Cranbury: A New Jersey Town from the Colonial Era to the Present

Cranbury: A New Jersey Town from the Colonial Era to the Present

Cranbury: A New Jersey Town from the Colonial Era to the Present

Cranbury: A New Jersey Town from the Colonial Era to the Present

Synopsis

One of the oldest towns in New Jersey, Cranbury has a long and noteworthy history that is in part distinctive and in part broadly representative of larger themes in the development of the state and the nation. In this beautifully illustrated book sponsored by Cranbury Landmarks, Inc., historian John Whiteclay Chambers II links the narrative of this remarkable place to contemporary debates about suburbanization and land-use planning.

Founded in 1697 and soon featuring an inn, a gristmill, and a church, the village prospered due to its strategic location on important transportation routes between New York and Philadelphia and its fertile, productive farmland. David Brainerd, a famous and controversial young missionary, came there to preach to the Lenape Indians. In 1778, George Washington and his army stayed there on their way to the Battle of Monmouth. In the nineteenth century, roadways, railroads, and turnpikes spurred the town’s commerce and agriculture. Yet unlike many old agricultural centers transformed by suburbanization in the twentieth century, Cranbury has retained its picturesque, small-town image and much of its charm.

Cranbury has the feel of a well-preserved nineteenth-century village, remarkable for its intact and cohesive domestic and commercial architecture—a status recognized when it was placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In the last several decades, an active citizenry has innovatively linked the historic preservation of the town center with the maintenance of adjoining farmland, stream corridors, and wildlife habitats. How Cranbury preserved much of its character while accommodating economic growth provides a central theme in this book. Preserving the best of the past while astutely meeting the challenges of the present, Cranbury’s history offers an inspiration for active civic participation, a model for enlightened development, and an engaging American story.

Excerpt

The historic town of Cranbury is situated near major highways in the rich farmland of southern Middlesex County in central New Jersey. It is one of the oldest towns in the state, with the first recorded settlement by English colonists in 1697 and evidence of Indian sites there long before that. For more than three hundred years, the forces emanating from transit routes and fertile farmland have shaped Cranbury, whose history is both unique and representative of developments in New Jersey and the nation. the town’s story is also a hopeful one of citizen activism on behalf of the historic preservation of the village and its adjoining farmland.

Unlike many old, rural towns that became transformed through suburbanization in the twentieth century, Cranbury retained its picturesque, small-town image and much of its rural character. It was also innovative in linking historic preservation of the village with the maintenance of adjoining farmsteads. How this has come about—how Cranbury preserved much of its nineteenth-century character while accommodating twentieth-century forces of economic growth—provides one of the most important themes of this book. Cranbury, which has preserved the best of the past while astutely meeting the challenges of the present, provides an inspiration for active, intelligent civic participation and a model for enlightened development.

Main Street in Cranbury still resembles the America of a Norman Rockwell painting. Arriving through farmers’ fields on rural, two-lane roads or a nearby highway, visitors discover a tree-shaded village of white, clapboard houses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most with dark wooden shutters, many with front porches and some with white picket fences. in 1723, Benjamin Franklin, then a seventeenyear-old printer’s apprentice from Boston, walked through Cranbury . . .

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