History of Piscataway Public Library

Although the Piscataway Township Free Public Library officially began its work as a non-profit organization in 1935, a Township private library was active from 1812 until 1843. At a meeting held at Nathaniel Hotten’s Inn on April 9, 1812, the New Market Library Company was formed. It was governed by a five-member board comprised of the Reverend John Ellis as President, and Captain Peter Marseilles, Elisha Coriell, Reune Martin, and Joel Dunn as fellow board members.

This Library was a subscription-based library, with memberships costing $4.00 per subscription. Additional revenue was raised by setting an annual contribution rate of $0.25 per share. Members could borrow one book for each share owned. The original books were purchased from a New Brunswick bookseller and publisher named Lewis Dear. The texts were intended to focus on the topics of religion, morals, politics, history, biography, and geography. Fines for overdue books were set at $0.02 per day, which continued for 164 years — into 1976!

The first appointed Librarian was Reune Martin, who also served as Township Clerk and on the Township Committee. In 1814, the New Market Library Company sold 500 tickets for $1.00 each to residents interested in using the Library. In this way, they made the Library a bit more accessible and raised $500 toward the purchase of more books.

It is unknown why the Library ceased operations in 1843 and did not resume again for nearly a century. However, on May 16, 1935, the Library was incorporated as a non-profit organization. Fred A. Toomes, a former editor of the Plainfield Courier-News, was appointed Chairman of the Library Board of Trustees. Mrs. A.G. Nelson, Mrs. George Spayth, and Mrs. George Dickerson were among the Board members. With assistance from the New Jersey Public Library Commission, the Library opened on June 12, 1935 with Miss Blanche Lotz as Librarian. 

The first Library was located in the old Volunteer Fireman and Post Office building, which stood next to Deni’s Barber Shop. In November 1936, the Library was moved to the smallest wing of the old house on the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Stelton Road. The Township quickly outgrew the quaint library, with its fireplace and beamed ceiling, and moved again in March 1939 to a room in the basement of the new Municipal Building on Stelton Road in New Market. 

The Branch Library was started in November 1936, in the Fellowship Farm School House in North Stelton. The hours were limited to Thursdays 2:00-6:00 p.m. The branch later closed in 1945 for lack of patronage. 

When the Police Department needed space in May 1954, the Township Committee leased the store on the corner of Stelton Road and Hamilton Boulevard for the Library. The hours serving the public were limited to Mondays and Fridays, 1:00-5:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m., and Wednesdays 1:00-5:00 p.m., and were limited to reference work.

On November 7, 1961, Piscataway Township residents voted to municipalize the Library, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:54-1. A new Board of Trustees was appointed by the Township and sworn in two weeks later. Mayor William C. Campbell appointed Jack Vaughn as President, Johanna W. Westergard as Secretary, Joseph Ferenchak as Treasurer, and Irene Oehling.

Library service in Piscataway has expanded almost continuously since that time, trying to keep pace with the growth of the Township itself. In July 1964, the New Market Library moved into rented space on Stelton Road. 

On August 2, 1965, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library on Hoes Lane opened as the first building in the new municipal center. The Kennedy Library was dedicated on May 21, 1966 in conjunction with the Tercentenary Celebration of Piscataway. Less than ten years later, an addition to the Kennedy Library became a necessity, and on September 15, 1974, the dedication of the newly expanded 10,000 square foot library took place. Bookmobile service was initiated in 1976. 

On October 18, 1981, the newly constructed Johanna W. Westergard Library was dedicated, replacing the rented facility on Stelton Road, and thus providing a permanent location for the New Market Library collection. Johanna Westergard was first appointed to the Library Board of Trustees on September 9, 1943. She served on the board for more than 40 years — 28 of them as President — and was a primary force in promoting a referendum to create a municipal library maintained by the Township.

To meet the needs of a growing community, Kennedy Library expanded yet again. The existing building was remodeled and grew an additional 18,500 square feet during the late 1980s. On July 9, 1989, the new John F. Kennedy Library was dedicated; it now serves as the main library and a reference and community center for the Township.