|Rocco "Rocky" Miele - Raritan's First Official Mayor|
|On a wall in the Raritan Municipal Building are photos of the ten people who have served as mayor of Raritan.
The first six photos are in “black and white”, while the four most recent are in color.
While this author and other writers of local history have covered many topics, biographies of the Raritan Mayors are nowhere to be found. So who were these public servants? The story of Raritan’s mayors should be recorded and preserved in Raritan’s historical archives so that they are not forgotten.
|The first photo on the wall has a name plate beneath it that reads “Rocco Miele 1948-1953”.
Research for this article finds that he is the ideal first mayor for Raritan. For he was Italian, served in World War II, and a man who was involved in his community. Here is his story.
|Rocco “Rocky” Miele was born in Raritan in 1911. His parents, who had been born in Italy near Naples,
first lived in Newark, but found it too crowded. At the time Raritan was known as a nice developing Italian community and that surely attracted them.
They would come to settle at 75 W. Somerset Street in Raritan. The building had a storefront downstairs and living space upstairs. They would initially have a shoe store in the storefront while living upstairs. After prohibition was lifted in December of 1933 the family decided a better use of the storefront would be a tavern. The fee to obtain one of the sixteen liquor licenses that were being offered in town was just $300. (Today that liquor license is worth as much as $200,000.)
|His parents came to America through Ellis Island|
|They opened their tavern in 1934 which they named “The Park Grill”.
It was a local tavern of its era where most everyone in the place knew each other.
Patrons drank the beers of the era, such as Ballantine, as they debated the issues of the day and talked about their favorite baseball team the Yankees. It was mostly just men who were the customers with women only occasionally stopping in. Rocco was a natural at being a tavern owner. He liked people and was involved in community work.
|In January of 1942 Rocco would marry a girl from Philadelphia named Cleo.
But within two years Rocco, at the age 32, was drafted into the Army Air Force to serve in World War II.
His brothers-in-law, Ed Danberry and Eugene Van Note, would keep the bar going while he was gone.
He would spend his time in the military at Robbin’s Field in Georgia. There he was a Mess Hall Sergeant who was in charge of the kitchen and the cooks that keep the numerous troops fed. This was a good fit as he was both a good cook and willing host. When his unit was about to move overseas an injury kept him back at the camp. After he recovered the top brass decided that Rocco did such a good job running the food services that the best use for him was to keep him there. So Rocco spent World War II feeding the soldiers in training before they shipped off to war.
|After the war ended in 1945, Rocco returned to Raritan to resume his job as tavern owner.
He came to define the place. While the official name was “The Park Grill” most people referred to it as Rocky Miele’s bar.
Popular and well liked, in 1946, he was elected to the Raritan’s Board of Commissioners. The board appointed him the chairman.
(In its early days 1868 – 1948 Raritan was part of Bridgewater. It was ruled by a Board of Commissioners that was elected by the Raritan people. )
|In 1947 events transpired that would set Raritan on a path to independence from Bridgewater.
In this endeavor Rocky worked closely with town clerk Nick Esposito and Borough Attorney George Allgair to set the legal process
in motion so that the vote for independence would be put on a ballot before the Raritan public.
As we know, that vote for independence in May of 1948 passed overwhelmingly. It was then that his position as President of the Board of Commissioners became Mayor. Raritan’s first.
|He did an excellent job as leader in Raritan. On example of this is when he spoke at the unveiling
of the Basilone Statue in 1948. His words were printed in the “Raritan Valley News” and have since been quoted in several historical publications.
He said “John Basilone, our boyhood chum, stands before us immortal. He died to make democracy live and to keep us free. Let him be the inspiration for our efforts, for the preservation of peace.”
|One of his accomplishments that we still see today is the Ortho Buildings on Route 202.
For early in his political career “Johnson and Johnson” had wanted to expand their Ortho Pharmaceuticals division in Raritan.
Over a few years Rocco worked with the Johnson Brothers themselves to make it happen.
The bar became very popular in the late forties and early fifties as a television was installed. Patrons could watch baseball and boxing on this new modern marvel as most families did not yet have a television in their home.
|Toward the end of his term as Mayor, Rocco became sick. At times it was not easy for him to leave the house.
So to accommodate him the borough council sometimes had their meetings right in the kitchen of the Miele household.
At the end of 1953 when his term was up he choose not to run for mayor again. He gave his support to Anthony Santora who would win the next election for mayor.
|As tavern owner Rocco was a community organizer. One of his most popular events was running bus trips to Yankee Stadium.
Raritan was passionate about the Yankees as they cheered for the Italian players Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto. But it was not always the Raritan people going to see the Yankees, but several times the Yankees came to Raritan. Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Gil McDougald were among the many Yankee players that visited the bar. On more than one occasion several Yankees were invited upstairs to have spaghetti and drinks at the Miele kitchen table.
Rocco was even an unofficial scout for the Yankees as he often watched local baseball and would inform the Yankees if any local teenager looked like he had potential. For this Rocco was given a clubhouse pass at Yankee Stadium and many free tickets.
|In 1959 the era of the local tavern was coming to a close. Rocco shutdown the tavern and sold the building at 75 West Somerset Street
and moved the family to Brooklyn Avenue. The liquor license was sold to a newly constructed bowling alley - called The Bowlerama – which had just been
built at the Somerville Circle.
Rocco would enter phase two of his career as host in Raritan when he was hired as manager of the Bowlerama. Rocco was also a minority owner of the business along with several others. He stayed there for around a decade.
|Rocky Miele passed away in 1994 at the age of 83. Today his son Rocky Jr. lives in Texas while his other son Jimmy lives in Branchburg.
Rocco “Rocky” Miele did a fine job for Raritan. It is this author’s hope that he will now be remembered for the many things he accomplished and not just as a photo in the Municipal Building. Family lore says that Rocky had saved in a frame the signed document that gave Raritan its independence along with the pen that was used by the governor to sign it. Perhaps someday this will be found and placed in Borough Hall.
|Rocky with Frank Perantoni|
A Pro Football Player from Raritan
|For now, as we pass by 75 West Somerset Street where “Raritan’s Own Laundromat” is located today, may we remember that many years ago it was a thriving local tavern owned by Raritan’s first Mayor Rocky Miele.|