover at Shrewsbury Presbyterian Church while a permanent home was found.

Alvarez-Garcia and the congregation, with support from the Presbytery, have significantly renovated the old Bayview building and improved the grounds. Some things you can see and some you cannot. The parking lot was paved and sidewalks and ramps were built. The boiler system was replaced. A leaking oil tank was discovered and removed, along with many truckloads of affected soil. The most recent improvements include the demolition of the vacant manse next door. (Thanks to Councilman Greg Cannon for his assistance with getting the utilities capped.)

Alvarez-Garcia and her congregation hosted the 25 June 2013 meeting of the Presbytery of Monmouth. And she was chosen by the Presbytery to serve as one of their commissioners to attend the 222nd annual session of the PCUSA General Assembly in Portland, Oregon in June 2016.

Principe de Paz are good neighbors and a welcome addition to Cliffwood Beach. Check out their Facebook page for details on their activities. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

History: Free Public High Schools in New Jersey

High schools in New Jersey started in the big cities -- Newark in 1836, and Trenton in 1842. Unfortunately, each local district established its own approach to post-common school education, yielding little agreement on what a high school might teach, or even whether a particular school district wanted to provide education beyond grammar school. Many communities didn't want to pay higher taxes just to fund a "poor man's academy", so little was done outside of the big cities to provide free education past the eighth grade.
The system of free public schools in New Jersey is based on the Free School Law of 1871. About fifty years earlier, the State School Fund had been an effort to help townships educate the poor. Between 1817 and 1871, the state abolished pauper schools, tuition payments, and the funding of sectarian schools and gave us school districts, local superintendents of schools, school boards, state tax education apportionments, and, of course, the beginnings of local school taxes.

In 1905, State Superintendent of Schools Charles J Baxter sent a letter to local school districts, pointing out that they had a constitutional mandate to provide free education to students up to and including the age of eighteen under the Free School Law of 1871. In the letter, Baxter told districts this could be accomplished either by operating a high school within an individual district or by making arrangements with a nearby district to accept their students. Baxter threatened to withhold the state school aid apportionment of any district which failed to comply.

Monmouth County Schools Superintendent John Enright tested eighth grade graduates of Matawan and Raritan townships and found five Matawan twp graduates eligible to study in high school. "These graduates have a high school course to finish before they are graduates from the school. They are simply leaving the grammar school department to undertake the studies of the high school department.The granting of diplomas this time is something new and an incentive for the younger scholars to continue along and work hard to obtain them. This marks the close usually of the ninth year work. Sometimes scholars cannot stay in school after passing from the grammar to the high school department and some of them would be as proud of a diploma obtained in that way as if they had taken the entire course and become full fledged graduates."   (26 May 1898 edition of The Matawan Journal)

County Superintendent Enright gathered the local school boards in December 1907 to explain new state rules on fees charged to sending districts as well as maximum high school tuition and daily attendance charges. (12 Dec 1907 edition of The Matawan Journal)

The Matawan-Aberdeen Public Library has some dated but still useful books on this subject:
  • The New Jersey High School: A History, by Robert D Bole and Laurence B Johnson (1964) (974.9 B)
  • Elementary Education in New Jersey: A History, by Roscoe L West (1964) (974.9 W)
  • Education in New Jersey 1630-1871, by Nelson R Burr (1942)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Matawan Presbyterian Church Fire - Christmas 1955

It was Sunday morning New Year's Eve 1955. The congregation of the Matawan Presbyterian Church gathered at the high school for worship that day, an arrangement made only the afternoon before. A rented organ played the introit. The choir wore borrowed robes. The women of the church had hung drapes and arranged desks on the school's stage. And in the center of that makeshift chancel was a table covered in maroon cloth, upon which stood an old brass cross recovered from the communion table during the awful fire that destroyed the First Presbyterian Church's sanctuary on Main Street on Christmas Sunday the week before.

All signs of smoke and ash had been carefully removed from that cross, but the fire was on everyone's minds and in everyone's hearts. Memories of the blaze and the fight to save the edifice were of course fresh and raw. Their thoughts dwelt on an odd mixture of the heroic and the mundane, the corporate and the private, and the spiritual and the worldly. They had borne witness to the heroism and generosity of the firefighters, but also the drilling of holes in the sanctuary floor to drain inches of water from the building. Everyone was grateful that no lives were lost, but most didn't know that a widower had stood vigil the night of the fire over the body of his deceased wife, which had been in the burning building and safely evacuated.

Members had felt the hand of evil in the destruction of their historic church home, but also saw signs of hope in the preservation of the church's records, its pulpit Bible and brass cross, its communion set, and its baptismal font. Many had watched the last symbol of FPC's presence on Main Street -- the old Stanford White steeple -- as it was pulled down from its precarious vigil into the ashen debris below. They were wondering what would be next, so they gathered at the high school for words of encouragement and solace but also of hope in the future.

Reverend Chester Galloway rose to deliver his sermon that morning. In his hand was the pulpit Bible he had used for the scripture lesson on Christmas Sunday. The Bible's cover had been charred and its pages soaked through when it was found, but it survived sheltered on the shelf within the pulpit where Reverend Galloway had left it.  The Reverend stood for a new beginning when he opened his sermon with a bit of tough love, saying, "We can sit down and cry or we can pick up the pieces and start all over again."

Reference: "Presbyterians Pioneer at Matawan," pp. 55 - 60
Thirty-year-old Russell H Apgar, a member of the church since January 1948, had confessed to setting fires on Christmas Eve in the Sunday School building and on Christmas Day in the sanctuary as his "contribution" towards a budding church school expansion campaign. He was assessed to be insane, was moved to a mental hospital in Trenton, and was later convicted of arson and sentenced to 5-7 years in state prison.

Below are selected newspaper articles from the period related to Apgar and the fire:

8 May 1947 - This excerpt from The Matawan Journal providing news from a Borough of Matawan meeting, suggests that Russell Apgar was a fire fighter at the Midway Hose company in Matawan. A review of regional newspapers shows many Apgars were fire fighters.

15 Jan 1948 Matawan Journal

29 Dec 1955 - Matawan Journal

Page one of the 29 Dec 1955 edition of The Matawan Journal, which featured the first news of the fire, was not functioning correctly at the time of this posting. The balance of the edition appears starting on page two.

5 Jan 1956 - Matawan Journal

16 Feb 1956 - Matawan Journal

7 Jun 1956 - Matawan Journal

2 May 1957 - Red Bank Register

22 May 1958 - Matawan Journal