Actor, writer, business trainer, Keith Strunk is well known in Frenchtown, N.J., as the cofounder and managing director of River Union Stage, a professional equity theater.
A Bucks County native and graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, Strunk moved from New York back to the Delaware Valley after Sept. 11, 2001. Co-founder of Interlude Group, he has turned his acting training into a business that produces simulation training in corporate settings. He has written scripts, training workbooks, simulation scenarios and brochures over 25 years.
Strunk has spent much of his time exploring the area along the Delaware – as paddler and hiker and observer of the river towns. He thanks his parents, Blaine and Liz Strunk, for developing his sense of curiosity.
Keith Strunk’s latest accomplishment is the publication of an Arcadia Publishing Images of America book about Stockton, N.J. and the Prallsville Mills.
Like other Arcadia books on regional history, “Prallsville Mills and Stockton” is jammed packed with early photographs that tell the story of the mills’ development.
“The Delaware River draws a dividing line between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is fed by hundreds of smaller streams along its length,” the book begins. It tells of John Prall’s acquiring a riverfront property with a grist mill in 1794.
“Prall took the small mill nestled next to the Wickecheoke Creek at the point where it flows into the Delaware River and used the power of water to develop a village industrial complex,” Strunk writes.“ He rebuilt and expanded the gristmill and built a linseed oil mill and a sawmill. He built a stone store to serve as the center of his developing village and commercial concerns, and built houses for his family, farmed the land, developed two fisheries on the Delaware River, and opened a sandstone quarry.”
Prosperity was short-lived however. Eventually the Prall family sold the mills complex and it took the building of the Delaware and Raritan Canal and a rail line to revive the business. The mills continued to operate until 1955.
Edith Shreiner Sharp, executive director of the Delaware River Mill Society, relates the Stockton community’s struggle to save the mills from development in the 1960s. “A visionary, Donald Jones,” she writes, “purchased the property in 1969 and gave it to the State of New Jersey in 1973. The formation of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park provided walking and bicycle paths along the banks of the old canal from Trenton to Frenchtown, with the Prallsville Mills complex located in the center.”
The Delaware River Mill Society was formed in 1976 to provide for continued restoration and maintenance of the mills. Today the main building is used for social gatherings, lectures and art exhibitions. The Prall House across Route 29 houses the society’s offices and is also a gathering place for events. The complex, on the National Register of Historic Places, is at the center point of New Jersey’s Delaware River Scenic Byway and it is bordered by the federally designated Wild and Scenic river.
Part of the book’s appeal is the story of the Prall family. “I remember my aunt Marion Prall showing my younger brother and me treasures that she had in her attic: an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and letters that George Washington wrote to my great-great-great-great-grandfather John Prall Jr.,” writes Pieter Prall, who helped in gathering the family history. “There were the pistols that he had used during the American Revolution and the handwritten record that he kept, relating to the fateful event in 1776, when members of the new Jersey militia and the greater Delaware River community saved the American Revolutionary effort by helping to get Washington’s beleaguered army across the Delaware River to a successful rout and capture of the Hessian garrison at Trenton, Christmas night 1776.”
Stockton enjoys the good fortune of still having most of its historic buildings and charming homes,” Sharp says. With the Mill Society and especially Carl Cathers, who contributed many of the photographs, Strunk had an “indispensable link to Stockton’s past.” His wife, Laura Swanson, “partner in all things” edited the first drafts.
The book will be available at the mill complex, in stores and at arcadiapublishing.com Sept. 22. A portion of the author’s proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Delaware River Mill Society.