Roxbury Roots and History

The Deep Roots of Roxbury's Uprooted Gazebo

Moving day for Roxbury Public Library gazebo

ROXBURY, NJ - The recent re-positioning of the gazebo on the lawn of the Roxbury Public Library on Succasunna’s Main Street has generated excitement and renewed interest in the 19th century gazebo that stands in stark contrast to the 1974 library building.

In spite of the architectural dichotomy of the two, they bear a significant relationship; one worth exploring. 

Mary Wolfe Thompson, a published author of articles, historical fiction for young adult readers and biographical works, was born in 1886 in Jersey City.  Within a year of her birth she and her parents, Dr. Theodore F. Wolfe, a physician, and Gertrude Franklin Wolfe, moved to Main Street, Succasunna to a new “Queen Anne cottage,” which Thompson described in her autobiography as having “a tower on one corner” and “bits of gingerbread and artistic woodwork” over the front door.  

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Mary’s father, Theodore Wolfe, was born in a house on the banks of the Morris Canal in neighboring McCainseville, now known as Kenvil, to Daniel Wolfe, an iron ore canal dock superintendent, and his wife, Mary Logan, in 1843.  

A scholarly young man, Daniel Wolfe grew up to study medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan and set up a practice in Jersey City. However, poor health caused him to give up his medical practice at the age of 43 and prompted him to return to his roots hoping to restore his health and spend time in academic pursuits.

He delved into the history, culture and language of the Lenape, the original people of the area, and we are indebted to him for his translation of Indian place names including Succasunna, meaning “the place of the black stone.”

In her autobiography called “The Wag on the Wall,” Mary, the only child of Theodore and Gertrude, described a joyous childhood in the township.  She recalled carefree days walking up Main Street, a dirt road, to the 1856 Chestnut Hill School, which was only recently demolished for construction of housing by Habitat for Humanity. 

Mandatory church services at the First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna occupied the major part of most Sundays, but some Sunday afternoons included a family outing on the Morris Canal to visit relatives in Califon.

Roaming free as a bird on Grandmother Logan’s family farm in the fields surrounding her father’s birthplace, with the added benefit of plentiful treats from Grandma’s pantry, was one of Mary’s fondest memories. Her childhood came to an abrupt halt in 1900 when she was 14 years old with the early death of her mother, at which time her grief-stricken father, uncertain as to how to raise a daughter alone, sent her to boarding school out of town. 

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Wolfe closed up the Queen Anne cottage, relocating to Jersey City to be among his colleagues from academia.  Thus ended Mary’s residency in Succasunna, but not her close ties with her childhood friends, nor her relationship with her father, with whom she spent time abroad.

In 1959, the newly formed Roxbury Woman’s Club, founded to enhance the community, identified the need for a local public library.  Public response was positive, and by April of 1960 the Roxbury Library Association was formed, undertaking a successful township-wide fundraising effort that expedited its pursuit of a suitable place to locate the facility.

Mary was permanently residing with her husband in Arlington, VT, but became aware of the movement to create a library in her hometown.  She offered to sell her “Dear Queen Anne,” which was by then a rental property, to the Library Association at a price well below market value to become the township’s first library.

By September 1961, the interior of the house was appropriately outfitted, and the library was officially dedicated, staffed mainly with volunteers and a very small paid staff.  A visit to the library was a bit like going to Grandma’s house: Stepping onto the porch, walking through the inviting front door to roam its rooms, perhaps to sit in a cozy alcove, leafing through a book picked from a shelf. 

Upon Mary’s death in 1970 at the age of 84, she bequeathed her late father’s entire estate to the library, her final loving gesture to the community of her childhood.

By 1974, the library in the Queen Anne cottage was deemed inadequate.  A difficult decision was made to demolish the house for construction of a modern library on the site, but not before decorative architectural elements  were salvaged to create the Mary Wolfe Thompson Queen Anne Gazebo, memorializing the original library and its major benefactor.

In its present location, the gazebo is better situated for the performance of cultural activities, and is more accessible to passers-by who might choose to stop and relax for a moment, and perhaps pay tribute to all those past and present who contribute their time and resources toward the enhancement of life in Roxbury Township, designated One of the Best Communities across the USA for Young Families 

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