EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - To some people, lists of names and pictures of locations just create a jumble of information and a confusing mass of facts. To Ethan Reiss, a historian from East Brunswick who is working to keep facts alive, these bits and pieces come together to form a picture of who we are based on who we were in the past.
Reiss, the administrator of the popular "You Know You're From East Brunswick If..." Facebook page, has taken a job with Middlesex County to digitize the records of attendance of the East Brunswick Public Schools, the daily experiences of students and teachers as memorialized in photos, scrapbooks, and artwork, and the evolution of the school system the township knows today. These records, and so many more, lie in the voluminous registers that were stored at the Alice Appleby DeVoe Library on Main Street of East Brunswick. Now, as part of Middlesex County's ongoing effort to retrieve and retain historical information, Reiss makes these records a part of our shared history in his daily work.
In an office located at the East Jersey Olde Towne Village on River Road in Piscataway, Reiss spends his time scanning, documenting, and organizing information about the township's schools that are part of the collection of the East Brunswick Museum. The Museum recommended Reiss to the County based on his demonstrated interest and work in the area of local history. He is spending most of his time using information to paint a picture of East Brunswick before December 7, 1941 - a date that changed the 20th Century.
Some of the items include scrapbooks from McGinniss and Weber Schools, both of which have been repurposed in East Brunswick. Reiss is also scanning many original historic photos from the New Brunswick Home News and hopes to run them as part of the East Brunswick Museum's web page. He is using a data program called Past Perfect which organizes information for museums nationwide.
"I am trying to get an understanding of the people who lived in our township. I am trying to connect the names and the relationships and see the family histories, " said Reiss. He indicated the attendance records of students in the Warnsdorfer family who were young students at East Brunswick's McGinnis School in 1939. "The names keep repeating, " he said, pointing out the "Supervising Principal" role of someone named Chittick. Ring a bell, Bears?
Though Reiss is primarily concerned with records about the East Brunswick schools, he notes that the DeVoe library, recently the subject of concern by the township for its insufficient attention to records, has been "cleaned out" and the township has greater plans for DeVoe, in conjunction with the EB Museum. Specifically, the materials connected to New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffmann will be cataloged on a separate program. Recently, the Devoe Library hosted a well-attended music program.
The information also reveals the early importance of the "Middlesex County Council" (now various elements of the education programs of Middlesex County) and the "New Jersey Congress of Parents and Teachers," (now the PTA) both of which pre-date the New Jersey Education Association, the current teachers' union.
Reiss's office is located in East Jersey Olde Towne, a collection of historic buildings that are part of Raritan Landing, a location in Piscataway that used to be an important trading post, workplace, commercial hub, and revolutionary site on the Raritan River. The site boasts a George Washington visit - along with Colonel Von Steuben, Alexander Hamilton, and Lord Stirling - at which they celebrated the nation's first official Independence Day celebration on July 4, 1778. "While sporadic festivities occurred across the new country in 1777, it wasn’t until early July 1778 that General George Washington declared the Fourth of July as a national day of celebration – and he did so alongside thousands of colonial troops in Piscataway. With a recent American victory at the Battle of Monmouth, Washington ordered the troops to perform a Feu de Joie (Fire of Joy) on the banks of the Raritan River and held a ball at Piscataway’s Ross Hall with military dignitaries Nathanael Greene, Alexander Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and William Alexander, Lord Stirling," according to the Piscataway home page.
Nice place to work on local history, Ethan Reiss.