ROOSEVELT, NEW JERSEY: Big Dreams in a Small Town & What Time Did to Them by Edwin Rosskam

ROOSEVELT, NEW JERSEY: Big Dreams in a Small Town & What Time Did to Them

Email this review


A melancholic portrait of a unique New Jersey town which has more than local history/ community survey interest. Established in the mid-'30's as a socialist-oriented cooperative (part factory, part farm) community for immigrant East European Jewish garment workers, Jersey Homesteads had about as much utopian staying power as Fruitlands or Brook Farm. For a time the federal government underwrote the venture, but even before the name was changed to Roosevelt (upon the death of benefactor FDR) the co-op spirit was dying; and by the time Rosskam (author of the novel The Alien) arrived in 1953, nothing was left of the dream except the town itself and the factory building which had become an automated button plant. Rosskam tells of those pioneering Jews for whom the Homesteads represented ""affirmation against the national terror of collapsing certainties"" -- Benjamin Brown, the prime mover; Mr. Buxbaum, high-handed manager of the co-op store; Nathan Gratz, who finally left when the village changed irrevocably and unbearably. The McCarthy era brought charges of ""Jew-communists""; non-Jews began moving in and ""our patch of separateness"" was lost (the final insult a very blond engineer from West Germany, ""the very stereotype of the Waffen SS. What did he want in our nest of Jews?""); Ben Shahn, Roosevelt's most famous resident for many years, drifted away (""The fish had grown too big for the pond""); then came the developers, the drugs, the new morality, the pestilence of racism (or as Rosskam puts it, ""the terror of blacks sucked out of the very air of the vast prejudice called New Jersey""). No, Roosevelt is not dead, says Rosskam, ""Towns don't die that easily."" But time did in the dream and Roosevelt can ""serve as a warning"" to contemporary planners of artificial communities because ""here nothing developed as planned: the community found its own form and feeling, perversely, you might say, to become something nobody could possibly have foreseen."" Of interest to social scientists, historians, and genealogists of utopias.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1972
Publisher: Grossman