BELMAR, NJ — New Jersey may seem a highly unlikely place for people to discover utopia — their place of perfection.
But back in the early 20th century, the state was home to a number of diverse “experimental” utopian communities that shared one common goal — to make life better for the common good. And since many of these idealistic concepts sprouted in New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey’s centralized location — and inexpensive real estate at the time — made it an ideal place for these communities to put down stakes.
This little-known piece of New Jersey history is the focus of the book, “Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden,” by Perdita Buchan, who will be featured during the Belmar Public Library’s free “Breakfast with the Author” program on Saturday, November 16.
Buchan will take an up-close look at eight of these communities that are profiled in “Utopia, New Jersey,” named an 2008 Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. These bastions of experimentation, one of which still exists, include:
■ A cooperative colony in Englewood was founded by the writer Upton Sinclair.
■ An anarchist village in Piscataway centered on an educational experiment.
■ A Physical Culture City in Spotswood, where drugs, tobacco and corsets were banned but nudity was widespread.
■ Free Acres in Berkeley Heights, which continues as a single-tax community in the Watchung Mountains. Established in 1910, residents here own their houses, but pay a lease for the land, which is collectively owned by the community.
The free program, which includes breakfast, will be held at the library’s main building, located at 517 10th Avenue. For more information, call the Belmar Public Library at 732-681-0775 or visit www.belmarlibrary.org to send a message.
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