In Metuchen, old can be new, and new can be old

J. Aden Lewis

My friends living on Carson Avenue first introduced me to the Grimstead Collection last autumn.

One of the centerpieces of their wonderfully decorated house is a grainy, black-and-white photo of their home, circa 1930.

Every time I visit, I find myself captivated by this photo, drawn back into the past. Carson Avenue was a dusty dirt road back then, and although the house has been completely renovated, the image captures the timelessness of their home, their street and our town.

"I’d love one of those photos," I said. "Where did you get it?"

"Just contact the Historical Society," she replied, "and they’ll make a copy for you."

So after several months of waiting, I finally encountered the full Grimstead Collection — a series of photo albums containing vintage local images — at Metuchen-Edison Local History Day.

Held at the Metuchen Public Library on Super Bowl Sunday, this excellent event was sponsored by the Metuchen-Edison Historical Society, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to "promoting an interest in and appreciation of the history of the Borough of Metuchen and Edison Township."

Arriving at the library in search of my own piece of local history, I immediately spied my objective — the Grimstead photos — but I was quickly diverted by other historical highlights in the crowded room: A shrine to knocked-down buildings, various town maps and plans, handwritten police reports, and items for sale by the Historical Society, including an 1888 cookbook, postcards, 19th-century Metuchen maps, how-to historical research pamphlets, books like "Boyhood Days in Old Metuchen" and "The Hole in the Donut — Growing up in Metuchen in a Time of Innocence."

However, the bulk of my time was spent poring through the 20-plus albums of the Grimstead Collection. The photos show the transformation of Metuchen-Edison from the turn of the 20th century, through World War I, the Depression and World War II. There were classic photos of all my favorite local buildings and houses. It felt like seeing baby pictures of my adult friends.

Many of these photos can be found on the official Web site of the Metuchen-Edison Historical Society: http://www.

I recommend taking a journey through this treasure trove of images, upcoming events, trivia, and good, clean local fun. The site also has information on how to join the Society, as well as online copies of its newsletter, "Nannygoats," and its kids’ newsletter, "Nannykids."

After leisurely browsing through the Grimstead albums and soaking up the local history, I actively began the hunt for the photo of my house. After 20 minutes of futility, I approached one of the helpful members of the Society.

"Sorry to bother you," I said, "but I can’t seem to find the photo of my house."

"What’s the street name, dear?"

I gave it to her. She cross-checked her references.

"I’m sorry," she said sympathetically, "we don’t have pictures of that street. You live in one of the new houses in town."

"One of the new houses? But my house is 56 years old."

"Well," she said, "in Metuchen, that’s considered new."

I drove home disappointed, but when I pulled into my driveway and took a long look at my house, I felt a shift occur.

Although my electrical box and plumbing might need some convincing, I regarded my house as "new" for the very first time.