Exploring local history with Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia


Rick Epstein

Mr. Rick Epstein, Del Val Media Center Assistant, researching for his book.

Clare Erwin, The Delphi Editor

Del Val’s Richard Epstein is 284 pages into what will soon become a complete version of Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia. What started as a collection of information and stories quickly turned into a full-fledged book centered around the rich history of Frenchtown, as well as Epstein’s own experiences living there.

In December of 2018, Epstein began to compile the discoveries he made during his series of walking tours, which he hosts throughout the year, into what would become his newest project. “I love facts and stories, and I love sharing them with interested people. I like the way the pieces fit together, explaining how things got this way,” Epstein said, who gets most of his information from old Frenchtown newspapers found in the basement of Rutgers’ library in New Brunswick, NJ, as well as from the Hunterdon County Historical Society’s library in Flemington, NJ. When researching, it takes him around 7 hours to get through one year of a newspaper.

Though he recognizes the difficulty of publishing a book once it is finished, Epstein is fairly confident that Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia will fare well. This is largely due to the fact that in 1933, a man by the name of Clarence Fargo wrote History of Frenchtown, and his family fortune was ultimately left to a foundation dedicated to preserving the history of Frenchtown, just as Fargo was. Therefore, Epstein hopes to eventually ask them for money to publish his own book, with the same goal of sharing the town’s history.

His first experiences in Frenchtown took place in 1977, when Epstein was 25 years old and had come to the town to be editor of the weekly newspaper, the Delaware Valley News. He stayed at the National Hotel before moving into a house on Twelfth Street, where he still lives today. According to Epstein, working for the news during this time involved talking with the locals and hearing their first-hand accounts, which ultimately gave him his first glimpse into the interesting and varied history of Frenchtown and its people.

Epstein’s involvement in Frenchtown’s past grew in 2016, when he first started his walking tours. “The tours give me a fresh and appreciative audience each time,” Epstein said. “And the tours are fun. Old men love to tell the same stories over and over,” he added. Epstein offers four different tours, (the Uptown, Downtown, Cemetery, and Bad Luck & Poor Choices Tour), that each explore various stories, locations, and time periods. However, due to the Coronavirus, all tours are currently postponed. His website is also home to his blog on Frenchtown’s history, which he updates with pictures and excerpts from Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia.

Some of these excerpts include “Birthday Boys,” where Epstein re-tells a story of the three Frenchtown pastors who all shared the same birthday, and in 1934 celebrated a day later (Feb. 21) at the Presbyterian manse. Assuming that the chances of being born on any given day are the same, disregarding Feb. 29 for obvious reasons, Del Val math teachers calculated that the chance of three people being born on the same day are 1 in 133,407.

I wrote a couple of other books for money, but this one is more like my way of being part of my town,”

— Mr. Rick Epstein

Then there is the story of Dr. Harry Harman’s cursing parrot, who, as it turned out, was secretly being given vocabulary lessons by Raymond “Butch” Loper, the owner of the butcher shop and IGA grocery store across the street, who would come across the bird along of Harman’s porch. These stories, among many others, found their place in Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia, bringing humor and character to the small New Jersey town and Delaware Valley Regional High School sending district.

According to Epstein, the purpose for writing Rick’s Frenchtown Encyclopedia is to inform and entertain readers about Frenchtown’s past, while preserving it for good. “I wrote a couple of other books for money, but this one is more like my way of being part of my town,” he says.

One thing is for certain: whether it be through walking tours or the writing of an entire encyclopedia, Epstein’s way is keeping the history of Frenchtown alive, one story at a time.