Saturday, April 5, 2014

Suburban 1960s New Jersey Remembered Through the Eyes of an Elementary School Student

Todd Klein, an artist who specializes in lettering for comic books, has written a personal history of life in small-town suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, centered on his experiences at Bedminster Township School  in northwestern Somerset County. Klein attended the school from grades 3 through 8 in 1960 through 1965. His blog posts (parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) tell the history of the school, and by extension, the community and his life and relationships with friends, family, fellow students, teachers and school administrators. The Bedminster Township School traditionally has taught students in kindergarten through eighth grade, or K-8; it now also teaches pre-K.

Klein provides a history of the school buildings of Bedminster and surrounding areas that had been built by 1867, through the "new building" which opened in 1959 consolidating three elementary schools in the township. (A student essay from 1962 listed Bedminster’s K-8 population as 278.) The school population later fell then rose again in the 1980s, and in 1993 a new Bedminster Township School opened; it now has about 600 students. Factors in the 1980s growth of Bedminster, Klein writes, included: relaxed zoning laws that allowed massive housing developments and AT&T's expansion into Bedminster. Klein reports on the current status and preservation of various historical schools and other structures in Bedminster. He also provides some background on the development of the area from the 1700s to 2010, including the changes wrought by the 1890 development of a railway line, to the “plowing through” of two interstate highways into Bedminster 90 years later.

Klein chronicles lifelong friendships and the teachers and other personalities who influenced the lives of him and his fellow students. The blog posts touch on Klein’s own intellectual and artistic development, encouraged by the school’s support of a student newspaper and musical and theatrical performances. Along the way he mentions various popular songs and TV shows, and events that would have molded any American student at the time, such as the nascent U.S. space program, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Beatles invasion.

Among the acknowledgments, Klein kindly mentions that he conducted much of his research at the Clarence Dillon Public Library, where I work as a part-time reference librarian.

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