Cranbury Historic District
The Cranbury Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Cranbury is the best preserved 19th century village in Middlesex County. Its collection of fine frame buildings ranging from the late 18th century to the early 20th century project an excellent portrayal of the 19th century.
While there are many small 19th century cross-road villages or small mill towns in New Jersey, few are in such an undisturbed environment as that of Cranbury.
Most of the buildings in the Cranbury Historic District can be portrayed as vernacular Greek Revival or Victorian although many exhibit features which appear to have been influenced, if not directed, by the masters. Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne styles and details are all in evident throughout the town — albeit sometimes in awkward dimensions.
Rather than just reflecting the quality of an architect/ builder, however, Cranbury embodies the hopes and aspirations of the nation in the mid-19th century. Optimism, faith, and reasoned growth are part of what Cranbury represented and continues to represent.
It is this assemblage of buildings — historically and architecturally — which makes Cranbury an attractive entity unique from any other contemporary villages. It is this identity which sets Cranbury aside from its nearby surroundings of look-alike suburbs and modern commercial developments creating a significant historical village.
The architectural styles in the Cranbury Historic District range from the Federal period to the 20th century Bungalow. Primarily vernacular in design the buildings nonetheless project an aesthetic appearance and many fine details.
The Federal style buildings in the Cranbury Historic District are best identified by the elliptical doorway motif. The Brainerd Institute, 53 and 85 North Main Street and 47 South Main Street all exhibit this feature in Cranbury and date from the mid-19th century — quite late for Federal details. Earlier buildings such as the Cranbury Inn, 68 North Main Street, 16 and 49 South Main Street do not have this feature although their form and interior detailing does suggest the Federal period. The house at 43 South Main Street has an early Federal form, but also features an added pattern-book Greek Revival entrance portico.
The Greek Revival building is the most predominant form in the Cranbury Historic District. Fine examples such as the First Presbyterian Church, 10 Park Place, 26 Maplewood Avenue, and 11 North Main Street rival the best Greek Revival buildings in New Jersey. Numerous other mid-19th century dwellings in Cranbury represent the vernacular of the Greek Revival style at its best. The building as constructed in Cranbury was a five-bay, center-hall building or a small three-bay, side-hall unit. The side and fanlight doorways are typical as are the simple paneled frieze and corner boards. Examples are at 6 Westminster Place and 5 South Main Street. Other Greek Revival buildings in Cranbury are at 1-5 Scott Avenue; 11, 31, 42, and 54 North Main Street and 12, 16, 41, and 57 South Main Street.
Carpenter Gothic features are not uncommon in Cranbury, but generally are incorporated in buildings with other features. Two of the clearest Victorian Gothic buildings are at 5 Prospect Street and 10 South Main Street.
The Italianate form is represented by 1 Prospect Street, 39 South Main Street, 95 North Main Street, and the S. Jernee House at 9 Park Place.
Conservative building forms held true in Cranbury for nearly half a century and as a result fanciful later Victorian buildings are uncommon in the village. Two exceptions are the Queen Anne style buildings erected for the Silvers in the 1880's. The one is at 1 North Main Street and the other at 46 North Main Street. A simpler example of the style is the house at 101 North Main Street. Colonial Revival buildings are represented by 40 South Main Street and the Old Cranbury Schoolhouse (6 Bunker Hill Drive).
Several 20th century Bungalows are also in the Cranbury Historic District. Two particularly fine examples are side-by-side at 86 and 88 North Main Street and were built in the 1920's.
In total, Cranbury Historic District has a fine collection of architecturally significant buildings. Not all of them have been pinpointed in this essay which singles out the finest and the most representative. The major visual impact of the Cranbury Historic District, however, is its overall ambiance. Although differences in styles and details are common from building to building the overall scale and massing of the structures are uniform providing aesthetic streetscapes throughout the village.
Main Street in Cranbury has functioned as the commercial center of the village from the 19th century. Many of the mid and late 19th century buildings are still extant, although the integrity of some have been jeopardized over recent years with unsympathetic alterations to the first floor store front facades. Examples of these commercial buildings include 60 North Main Street, 11 North Main Street, 13 North Main Street, 31 North Main Street, 33 North Main, 55 North Main Street, Wayfarer's Inn at 77 and 79 North Main Street, and 14 South Main Street, in addition to the 18th-19th century Cranbury Inn (68 North Main Street), a functioning inn and tavern for nearly two hundred years.
Originally owned by Colonel Richard Hardley of the New Jersey Militia in 1800, Peter Perrine built a house next to the tavern. This house was converted into the U.S. Hotel in 1808 by Captain Timothy Horner. Around 1920 the name became the Cranbury Inn.
The First National Bank was organized in April 1884 and occupied its present building since 1898. The Cranbury Savings and Loan Association was founded in 1921.
The first newspaper in Cranbury was the Cranbury News by R.M. Stults on January 5, 1882. The Cranbury Press established in 1885 was founded by George W. Burroughs and is located at 13 North Main Street.
The firehouse is built on the property where the old grist mill and a saw mill stood. In 1948 the site next to the brook became the Memorial Park. Cranbury has another park off Maplewood Avenue.
Over the years Cranbury has had its share of blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and carriage manufacturers; grocery shops, bakeries, shoe and boot shop of Daniel Hoagland, and the Spice Mill established in 1865 by John S. Davison and later known as the J.S. Silvers Bros, and Co. which was destroyed by fire.
Military — George Washington in Cranbury
Before the Battle of Monmouth, General LaFayette wrote to General Washington on June 25, 1778: "The detachment is in a wood covered by Cranberry Creek, and I believe extremely safe." A letter from Colonel Alexander Hamilton which LaFayette enclosed in the foregoing, was dated "Doctor Stile's House, Cranberry Town 9 o'clock."
Early the following morning LaFayette wrote again to General Washington before proceeding. During the day General Washington came to Cranbury where he wrote to LaFayette and General Lee. The intense heat of the weather from which the troops were suffering and a storm that came on prevented General Washington from advancing beyond Cranbury on June 26, 1778.
With the Dutch, the Friends, and French Huguenots in this section, the Presbyterians made an agreement to join the church of England persuasion, and a building was erected and used for services by the various groups. In 1738, the Presbyterians sold their interest in the building.
In July 1739 James Rochead conveyed to Coert Van Voorhees and Thomas Story a lot adjoining the mill property "to be the use of the Elders and Deacons of the Presbyterian Church of Cranbury for erecting a house of worship."
A church was erected in 1740. A new building was built in 1788 on the site of the present church which was built in 1839 and enlarged in 1859. The first chapel was built in 1878 and brought to its present state in 1960.
The Second Presbyterian Church of Cranbury was founded in 1838. The two churches were joined in 1935. The Second Church building was razed and a monument erected on the site. Its Westminster Cemetery continues to be the burying ground for many families.
The lake, and cemetery adjoining the First Church have been named for David Brainerd who preached to the Indians in or near Cranbury during the summer of 1745.
The cornerstone of the present Methodist Church was laid in 1848. Prior to that occasional services were held from 1817 to 1848 in private homes.
Account Books: Ruding (1835); Davison (1860).
Baker, W. H., "History of Georges Road."
Family Documents from Cranbury Museum Genealogical Records File.
Minutes of First and Second Presbyterian Churches.
Stults, William G. "Brief History of the First Presbyterian Church", 1955.
Oral Histories recorded and transcribed by the Cranbury Historical & Preservation Society historian, 1973-1975.
United States Census Records 1840, 1850, 1870, and 1880.
Westminster Cemetery (Part of "Indexes of Cranbury Vital Records", by Ruth Walsh, 1974. 230 pages; 12,000 names; 15 copies to libraries.)
† Ruth Walsh, Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society, Inc. and Terry Karschner, Historic Preservation Specialist, Office of Historic Preservation, Cranbury Historic District, Middlesex County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.