MIDDLETOWN, NJ – This is a question that members of the Garden Club R.F.D. get all the time. They are members of a garden club that makes its home in a building in Middletown that was once a one room schoolhouse and is known today as “The Little Red Schoolhouse”. The building sits on township property at the corner of Middletown Lincroft and Dwight Roads, across from Thompson Middle School and Nut Swamp Elementary School.
To get the answer to the big question, one must go back in time and picture the world as it was when the club was founded in 1941, almost 78 years ago.
It’s 1941 and eight women, inspired by participation in a church flower show, decided to start a garden club so that they could widen their knowledge and experience with flowers. Because the members all lived on rural mail routes in the area, the name, R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery), was chosen for the new club and the rural mailbox became the club symbol—and is still on club stationary. The area was surrounded by farms, such as Brasch Farms, that was just across the street from the schoolhouse and went all the way down to where High School South stands today.
It was the days before modern telephones, radios or televisions were common items in our homes. Cell phones, computers and Alexa were just things that you dreamed about—maybe!
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Now we must go back much farther to the 1800’s to learn how Rural Free Delivery began. A farmer’s main link to the outside world was letters and newspapers that came to the nearest post office where it was picked up in a round trip that could take all day or longer to accomplish. A farmer might delay picking up his mail for days, weeks or months so that he could couple it with the procurement of supplies, food, farm equipment, etc.
It wasn’t until 1896 that the first United States Postmaster General inaugurated rural free delivery (R.F.D.) by having five riders on horseback go out on delivery routes in rural West Virginia. In 1898, it was announced that any group of farmers could have free delivery by sending a petition to their congressman. And so it was that by 1905, the Post Office was serving 32,000 R.F.D. routes! Farmers knew a good thing when they saw it.
Let’s now return to 1941, to find out a bit more about this club that was originally known as The Garden Club R.F.D. Holmdel. The small group of women who started the club would meet in the early days of World War II to knit and sew for the Red Cross and British War Relief. In 1943, meetings were suspended due to gas rationing and driving restrictions which were part of the war effort. Meetings were resumed in 1946.
In the beginning, meetings were held at the former Holmdel Baptist Church with the founding members coming from Lincroft, Vanderburg (Colts Neck) and Holmdel. It was in 1954 that R.F.D. accepted the offer of a dilapidated building that had been a one room schoolhouse from 1842-1908, to use as their clubhouse. It cost the club $1.00 a year. Club member, Mary Brasch of Brasch Farms, a close friend of Hattie Carnegie, a famous designer, had told her friend of the club’s need for a home.
Renovations were begun in 1955. Mary Brasch, again seeing the need, donated a 104-year-old outhouse for the club’s use. There were no other facilities. Another member donated a picket fence and the first meeting took place in July. The building is now listed as an historic site in New Jersey and has been placed on The National Register of Historic Places. We’ll stop here—for that’s another story.
As Garden Club R.F.D. moves into the new year, their January 15th meeting at the Little Red Schoolhouse will feature a free program on pruning by member Felicia Cappadona. The focus will be on how to use proper pruning techniques for best results. Club members invite you to join them at 10:30 am to meet everyone and learn more about the club that comes together on the third Tuesday of the month at The Little Red Schoolhouse at 951 Middletown Lincroft Road in Middletown. Please call Nancy Canade at (973)-452-4846 if you would like more information about the club or the meeting which is open to men and women.
On February 19th, you are invited to attend a program on the Introduction and/or Review of Basic Flower Design Principles and Elements given by member, Tanya Ashuck, a National Garden Club Accredited Life Judge. Please remember to call Nancy Canade if you plan on joining us for this program as well.