The official date is not until next year—but lovely little Fair Haven already is starting to gear up for its centennial celebration.
There are a few centennial parties on the calendar. Some centennial fund-raisers. There is an abundance of centennial planning, including special recognition of the town’s important and historic black community that predates the Civil War. There is a nice little birthday buzz in the borough. After all, centennial events don’t happen every day.
Fair Haven was incorporated as a borough in 1912 from parts of Shrewsbury Township, It is 1.7 square miles in size and has a population of about 6.000. It is sandwiched between Red Bank and Rumson, across from Middletown and abuts Little Silver, all municipalities with distinctive personalities of their own.
Fair Haven is nestled along the beautiful Navesink River which has figured so prominently in its development, its history and its unique character. It was a regular steamboat stop on the Red Bank to New York run. It was once the home of a talented actors’ and vaudevillians’ colony. It always has been a genuine, diverse town, not uppity—one with strong community and educational values.
The borough next year hopes to finish restoring Bicentennial Hall, the former Fisk Chapel and once a black religious and social center. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The restoration has been a long and costly project—but the borough continues in its determination finally to get the job completed.
Indeed, Fair Haven has come a long way since it was the home of the last segregated elementary school in New Jersey and since there was lingering opposition years ago to the merger with Rumson of the regional high school because of Fair Haven’s black student population.
Fair Haven has a charming and authentic historic district and an active and thriving historical association, a key element in the centennial activities. It has two retail business areas that blend into the residential fabric of the community with often local ownership. The borough truly is a delightful place to call home.
And, for this writer, the centennial season has become a good time to reflect nostalgically on the reasons for moving into Fair Haven in the first place and taking up residence in an historic house as well as the reasons for continuing to live there and the impact the town has had on our family and our lifestyle. Other Fair Haven residents may want to do the same. It’s a pleasant exercise.
In our case, my wife Ginny and I became Fair Haven residents 54 years ago after buying, with a mortgage, the old estate gardener’s cottage at 15 Grange Walk, on the edge of fish-filled, turtle-laden Shippee’s Pond where four noble swans rule the roost of one of the borough’s largest waterbodies. We’ve been there ever since—same house, same street, same town..
The house was said to be huilt in 1789. But that date has not been verified. However, the black front porch entry door bears an official Fair Haven “Century House” medallion. Fair Haven has an impressive inventory of historic homes and an increasing number of residents who have lived there for long periods of time.
Back in 1956, I was a young reporter for the former weekly Red Bank Register. having just completed my active military duty as a Fort Monmouth Army Signal Corps lieutenant. Ginny, a schoolteacher, and I were married a year earlier. We started looking for a house.
In my Register job, I covered municipal governments and boards of education in several municipalities. There was something special then about the Fair Haven governing body and the board of education that impressed me. Their priorities were in the right places. We looked over the town and especially the schools. We talked to a lot of people.
Nothing wrong with the other towns we also looked at—but we decided on Fair Haven where we raised our two children who received first-rate public educations, coupled with nearby religious training. They were selected to attend their first-choice colleges and graduate schools. Now grown with sons of their own, they have gone on to successful careers—our son in journalism and our daughter as a museum curator.
And it all started in good old Fair Haven where they were fortunate to make good friends. And our neighbors and the people in the borough equally were friendly and caring—a wonderful town in which to live and raise a family.
So, happy upcoming 100th birthday, Fair Haven. And thanks for everything.
Arthur Z. Kamin is an independent journalist. He was the president and editor of the former Daily Register of Shrewsbury.