When the New Brunswick Homes Came Tumbling Down

Former residents reflect on the demolition of the public-housing towers on Route 18, twenty years later.

New Brunswick Homes demolition

The demolition of the New Brunswick Homes, August 18, 2001. Photo by Jason Towlen/Home News Tribune

Rosetta Hicks still has a brick from the New Brunswick Homes, the public-housing towers on Route 18 demolished in August 2001 to make way for redevelopment. Twenty years ago, after the dust clouds cleared and the rubble was hosed down, former residents were allowed to approach the pile and take a memento of what was once home. 

“I wanted a piece of that to remind me of what it was like living in those projects,” says Hicks, now 84. She lived in Building 2, Apartment 1F, for 33 years.

Hicks says the high-rises were “the most beautiful place you could see” when she moved in with her husband and six kids. The couple ultimately raised 11 children in their three-bedroom apartment.

The four New Brunswick Homes buildings deteriorated over the decades: urine and feces in the stairwells; broken elevators; crime. “Shooting outside like crazy,” as Hicks puts it.

Still, it was a community. “We would take care of each other,” says Hicks, who still receives a birthday call every year from Lila Gavin, 87, who raised three children in the Homes before moving to South Carolina. 

Sherman Johnson was six when his family moved to the Homes; he lived there for more than 30 years. His mother, Clara Holloway, was one of the first Homes residents to move back to the town houses at the redeveloped site, now called Riverside Drive Apartments.

“This spot is much quieter than the projects,” says Johnson, 58. 

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Johnson wistfully recalls riding the elevators and playing sports at the projects. He always felt safe.  

“If the projects was still down here, I’d be there,” says Charles Sanders, 60, who lived directly above Johnson in Building 4. Now the two men live in neighboring units at the redeveloped site.   

Neither man watched the implosion 20 years ago, nor did Theresa Majette, 70. 

“I lived there 30 years, and that was enough,” says Majette, whose last name was Tanksley when she lived at the Homes before remarrying. “I wanted to remember it like it was.”

Majette likes the replacement housing, with her own entrance and garage, although the stairs are tough on her knees. Moving in, she says, “I felt right at home.”

After leaving the towers, Hicks bought a home in Ewing, where she enjoys her porch and keeps the brick in a shoebox on a stand in her basement. She rides past the site of her former home when she goes to see her doctor in Somerset. 

“We make sure we go through New Brunswick and look at where we used to live,” she says.  

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