Locals invited to hunt for history in Metuchen

Annual Historic Preservation Scavenger Hunt offers prizes, chance to see borough anew

BY JESSICA D’AMICO
Staff Writer

 The sculpture of a famous face from history is one of the items for which participants must search in Metuchen’s Historic Preservation Scavenger Hunt.  JUDY WEINBERG The sculpture of a famous face from history is one of the items for which participants must search in Metuchen’s Historic Preservation Scavenger Hunt. JUDY WEINBERG METUCHEN — Throughout the month of May, it will likely not be an unusual sight to see people poking around the borough, closely examining the buildings and other markers that surround them.

One might wonder what could tear eyes away from smartphone screens and convince area residents to slow down enough to truly take in their surroundings. It’s almost as if they’ve gone back in time — and in a way, they are doing just that.

For the third consecutive year, people of all ages are becoming archaeologists of sorts, searching for clues that give them a look back in history as they vie for prizes in the Historic Preservation Scavenger Hunt.

“The point is to get people to walk around and … really notice what’s there,” said Tyreen Reuter, chairwoman of Metuchen’s Historic Preservation Committee, which hosts the hunt. “Understanding something and appreciating it leads to additional respect for it.”

 A close-up shot of a borough landmark calls on scavenger hunters to look more closely at Metuchen.  JUDY WEINBERG A close-up shot of a borough landmark calls on scavenger hunters to look more closely at Metuchen. JUDY WEINBERG Borough resident Judy Weinberg of Judy Weinberg Photography can attest to that. Weinberg said she was happy to oblige when the committee contacted her to take the photos to be used as clues in the hunt.

“It kind of made me fall in love with my town just a little bit more,” she said of the experience, adding that it inspired her to make a series of notecards bearing images from around the borough.

For the nine scavenger-hunt photos, Weinberg got up close and personal with some sites around town that she hadn’t noticed before, and saw familiar places in a new light.

“They gave me a list of places, and really it was up to me to photograph it however I wanted to,” she said. “I tried to kind of go in with more of an abstract view. It was a fun challenge.”

Now, the challenge is open to all those willing to accept it.

According to Reuter, the hunt’s first year had about 40 to 45 respondents, but Historic Preservation Committee members later found out that some participants who didn’t find all the landmarks on the list hadn’t bothered to send in their forms.

Armed with this knowledge, the committee tweaked the contest to also award runnersup with prizes. Even incomplete entries should be sent in for the chance to win, Reuter said.

Last year, the scavenger hunt caught on even more, with about 80 people participating.

“This year, we’re hoping it will be even more,” she said.

The contest, held in recognition of National Preservation Month, is self-paced, meaning that participants can embark on their hunt anytime from May 1 to May 31.

Committee member Becky Seely first suggested the idea for Metuchen after seeing it done in Annapolis, Md. Reuter said she recently took part in such a hunt in Lambertville.

“People seem to really enjoy it, and it seems to be a family activity too,” she said.

This year, the hunt is focused on a different area of town than in past years — along Middlesex Avenue, between Main Street and Grove Avenue. All clues are visible from the sidewalk at street level.

According to Reuter, some participants enter individually, while others enter as part of a group.

“My youngest son’s Cub Scout troop participated in the scavenger hunt collectively last year, and the Metuchen Edison Historical Society provided them with a historical guide, so the boys were able to learn about the historical and architectural aspects of the buldings while looking for the answers to the hunt pictures,” committee member Suzanne Andrews said. “We hope to do this again this year.”

Prizes will be awarded in four categories — up to 10 years old, 11-18 years old, adult, and family/group.

“After we counted up all the entries last year, we had the greatest number of entries in the under-10 age group,” Andrews said. “I was very proud that so many children were involved. I got approval from the superintendent to have the flier distributed through the school system again this year, so hopefully we will have another year with many entries from children.”

All completed, correct entries will be pooled, with winners drawn at random. Only one entry is allowed per person or group. All entries must be returned to Borough Hall, 500 Main St., by May 31.

Winners will be announced at the June 3 Borough Council meeting.

The winners will receive $25 gift certificates from the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce, which are valid at chamber businesses.

“Those are just a great way to bring money back into the town,” Reuter said. “The chamber has really been very supportive.”

Information and entry forms are available online at metuchennj.org/2013-scavengerhunt/ index.html. For more information, contact the Historic Preservation Committee at 732-261-4807 or ayersallenhouse@msn.com. For more information on Judy Weinberg, visit judyweinbergphotography.com.