smart-startGene and Debbie Trotta outside the former Masonic lodge on River Road in Fair Haven, which is now home to their pre-school, Smart Start. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


Its prominent brick frame rising to a spire, it had once been home to a church and later a Masonic lodge, but for the last two decades it was little more than a shell of Fair Haven’s past.

To Gene Trotta and Debbie Trotta, the River Road landmark was crying out for something.

“I looked at it for 20 years, and I always said it was meant to be a school,” said Gene.

The Trottas admired the century-old building while they went to work down the street, to the Cedar Avenue preschool they started in their late 20s, a one-floor spot with just a couple classrooms and not a hint of the history or distinct architecture they coveted on River Road.

Then, as Debbie tells it, a little bit of fate interceded, and by the time the school year started, the Colts Neck couple was busting out boarded-up windows, spreading spackle and applying a finish to original chestnut wood floors.

“Everything’s original in here,” Gene said.

Except for the owners, who have fulfilled their vision to run Smart Start Preschool within the historic walls of 786 River Road.

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