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Historic Havens Middletown Township Public Library

By Lori Draz

On June 2, residents, dignitaries, and book lovers came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Middletown Township Public Library (MTPL). The event included family fun and activities, speeches, and the opening of a time capsule from 1971. Library Director Heather Andolsen and Library Board President William R. Bucco also began placing content into a new time capsule that will be buried at the end of 2021 and opened in 50 years.

The Middletown Township Public Library’s history exists not so much in a building as in the community. Throughout its evolution, the library operated in several locations, but throughout it all, the residents of Middletown have and continue to rely on it for information, education, and recreation.

To begin, Middletown is one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. Its roots date back to 1665 to a group of English who migrated from western Long Island and New England. In 1693, Monmouth County was organized into municipalities with three original townships. At that time, Middletown covered the entire area north of the Navesink River and east of Freehold Township. By 1848, Middletown was split to allow the formation of Raritan Township. There is deep history throughout, and Middletown also had five designated historic districts: Chapel Hill, Locust, Monmouth Hills, Navesink, and Middletown Village.

The Middletown Township Public Library was originally two independent association libraries: Navesink in 1914 and Middletown in 1916, which merged in 1921 to create the MTPL. It continued taking shape until 1954. The Navesink Library was its headquarters, and the Middletown Library (located in the former Franklin Academy on Kings Highway) was a branch. There were stations located throughout the township (New Monmouth, Heddens Corners, Hillside, Belford, East Keansburg, Everett, Leonardo, Lincroft, Port Monmouth, Red Hill and River Plaza). In a place as large as Middletown, getting to the library wasn’t always easy. The sight of the friendly MTPL Ford Model A Bookmobile became beloved to residents of rural areas who looked to its visits for books.

From 1942 to 1959, MTPL was located in the basement of the former Town Hall. In 1959, MTPL moved to a former telephone company building on Kings Highway. MTPL needed more space and formed the Port Monmouth (later named Bayshore) Branch in June 1966. The Lincroft branch opened on the second floor of the Lincroft firehouse in November 1966. In 1968, the township acquired a 13-acre property at New Monmouth and Tindall Roads. Five acres on New Monmouth Road went to the library. Construction started in 1969, and the building opened in 1971. When the MTPL was officially created in 1921, Middletown had fewer than 6,000 residents. Today, Middletown has about 68,000 residents.

MTPL entered the electronics age in the 1990s and entered the digital age in the early 2000s. MTPL underwent renovations in 2005.

Throughout it all, the MTPL has been an essential connector in this big area. It was a lifesaving communication center during and after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Once power was restored, the library provided online services, helped residents apply for aid, and offered free coffee. Despite difficulties, MTPL hosted 402 events, which were attended by 12,873 adults and 16,125 children that year.

Today’s Middletown Township Public Library has active participation of residents. Each year, more than 617,000 items are circulated, and the library hosts 70,000 people at more than 1,600 programs. During the 2020 pandemic year, the library continued to meet the needs of the community, with 73,413 items downloaded and virtual programs attended by 10,935 patrons.

Mayor Tony Perry said, “Middletown has a rich heritage, and our community is fortunate to have a public library that offers a variety of resources to help us research, preserve and protect our past.”

In celebration of the library’s centennial, the staff will be raising money for a History Room that features computer research stations, enhanced technology such as augmented and virtual reality, and a gallery display wall that will encourage us to reflect on our vibrant history while embracing the future.

The centennial celebration will continue throughout the year with a big list of centennial-themed events, programs, and crafts including DIY time capsule crafts, and children’s event with 1920s props and stories, to name a few. The list is still growing, so keep checking for more events on the library’s social media channels. MTPL is creating a Legacy Project to digitize and remember the residents Middletown has lost. With Sept. 11’s 20th anniversary approaching, the Legacy Project will begin with by enrolling the 37 Middletown residents lost that day. Residents can submit documents, pictures, etc. to help centralize memories of the victims.

MTPL will also be hosting a gala in October. Visitors are always welcome; the library is located at 55 New Monmouth Rd. in Middletown.

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