Mark Falzini isn’t from Ewing. He’s from West Trenton. It may seem like a small distinction to outsiders, but to Falzini — and most West Trenton natives who have a deep sense of pride in their hometown — it’s an important clarification.
Falzini, who was born and raised in West Trenton, said his one-square-mile neighborhood is more than just a section of Ewing. West Trenton has a unique culture and history that makes residents proud to call it their home.
Falzini documented part of this history in his newest book, One Square Mile: A History of Trenton Junction, New Jersey. The book, which was published in early 2017, takes a deep dive into the history of his neighborhood, focusing on a 56-year span — between 1876 and 1932 — when West Trenton was called Trenton Junction, named after the advent of the railroad in town.
Using original sources such as interviews and newspaper articles, Falzini takes readers back to life in small-town America at the turn of the century. The book explores what life was like for immigrant families in a rural farming community that was transformed by rail and air travel.
“People hear about West Trenton and they think it’s just where the airport is. I want them to know that there’s a lot of history here,” Falzini said. “There’s stuff that went on that was integral to our local history, to American history, to the township history, and we’re very proud.”
As a history buff — Falzini has a history degree from Trenton State and a master’s in library science from Rutgers University — Falzini always loved hearing stories from his father, Michael, and neighbors about what West Trenton was like when they were young. From simple family tales to stories about air shows at the Trenton-Mercer Airport, he was fascinated by his hometown history. As it turns out, he wasn’t the only one.
When Falzini discovered newspapers.com — a website that archives newspaper articles from the 1700s to 2000s — he discovered hundreds of old articles about Trenton Junction.
“I would find articles about West Trenton or Trenton Junction from all over the country,” he said. “And before I knew it, I had a stack about a foot high of hundreds of articles all about Trenton Junction from around 1873 when the trains came in up to 1932 when it became West Trenton, and that’s what the book covers.”
Falzini said he was shocked to discover articles about his one-square-mile neighborhood written in newspapers thousands of miles away. However, many of the stories were large enough to make national news.
Amelia earhart attended the grand opening of the airport. A mid-air collision at an airport airshow in 1930 made national headlines, as did the many train crashes at Trenton Junction.
“It wasn’t just crashes of the trains themselves, it was people trying to cross the tracks,” Falzini said. In the late 1800s, there was no tunnel or bridge to cross the train tracks. “People were being hit by trains all the time. I was shocked to find out about that.”
The idea of strolling across active train tracks may seem reckless by today’s standards, but it was just a part of daily life at the turn of the century. Falzini includes many small details about life in Trenton Junction.
He details the story of “the little red schoolhouse” in town and the activities that were held there, farming events, and a harvest festival, among others. He also includes some colonial history dating back to the late 1600s.
“I feel connected to the story when I go through it in such detail, it’s not just something that’s abstract,” he said. “I kind of immerse myself in it. It brings me into the story, so to speak, as kind of an invisible observer at the time.”
This is fifth book Falzini has published, and all of them revolve around some aspect of local history. For Falzini, the New Jersey State Police Museum archivist and historian, researching history is both rewarding and intriguing.
“You put yourself so deep in the story that you feel like you’re there so it’s satisfying in that way,” he said. “But it’s also frustrating because there are some things you just don’t know. You can’t interact with the people so you can’t ask them what’s going on. But then you start putting yourself into their place and start thinking like them and then you’re coming up with the answers you’re looking for.”
While diving into his town’s history was enjoyable, there was also a lot of pressure on Falzini.
West Trenton is not just a tight knit community; many generations of families still call it home. He wasn’t just retelling history, he was writing about his neighbors’ ancestors.
“It’s not just my story, it’s their story,” he said, adding that he hopes they can share these stories with their parents and pass them down to their children.
Falzini said the story has been very well received thus far by West Trenton locals and nonresidents alike. In her May 2017 Ewing Observer column, Helen Kull said the book is a “treasure for those with an interest in local history.”
When asked about what the future has in store for West Trenton, Falzini believes you can find the answer by looking to the past.
“West Trenton has expanded now… they’re building up a Town Center here and there’s rumors of Walmart and people are saying ‘oh they’re gonna come in and and it’ll ruin everything,’” he said. “It’ll change what we’re accustomed too, but West Trenton has gone through so many changes over the years. We’re going to be okay, we’re going to survive it and come out better. We had nothing here back in the colonial days, then all of a sudden those blasted trains came in and people said ‘oh it’s going to ruin everything.’ It changed the character of the town, but not the soul.”
One Square Mile: A History of Trenton Junction, New Jersey is available on Amazon and at the Ewing Library.