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Channeling Mary Jacobs: Namesake of the Rocky Hill Library

By Barbara A. Preston | March 31, 2022

If Mary Barrowman Jacobs were alive today, would she be pleased with the upcoming transformation of the quaint brick building that bears her name?

The library building is a living legacy to her from her beloved husband, Harold Jacobs.

Since library stakeholders cannot communicate with Mary or Harold, who are buried in the Rocky Hill Cemetery, stakeholders rely on guidance from the foundation that bears her name — The Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation — and from the Rocky Hill Borough Council.

Who was Mary Jacobs, and why is a library named for her?

According to The Montgomery News archives: Mary Jacobs was the middle child of five children born to Thomas Barrowman and Marion Livingstone Snedden. Born on December 10, 1897 in St. Louis Missouri, she moved with her family to Rocky Hill when she was five.

She would have attended both Rocky Hill elementary schools: the first at 86 Washington Street, on the corner of Montgomery Avenue, and the then new elementary school built in 1908 at 15 Montgomery Avenue, which is now the Rocky Hill Municipal Building.

In 1911, Mary would have attended Princeton High School (PHS) —which served Rocky Hill students back then. She graduated, Class of 1915. Mary went on to study nursing in Philadelphia, and worked in the social services department in the city.

She married Harold Jacobs, a well-to-do real estate professional, and the lived a comfortable life, according to the archives. She was able to focus her energies on volunteer work for the Red Cross. They had no children. When Mary died in 1968, Harold wanted to establish a memorial in her name — and turned to the “picturesque town where Mary grew up.”

Citizens had been attempting to establish a library in Rocky Hill. Back then, the only public library resource available was the Somerset County Bookmobile, which came to town every other week, according to an article once published on the MJML Foundation’s website.

In 1966, with the encouragement of the Somerset County Library, the Rocky Hill Community Group had established the Rocky Hill Library in a historic Rocky Hill building, the Amy Garrett House. It was financed by Somerset County, the Borough of Rocky Hill, and the Rocky Hill Community Group.

In 1968, Harold Jacobs consulted with local Rocky Hill residents Laura Stabler, Gloria Mack, and Martha Allen, and agreed that a new library for the community would be a fitting remembrance to his late wife. He greed to bequeath $800,000 in a perpetual trust for a library building to be named for Mary.

The Mary Jacobs Library Foundation was formed to oversee the endowment and to maintain, protect, and preserve the library, which was constructed in 1973 to Jacobs’ specifications and opened in 1974.

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With help and funds from community stakeholders and businesses, the foundation has expanded the library building three times to accommodate Montgomery residents and growth of library users: A new wing 1981; Another wing in 1992; then, in 2005, a Children’s Services wing.

Mary Jacobs’ name has lived on in her hometown, thanks to her loving husband and hard work from many volunteers over the years. What will the next chapter bring? ■

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