CRANBURY: House tour explores town’s history and charm

By Jennifer Kohlhepp, Managing Editor
The Victorian style farmhouse at 158 N. Main St. has the authentic atmosphere of a country home. The large front porch invites visitors to partake of one of the more beautiful vistas of preserved farmland surrounding scenic Cranbury.
There is also a cozy screened-in side porch for casual summer entertaining. Originally part of a horse farm, the land was subdivided in the 1930s to include a large barn with two entrances, and extensive land for fruit, vegetable and flower gardens.
The George Farr Horse Farm is one of six historic homes on the Cranbury Historic House Tour this year.
“Planning for the house tour begins in February of the tour year,” Audrey Smith, chairwoman of the tour, said. “Houses are chosen for their historic interest and architectural features. Including other historic buildings in Cranbury adds to the tour and gives participants a chance to and become familiar with more of Cranbury’s history.”
Cranbury’s special characteristics were recognized when most of the village was entered on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on Aug. 9, 1979, and on the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 18, 1980.
In recognition of Cranbury’s historical and architectural significance the nomination stated that “Cranbury is the best preserved 19th century village in Middlesex County.”
“While there are many small mill towns in New Jersey, few are in such an undisturbed environment as that of Cranbury,” the nomination stated.
The preservation of Cranbury’s historic character can be attributed to the concerns and efforts of its residents, past and present.
The Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society was organized in 1967 and incorporated on Nov. 17, 1970. The society is committed to furthering the interest and knowledge of the history of Cranbury; the promotion, support and encouragement of the beautification of the land and buildings located in Cranbury; and the restoration and preservation of Cranbury’s old and historic building sites.
The society operates a museum and history center, and sponsors biennial house and garden tours; tours of its museum and history center and walking tours of the village; periodic exhibits in the museum; a series of programs in local history at the Cranbury School; and cultural programs and events for the entire community.
The Cranbury Historic House Tour, held every two years, is the primary fundraiser for the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society. Proceeds go to underwrite the organization’s free museum, walking tours, Fourth of July celebration concert band performance, winter holiday tea, and educational programs.
This year, the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society presents “Historic Cranbury House Tour: The Next Generation” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26.
Beyond the six historic homes, the tour will also feature the First Presbyterian Church, c. 1839; Gristmiller’s House, c. 1868 (now Cranbury History Center); Firehouse Museum, c. 1920; United Methodist Church, c. 1848; Town Hall and Gourgaud Gallery, c.1896; and Garrett P. Voorhees House, c. 1834 (now Cranbury Museum).
“Cranbury Museum and Cranbury History Center were built as homes in the 1800s,” Ms. Smith said. “Town Hall, built in 1896, was Cranbury’s first graded school and houses the Gourgaud Gallery where there will be an art exhibit. The Methodist and Presbyterian Church sanctuaries, both built in the 1800s, have beautiful architectural detail. The Firehouse Museum, c. 1920, will include a special exhibit.”
Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the tour.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.cranburyhistory.org. Tickets will also be sold at local stores: Cranbury Bookworm, Haru, Studio 43 Hair Design, Perennial Home in Hightstown and at the Cranbury History Center, Cranbury Museum and Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s Realty. Tickets can also be purchased the day of the tour in front of Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s Realty at 39 N. Main St.
Cranbury is one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. The first recorded evidence of buildings in Cranbury is March 1, 1698, on a deed of sale between Josiah Prickette of Burlington and John Harrison for land “with all improvements.” Around that same date, John Harrison also received a license to buy more land from the local Lenape Indians, a Delaware tribe.
The significance of Cranbury’s historic district is inextricably tied to its agricultural setting. The village was built to serve the surrounding farm community and its importance is directly related to that farmland. The sharp edges that remain between farmland and village are very important to the appreciation of both resources.
The other five houses on the tour include the Truxton House, which is a federal Colonial built in 1794 by Rev. Gilbert Tennet Snowdon as the farmhouse for 150 acres of land stretching from Plainsboro Road north to Route 130.
The Robert McChesney House, originally a farmhouse, was owned by Bethuel Bunker, for whom the adjoining street, Bunker Hill, was named. The house was converted into a two-family dwelling and then restored to a one family home when the property was still 14 acres. The cabinetry throughout the house was custom made by a retired cabinet maker, Marcellus Reid, who used material from the attic, a Princeton barn, and a neighbor’s old porch. The weeping beech tree that shades the greystone patio outside the home’s kitchen is believed to be as old as the house. The home at 10 Park Place East was built between 1820 and 1840 and is significant for its imposing Greek temple portico. Inside, there is a characteristic open staircase with turned newel posts and balusters. During the third quarter of the 19th century, a small wing was added to the right side of the house, and the current owners recently added a large addition and deck to the rear of the house. Of historical interest are the remains of the cellar kitchen where the fireplace is closed off, but the brick arched opening to the oven still remains.
The Victorian house at 10 N. Main St. was built in 1881 on a site formerly occupied by the National Hotel of Cranbury, which burned down in the 1860s. To the left of this home’s center hall, there is a formal parlor with a marble fireplace. There is also an informal parlor with a hearth painted to resemble marble, as well as crown molding encircling the room from which pictures can be hung. The home also has a fully finished three-room attic with plaster walls.
Finally, the historical home at 29 S. Main St. with Carpenter Gothic detail was originally a blacksmith shop owned by Daniel Cox and was sold to Stafford B. Sutton in 1858. Between the parlor and the enclosed porch is a chestnut woodwork archway, which was not original to the house but was added during a renovation c. 1890. A former owner, Harvey Sachs, after buying the property in 1979, aspired to create the most energy conserving “old house” in the United States. At that time, out went the converted oil furnace and in came a new forced hot air system. 