Trenton Free Public Library, presented Sep 25, 2017 by Patricia Hall, Director of Operations

Trenton Symposium, Sept 25, 2017

Freddie’s Tavern, Railroad Ave., Ewing

Guest, Patricia Hall, Director of Operations, Trenton Free Public Library

Joe Teti called the meeting to order at 12:10.

Joe asked for a treasurer’s report, and George reported that we had $1045 in the bank.  The report was accepted by voice vote.

Joe introduced Dr. Jane Rohlf, an internist, joining us for the first time.

After lunch, Joe called upon Shan Holt to introduce Patricia Hall, who was our speaker.  Patricia noted several connections to the Symposium, including Lolly and Richard O’Brien, neighbors on Fisher Place who were attending today.  She introduced her assistant who had come along to the talk.

She quickly and kindly corrected my error in introducing her as director of the library, noting that she was operations manager of the library, currently studying for her Masters in Library Science so that she could become the library director by civil service rules.  We all felt, by the end of her talk, that it was a crime not to give her the full position.  More on that below …

Patricia was born and raised in Trenton, and lives on Fisher Place with her husband Patrick.  In addition to her professional work at the Library, she is an ordained minister on the staff at TrueLove Ministries, works with Men, Women, Youth for Hope, and serves on the board of the Trenton Literacy Movement.  She had her first library card at age 4, and had to be admonished not to read and walk at the same time! At 19, she joined the library staff as a junior library assistant. 

The Trenton Free Public Library has a fascinating history, which alone justifies preserving it as a living institution.  It opened as a subscription library in 1750, the oldest in New Jersey and the 2nd oldest in the nation.  The first investment was $200 from Benjamin Franklin, and the library still has 3 of the books bought with that gift.  The Hessians who occupied the city in 1776 burned the building.  The collection was entirely lost, except for 10 volumes that were circulating and so in other locations.  Library staff recently has been able to identify 3 of those remaining original volumes and preserve them.

As an adult staff member, Patricia lived through terribly hard times for the Library.  The 2008 budget or $8 million was cut by Mayor Tony Mack to $4 million, forcing the layoff of more than half the staff and the closing of all the branches.  Patricia retired from the Library in 2013, as an administrator at the Main Library on Academy Street.  After 18 months of building up her other professional and personal interests, the Library called her back 2 years ago.  Her sense is that the library needs leadership with love, compassion, and dedication to the people of Trenton, and this she works hard to provide.

Her earlier experience at several branches cemented her commitment to helping children learn to read.  She recently heard from a young man whom she had met when he was a lost, lonely, non-reading 5 year old.  She had spent a summer with him, teaching him to read, and to love reading.  She saw it as giving him his chance to grow, and he credits her with saving his life.  That branch closed in 2010 when the budget was again cut to $2.2 million.

She is trying to create a 21st century library for Trenton on a budget now at $2 million.  The biggest circulating item today is DVDs, but Trenton’s library is not like others.  It needs not just library-related services, but basic foundational services like repairs to the building.  That morning the air conditioning unit had broken, so with the temperature at 90 degrees outdoors, the library had to close altogether and won’t reopen until the weather moderates.  Replacing the defective chiller could cost as much at $40,000, and it’s unlikely that the city of Trenton will contribute that much.

Meanwhile, Patricia is trying to reopen the branches, so that all of Trenton’s children can access the library in their neighborhoods.  She’s hoping to start with the branch in South Trenton, which had the largest circulation before the closure.  That Skelton branch once provided 30 computers for public use, as well as community space for meetings, tutoring, and other services.  There were branches in East Trenton, Cadwalader, and Briggs, the loss of which catastrophically diminished opportunities for success, organization, and strengthening in those neighborhoods.  She refuses to act like nothing happened or nothing was lost, drawing on her own experiences in the branches to argue for how important they are.

She’s been reaching out to neighborhoods to find out what people want in the way of library service, and hearing that kids from around the city can’t get all the way to Academy Street.  Some of the initiatives she is developing at the Main Library are:

Live, Work, Learn program to offer library cards more widely for free.

Serving the Homeless, especially after the Salvation Army closed.  Homeless can get food, but can’t find a safe, warm (or cool) place to eat it.  The library has space and allows homeless to bring in bags and food, and to eat inside on cold or wet days.

She brought armed officers into the library, somewhat reluctantly.  She noticed that local drug dealers were using the library as a drop/pick-up spot for drug delivery. Dealers had hollowed out books, filled the hollows with drugs and told buyers where to find the stash.  Patricia decided that the officers were needed to protect legitimate users. 

Overall, she has increased programming 200% and see attendance go up sharply.  She has built partnerships with Mercer County Community College, Labyrinth books, Classics Books, Lightbridge tech, Isles, and others to provide programs for Trenton youth and kids.  Noticing that families used the library as  “free summer camp” for kids, she partnered with Trenton day care summer feeding program to make sure those kids got a nutritious meal during the day.  She has also built relationships with Trenton Digital Initiative, Trenton Makes Words (PNC Bank), Amazon, and Senator Shirley Turner.  These partnerships have helped develop computer classes, resume preparation, STE(A)M learning opportunities, Lego clubs, and Trenton history events, several hosted by the late Jack Washington during Patriots Week.

She’ll keep going, and has secured funding to get a South Trenton branch in place in a new building with fewer architectural challenges than the former location.  Funder not willing to build it, though, until the city can commit to maintaining it.   Meanwhile, she hopes to finish her MLS and assume full leadership of the Library.

Questions included several inquiries about what we can do to encourage Mayor Jackson to fund the branch, and to give Patricia the director position.

We adjourned at 1:30, with announcement that we will meet again on Monday, October 23.

Trenton Stained Glass with Dan Aubrey

We gathered for the first time at The Blooming Grove Inn, which offered us a nice menu and a beautiful new venue.   Rob Bullington set up an excellent video-audio arrangement for the presentation.

Joe Teti called us to order at 12:15, and George, our Treasurer, reported a balance of $1453.  He asked that people please remember to pay their annual dues of $35.

Lunch being delayed, we had the minutes reported and Shan introduced Dan to begin the program.  Lunch arrived during the program, but Dan carried on, and ended up carrying his lunch home with him in a carton.  Brave speaker!

Dan is arts editor for U.S.1 and the general editor and columnist for Trenton Downtowner.  He has worked at the State Museum and at Foundation Theatre and Passage Theatre.  He came to the Trenton area in the 1970s.

A general curiosity about public art in Trenton led him to the stained glass project.  He thought it would be relatively simple to find and survey, starting with the marvelous glass in the Statehouse, but it turned into mission impossible.  His collection of identified stained glass is still growing, even though he has already written extensively about the project.

One hurdle was that many church sanctuaries are only open on Sunday during worship services, which made it challenging to find to introduce himself, explain his interest, and take photographs without feeling like an intruder. Finding documentation that enables him to identify the glass artist for each window created a second hurdle.  He showed us a shot from Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church that he called “Looking At You.”  He noted that Catholic and Episcopal churches sometimes have an artist/company mark on at least one window, but many churches resist maker’s marks as commercializing a spiritual artifact.

Munich, Germany glass makers Franz Mayer and Co have a number of windows in the area.   Dan started with a window of Mary Magdalene that had a distinctively bright, sharp green, which made him think it was a Mayer window.  Looking closely at other windows, he found the Mayer mark, and when he wrote to the company, the Mayer company helpfully sent him a directory of more Mayer glass in the region.

While the pastor there was open to Dan looking around before the service, others are not and have given him the bum’s rush, saying they knew nothing about the windows. But he generally gets photos before he leaves.

These stages have been a regular part of the work.  Starting with just a window, Dan tries to figure out who made it, with more or less help from the organization where it is on view.  Then, Dan ends up hoping the maker will respond to an inquiry, which has taken a year or more in some cases.  In other cases, both churches and glass makers have been very helpful.

The glass generally reveals the ambitions of the city, as many purchased glass internationally and from famous glass makers.  Notable makers of local glass include Tiffany, Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany, Tiroler glass of Innsbruck Austria, and Kempe Co of London, England.  Tiffany glass allegedly was installed in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, to complement its grounds designed by famous landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing.  The Roebling family had a Tiffany window of the Brooklyn Bridge installed in its Trenton mansion, but that window seems to be missing.  Tiffany, famous for the distinctive opalescence of its glass, rarely let the actual artist sign the work.

A number of the German glass companies lost a large portion of their corporate records in World War II.  Some records have turned up in London and New York, where they had international offices, but in some cases, Dan’s list and images help inform the companies about their own corporate history.

Catholic churches tended to commission all the windows at once and so leaned toward the major window providers.  Protestant churches, by commissioning one window at a time, created opportunities for smaller producers to contribute.  Following these trails, Dan found a community of local artists organized around providing glass in churches. 

Ralph Cram, a Boston architect famous for his Gothic revival churches (including St. John the Divine in NYC and the Princeton University Chapel) thought that Gothic architecture could help solve the social ills of the late 19th and early 20th centuries by bringing in light and godliness.  Something of an Anglo-Saxon supremacist, Cram found an admirer in Princeton’s president, Woodrow Wilson. 

Cram hired several artists and companies to supply glass for Princeton University Chapel and other university locations and for Trinity Church in Princeton. The chapel main artist was Charles Connick who created glass depicting images from British and Christian literature:  Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

Under Cram’s leadership translucent neo-Gothic glass became more popular than Tiffany’s opalescent and, after the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the studios closed.

Meanwhile George W. Sotter (1879-1953) moved to Bucks County from his home in Pittsburgh and opened a studio where he worked a new generation of stained glass artists. That included the Austrian-born Valentine d’Ogries, who in the 1950s was commissioned to create the windows for the new Trinity Cathedral in Trenton.  Also included in Trinity Cathedral are the Kempe windows from the former structure. .

Trenton, Princeton, and lower Bucks turn out to have been a real hotspot for American glass design. Another Sotter protégé was Edward Burns who created the glass for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton. He had a studio in Doylestown that was continued by his son, Edward Burn Jr. A few years ago Dan contacted Burn Jr. , then in his late 80s. He told Dan that he too had worked on the Trenton glass and would be happy to show Dan the designs. Burn, however, had moved outside Harrisburg, PA, and by the time Dan had scheduled the time for a full day visit, Burn had died. Since then the Burn archives went to the Michener museum for preservation. 

Another important stained glass maker was Nicholas d’Ascenzo , who was classically trained in Italy, did glass for the City of Trenton Courthouse building, Trenton Savings Bank, St. Joseph Seminary in Princeton, Horn and Hardart outlet in Philadelphia, and the “Nipper” emblem on the RCA Victor building in Camden.

Trenton’s River Islands, with Dan Aubrey

Joe Teti called us to order at 12:15, and George, our Treasurer, reported a balance of $1534.  He asked that people please remember to pay their annual dues of $35.

Dan Aubrey, who spoke in 2018 about his research on Trenton area stained glass, returned for this meeting to talk about the Islands in the Delaware along the length of our city.  Rob Bullington once again supported the presentation with great A/V. 

Brave Carol Rogers, who had stepped in to take minutes in February, didn’t have a report, so we moved on to a report from the Joe Teti Prize committee.  Mike Zuckerman reported that the committee had agreed to give the inaugural prize to the Trenton Free Public Library.  A formal presentation will be arranged for our September meeting, and she will speak at that symposium.

Dan is arts editor for U.S.1 and the general editor and columnist for Trenton Downtowner.  He has worked at the State Museum and at Foundation Theatre and Passage Theatre.  He came to the Trenton area in the 1970s.

The islands are in the river across from Glen Afton and The Island neighborhood.  The largest is Rotary Island, named because the local Rotary Clubs had possession of it for many years, and ran a quarantine hospital there for kids with tuberculosis.

It’s dangerous to get to the islands thanks to the strong current of the Delaware and the occasional sink holes left by digging and dredging.  Easy to fall in and find yourself held under by the current, so don’t everybody just try to go tramping out there!

After trying to put in a kayak at various locations (the flood dam by the State House, spots along the seawall, Dan discovered that there was water access from the northern end of Stacy Park.  Once launched, he felt the water reminded him of Maine, so clear and lively was it.

Getting onto Rotary Island was no easy thing either, as its shore is tangled with brush.  At 31 acres, it’s the largest of the islands, and was used as a fishing spot by Native Americans and as a pasture by early European settlers.

In 1889, 20 guys created a canoeing club based on Rotary Island, which was supported in season by a tented encampment, with picnics and parties.  Edmund Hill and Fred Donnelly, two notable Trentonians, were the anchor personalities of the canoe enterprise.  Hill was the developer for Berkeley Square, and instrumental in bringing Frederick Law Olmsted to Trenton to design Cadwalader Park.   The canoeists left a legacy of a bumpout at the river end of Gouverneur St, where it is sometimes possible to enter the river.

Eventually, the canoeists sold the island to the Rotary and, in partnership with the women of the Mercer County Health League, the TB hospital was born.  Rotary Island also hosted 2 week summer camps for Trenton’s kids in these years.  As more and more successful and reliable TB treatments developed, isolation in an island hospital no longer attracted support or patients, so the institution closed down.  The buildings were turned over to the Rescue Mission, while church groups continued to run summer camps.

It’s very hard to locate the remains of the buildings today, thanks to the undergrowth.  Would be easiest in the winter, when the outlines of foundations would show through the snow, but it’s so cold and dangerous to be on the river in winter that Dan himself has no intention of trying this.

The Rescue Mission arranged with Roebling Wire to string up a barge cable, so that supplies and people could safely cross to and from the Island.  They ran an electrical line, took insurance on the property and hired Arthur Pope, a local upholsterer, as resident manager, to live on the island with his wife, Grace, and son, Leonard.  Sadly, Arthur Pope was killed one stormy night returning from his winter job on the mainland.  (December 5, 1950) Even as Grace watched him cross in the barge, the barge cable snapped and the recoil killed him instantly, also knocking his body into the river.  The body later came ashore in Bordentown. 

Grace Pope had a sighting that she thought was her deceased husband at the hospital that night, which has given rise to speculation about paranormal presences on Rotary.  The bereaved Pope family moved away from the island, though, and five years later floods carried away almost all of their home, save for some materials neighbors on land were able to salvage. 

Apparently, you can also find shotguns shells on Rotary Island from people hunting ducks and geese, who follow the River as a migration route.  Those migratory water birds should be encouraged to feed heavily on the invasive clams in the river, too.

In 1960, Rotary Island looked poised to host an apartment development, but the city refused to run water and sewage lines out to it, killing that idea.  Rotary sold the island to the state under the Green Acres program, founding a scholarship program with the proceeds.  Ultimately, Rotary Island was incorporated into Washington Crossing State Park.  As small section of the original island, cut off by a change in the river’s course, was refused by the state and dumped on an unwilling city of Trenton.

The next island, moving south, is called Blackguard Island, so named for the criminal gentlemen who used to gather there.  It is an unsupervised space, so rafters, kayakers, boaters, tube-riders, etc. frequently put in onto Blackguard.  Families living across from Blackguard have reported parties out of control.  Too much reporting, though, seems to have gotten one neighbor a “stray” shot through her window … (Ah, Trenton … Ed Note)

The island below the Calhoun St. Bridge is called Yards Island or Fishing Island.  It is noted for interesting rock formations and meadows and burbling brooks in the interior.

Dan answered questions about paranormal studies on the islands, the shotgun shells, and the fact that New Jersey claimed the islands because the passage channel at that point is far over toward the PA side of the river.

With thanks and acknowledgement to both Dan and Rob, we adjourned at 1:10 pm

         We will meet next on April 22, at Blooming Grove Inn.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, secretary