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The year was 1918 just after the end of World War I. On the advice of his doctor that he could prolong his life only if he could live on a farm away from the city pavements, Jacob Wexler left his business as a building contractor behind him in New York City, and took his family to settle in Toms River. He bought a 75 acre farm from Samuel Kaufman, who was an early Jewish pioneer in the area and a wealthy man.

And so it came about that the whole Wexler clan settled into the old weather beaten house on Old Freehold Road. This family consisted of Jake and their five children, Goldie, Ida, lzzie, Ben and Sam, who was then not quite a year old. There were also Jake's sister and her husband, Mary and Joe Estomin, and their son Harold (Alton was born a short time later), together with Grandma and Grandpa Wexler and Uncle Abe.

For us children, this new life was a constant adventure. At the beginning there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. Pumping water at the kitchen sink was novel and exciting. However, this state of affairs was not novel or exciting to the adults in the house, and it was not long before indoor plumbing was installed, and electricity flowed through the house, powered by a Delco system in the cellar.

Cars were seen only infrequently and so our horses, were driven to town either drawing a buggy occasionally during the winter, or a sleigh, if there was enough snow.

We found out that our house had formerly been a way station for changing horses for the public coach that ran between Freehold and Toms River and other points south. Hence the name of our road. There was an immense red barn on our property which had housed the horses and which now was being used for our animals. During those early times, Old Freehold Road was the main road. There was no route 9 south of Cox Cro Road. A number of years later the existing Route 9 was built by convict labor. The children watched from a distance as the men worked, and the fact that they all wore striped uniforms intrigued us.

The year we arrived in Toms River was the first year all the children in the neighborhood were transported into Toms River to the central school. There had formally been a one room red school house where a single teacher taught all eight grades. Now the children were brought to the two-story building that still stands today. It contained classes from grades one through twelve. Our bus was an immense coach with a long line of seats facing each other, drawn by two horses.

At the time of my graduation from grade school and also from high school, I was the only Jewish child in the class. The scarcity of Jewish children did not last long. The school was shortly thereafter attended by many Jewish children. When my brothers were  in high school, all three of them were star athletes. lzzie was on the football team. Ben was on the basketball and football teams, and also managed the basketball team. Sammie also was quite a hero; he starred on the baseball and basketball teams.

I can remember only a few Jewish families when we arrived in Toms River. There were the  Kaufman's, the  Novin's  and  a family  named  Eichenbaum  who  had farms  on Old Freehold Road. Max Leet had a dry goods store in town and the Meyers had their variety store on the premises about where it still is today. Toms River then was a lovely, sleepy town where everybody knew everybody else on a first name basis. The business section was confined to one block on Main Street with one or two  stores  on Water Street, and a couple of businesses on Washington Street. The Post Office occupied a part of the site where the First National Bank now stands, and one had to go up a number of steps in order to enter.  Upstairs in this rackety building were the law offices of Judge Veeder for whom I worked several years. Early on, Joe Luria opened his department store opposite the post office.

Thinking back to those early days brings back pictures of the town as it was then. I cannot omit mentioning the Traco Theatre located on the premises where the Jersey Shore Savings & Loan Association is at the present time. The Theatre was owned by Joe Hirshblond, the father of Manny Hirshblond, who is now our Township Clerk. My sister Ida won 1st prize dancing the Charleston on the stage of the Traco.

Then there was the Ocean House on the northwest corner of Main and Water Streets, and the Marion Inn on the northeast corner. And occupying a  commanding position looking toward Main Street was Berry's Hardware store on Water Street , on the site formerly occupied by the First National Bank.

During the late 1920's, Krause's Delicatessen and Luncheonette was on the corner of Main and Washington. Later Herb Resnick took this business over. It was just  about this time that our first Jewish attorney, the late Albert Kushinsky, opened an office in Toms River. He later became an Ass istant County Prosecutor and married Mr. Kaufman's daughter, Lillian who was then a widow.

Back then there was only one doctor in Toms River, Dr. Brower, and he was available day or night for house calls. He saved my brother Sammie's life when he had scarlet fever as a child.

During the early days while there were so few Jews in Toms River, we celebrated the High Holy days at the Novins' home. But as the number of Jews increased, our house, which was renovated  by the addition of four bedrooms and oversized living and dining rooms, became the meeting place and Shule during the Holidays. Children's plays were presented there, and I remember that Purim was a favorite theme. I sure had a lot of fun being the director of these activities.

More and more Jewish people settled in our area. On Church Road, the Sachs, the Karols, and the Baer's (they later moved to Old Freehold Rd) arrived. The Haberman place was originally west of Route 9. Later they relocated to Silverton Road. The Estomins left the old house and set up a chicken farm on Church Road. Our immediate family eventually left the old house and bought a farm adjacent to  the  Community House. The Pincus' were very early settlers, then came the Dinnerstein's, the Alex Cohen's and the Rosenberg's, all on Old Freehold Road.

Within a 10 year period ending in 1934, all of the Wexler children married. Ida married Jack Cherry of Canada; lzzie married Janet Sachs, a local girl; Ben married Ethel from Philadelphia; Pearl of Lakewood married Sammie; and I married Harry Rothman of the Bronx, and that is where I lived for the next 20 years, while the other children remained in Toms River.

When we first came to Toms River, general farming was the rule. Our family had quite a number of cows, horses, a couple of goats and a number of chickens. The land was planted with corn and hay to feed the animals. We sold milk, cream and eggs to the people in Lakewood. The life was hard and money scarce. We were poor, but we children had no idea that we were poor. We were always just one step away from being unable to meet the mortgage payments. I remember that my father could rely on not being penalized if the payment on the 2nd mortgage, held by the Jewish Agricultural Society, fell in arrears. This organization sponsored the settlement of Jewish people on farms. In spite of all this, our childhood on the farm was ideal. We  certainly were always happy, healthy and interested in the many projects that were part of our life.

In the 1920's, chicken and egg farming became popular in our area. So many people arrived and so many farms were being operated. This part  of the  country  became known as an important egg center of the metropolitan area.

With this influx of new Jewish farmers , our house could not possibly accommodate all the people during the holidays and for meetings. A building plan was organized, and my father was commissioned to  build a community hall. In the early 1920's, Toms River Jewish Community House was finished. The Community House  became  the  social center of the Jewish farmers. To finance it, various projects were undertaken: dances masquerade balls, children's parties and stage presentations by  adults and  children. Meetings were enthusiastically attended, and after the business part, I can remember Mr. Pincus reading to us from Sholem Aleichem and my Aunt Mary singing some rousing Yiddish or Russian song, and everybody joining in. Those days were stirring and unforgettable.

The chicken and egg business continued to thrive until the late 1950's. Then, due to government lack of control of egg and feed prices, the farms began to fail. Shortly thereafter most of them went out of business.

Our dear mother died in 1943 and left a void in our lives.

As I consider our town today as compared with what it was almost 60 years ago, cannot believe it to be the same place.  It has turned into a bustling community, vastly increasing in population, with new shopping centers, many more schools, including a Community College, (one of the founders of which incidentally was the late Robert J. Novins), not to mention the ever growing real estate developments.

This place bears no resemblance to the slow paced little town to which we came in 1918.


By:  Goldie Wexler Rothman