By Peter Zablocki
If you have ever been to the Rockaway Borough Library, then you have been to late Mrs. Marie Alice Foster’s living room, kitchen, sun room, and even the bathroom. It was Marie, the daughter of one of Rockaway’s most prominent citizens, Dr. George H. Foster, who bequeathed her family home to Rockway Borough in 1939 to be used as a library.
Rockaway’s first library found a home in the early 1900s inside Doland’s Jewelry Store on Wall Street. What originally started as a single bookshelf in the corner where local citizens could select some books to borrow soon expanded to over one thousand titles. Unable to accommodate the traffic, which now numbered more people checking out books instead of purchasing his jewelry, the store owner convinced the town’s book lovers to petition the local legislators to allow the usage of a room inside the Municipal Building, once intended as a jail but never used for such purpose. Shortly after the move in 1914, the library was such a resounding success that a referendum for a full-fledged public library landed on the voting ballot.
After a successful vote and the appointment of the first trustees, fundraising projects soon sprung up, mostly organized by the Woman’s Auxiliary Committee to raise money for a new building. According to the Rockaway Borough: A History, the town was soon home to countless rummage sales, card parties, block dances, sponsored carnivals, musical teas, and Billy Sunday drives where members provided cars for a nominal fee to take people to hear Sunday mass in Paterson. One of the more interesting fundraisers was the selling of tulip bulbs. Soon all one had to do was look around people’s gardens to see the support for the Woman’s Committee’s cause. There was even a brick-selling campaign where people could purchase a brick to build part of the wall of the new building.
In the end, just five short years after the municipal building cleared out more space for shelves and tables for the library in 1934 as money-raising efforts continued, Mrs. Marie Alice Foster willed her three-story colonial residence to the town for a library. The dwelling, which to this day houses the Rockaway Borough Library, was a historical gem even at the time of its acquisition and before it was designated as a national historic site in 1975. Col. Joseph built the house in the early 1800s for his son Stephen Joseph. It remained in the family until 1885, when it was sold to the Fosters when it became the residence and office of Dr. and Mrs. George Foster, Marie’s parents.
Peter Zablocki is a local historian, author, and educator. He can be reached at peterzablocki.com.