Get our newsletters

Frenchtown historian Rick Epstein pens new book; event slated

Posted

The Frenchtown Bookshop will host an event launching the book, “Frenchtown,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10.

The author, Rick Epstein, will share some highlights of the book, and there will be a Q&A, plus a chance to buy the book. The bookstore is at 28 Bridge St.

“Frenchtown,” a history of the riverside town, has been published by the Fargo Family Foundation. It traces the town’s transition from ferry crossing to tourist mecca. Epstein is a Hunterdon County Historical Society trustee and Frenchtown’s official historian.

“It’s a whale of a book,” boasts Epstein. “In fact, at 200,000 words it’s the size of ‘Moby Dick.’ But it’s funnier and has 75 illustrations.”

He did much of the research in the Hunterdon County Historical Society’s Deats Library and has high praise for the helpfulness and hospitality of HCHS administrator Dave Harding and librarian Pam Robinson. “Cornelius Larison of Ringoes claimed that his grandfather gave Frenchtown its name in the 1790s, and I wouldn’t have known that if Dave hadn’t shoved it under my nose,” says Epstein.

The book draws from interviews, old newspapers, maps, books, photos, diaries, memoirs, council minutes, deeds, contracts, and Epstein’s own recollections. It contains a detailed account of the Great Fire of 1878, and information on local crimes and tragedies. The histories of Frenchtown’s churches, schools, police department, factories, chicken hatcheries, fire company, fraternal lodges, library, and cemetery, are also presented.

The people get lots of attention, too. Starting with the founder Paul Henri Mallet-Prevost, who fled France to avoid the guillotine, the book tells about the manufacturers, merchants, soldiers, politicians, pranksters, and builders who animated the town. “My favorite chapter is titled ‘Stunts, Gags, and Shenanigans,’” says Epstein. “There’s lots of fun there, including a couple of capers narrated by T. Powers Williams, an excellent writer and storyteller who grew up here in the 1860s.”

The hardcover book is more than 460 pages long, weighs more than two pounds. “It’s like picking up a brick,” says Epstein.

Rick Epstein landed in Frenchtown in 1977 and has been editor of the Delaware Valley News and the Hunterdon County Democrat. When his children were young, he wrote a funny-dad column that he sold to 175 publishers in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Since 2016, he has been conducting walking tours of Frenchtown and working in the library at Delaware Valley Regional High School.

The Fargo Family Foundation was established by the daughters of Clarence Fargo, who wrote “History of Frenchtown” and published it in 1933. The foundation’s grants support good works in the greater Milford-Frenchtown area.

“Frenchtown” is available in town at Frenchtown Bookshop, Frenchtown Home & Hardware, Sublime gift shop, Heart of the Home, and ArtYard gallery and theater. It can be ordered by mail by sending a check for $30 plus $5 postage to Rick Epstein at 1 Twelfth St., Frenchtown, NJ, 08825.


X