About Cranbury, NJ
Cranbury is one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. Settlers came from France, England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, and Norway, perhaps as early as 1680. However, the first recorded evidence of buildings in Cranbury is March 1, 1698, on a deed of sale between Josia Prickett of Burlington and John Harrison for land "with all improvements." Around the same date, John Harrison also received a license to buy more land from the local Lenape Indians, a Delaware tribe.
In the 18th century, it took three days to travel between New York City and Philadelphia on poorly maintain roads and trails. Cranbury's own first roads followed the trails of the Lenape. At the midway point between the two major colonial cities, Cranbury proved to be a convenient stop for stagecoaches, a place where horses could be changed, beds perhaps shared, and food of an uncertain quality provided.
Cranberry / Cranbury
There have been many questions about the town's name. We do not know the origin of the Cranberry spelling. The marshy land near the mill site might have grown cranberries, hence the name. On the 19th century maps, the name appears as Cranberry and Cranbury Town. In 1857 Rev. Joseph G. Symmes felt the name was incorrectly spelled and suggested it be changed to Cranbury. In Old English "bury" (burh) could be spelled bury, bery, or berry. In 1869 the town and brook were renamed Cranbury. On March 7, 1872 Cranbury Township was officially created and organized as a separate political subdivision of Middlesex County consisting of the village of Cranbury and outlying areas, which were then parts of South Brunswick and Monroe Townships.
While it is believed that there were settlers in Cranbury as early as 1680, a deed of sale between Josiah Prickett and John Harrison dated March I, 1698 for land "with all improvements" indicates buildings on the land and early settlement.
In 1664 King Charles II of England granted to his brother James, the Duke of York, a vast domain in North America stretching from New York to Delaware, including the land which is now New Jersey. In its earliest days Cranbury was part of the colony of East New Jersey, which was granted to Sir George Carteret by the Duke of York and controlled by a board of twenty-four proprietors, who sold the land in parcels.
One tract, north of Cranberry Brook and west of George's Road (now Main Street) was sold in 1703 to Philip French who, on April 29, 1734, sold it to Noah Burton. (The 1734 deed of sale is preserved in the Cranbury History Center. A copy hangs in the Cranbury Museum.) From Noah Burton the land passed to Samuel Leonard and later to Peter Wyckoff.
Half of the tract of land south of Cranberry Brook was sold by Thomas Cooper to Sir Gordon in 1683. His son, Robert Gordon, sold to John Rochead in1720, and Rochead sold four and a half acres of that tract to Thomas Grubbs in 1736. In 1741 Grubbs conveyed the same lot, now with a gristmill, to John Collins.
In 1789 Christopher Colles, by order of President George Washington, mapped the road through Cranberry Town, showing on that map twenty-five buildings (seven north and eighteen south of the brook); the 1745 Baptist Church, which moved to Hightstown in 1785; and the mill site.
In 1825 fourteen acres of woodland along North Main Street from Bunker Hill to Plainsboro Road were sold to Robert McChesney. In 1850 Sophia Bunker Heron gave one acre of this land, called the Heron Tract of Prospect Avenue, for the Bunker Hill School.
Cranbury celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1997.
Early Cranbury Inns
In 1686 George Rescarrick secured a "warrant to survey 300 acres to conduct a house of entertainment for strangers and travellers" on the Great Post Road at Cranberry Brook and Millstone River. When Rescarrick died in Cranberry in 1713 he owned among other things "a silver tankard, one dozen spoons and a cup, also seven slaves." His tavern had "three rooms on a floor, also a barn, stable and other outhouses, a large orchard, and about sixty to seventy acres of woodland."
A Post House to supply horses on George's Road between New York and Philadelphia was run by John Predmore in 1751. One famous visitor who changed horses in Cranbury in 1804 was Aaron Burr when he fled south after his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton. On this occasion Aaron had been driven by Commodore Thomas Truxton.
The present Cranbury Inn area was owned by innkeeper, Richard Handley, a Colonel of the 3rd Regt. Calvary, N. J. Militia. In 1800 Peter Perrine built his home next to Handley's Tavern. This house was converted in 1808 by Capt. Timothy Horner, who called it the United States Hotel. In 1920 it was renamed the Cranbury Inn.
George Washington in Cranbury
The second edition of George Washington in Cranbury, The Road to the Battle of Monmouth by John Whiteclay Chambers II is available for $10.00 and can be purchased at the History Center at 6 South Main Street. Published by the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society, the 62-page booklet has been updated and expanded with new material and now includes illustrations and documents. The publication won first prize in the Kevin M. Hale Publications Awards contest of the League of Historical Societies of New Jersey. The prize was awarded at the League's meeting in Piscataway on June 4, 2011.
Churches & Cemetaries
In July 1739 James Rochead sold land adjoining the mill property "to be the use of the Elders and Deacons of the Presbyterian Church." The community had moved from Old Church in Monroe Township to Cranberry Town where they then erected the First Presbyterian Church in 1740. In 1759 an additional 150 acres were purchased for the Parsonage Plantation. A larger church was constructed in 1788 on the site of the present building which was built in 1839 and enlarged in 1859. The 1878 Parish House has been renovated several times, the latest in 1960.
The Second Presbyterian Church of Cranbury was founded in 1838. In 1935 the First and Second Church congregations were joined. The Second Church sanctuary was razed and a monument erected on the site. The sexton's house remains as a residence.
Francis Asbury, first Bishop of the Methodist Church, visited Cranberry in 1772 and 1790. In 1845 regular services, held in private homes, became so popular that they were moved to a local schoolroom. The cornerstone of the present United Methodist Church was laid in 1848 and by 1849 the basement meeting room was finished, roofed over and used as a place of worship. In the years 1866-1868 the present sanctuary was built and a bell tower was added. The primitive rose window, destroyed by a hurricane many years previously, was restored in 1977 by four teenage parishioners from a puzzle of frame fragments.
St. David's Episcopal Church is a successor to Trinity Episcopal Church in Hightstown, which closed in 1957 after one hundred years of operation. As new people moved into the area it became evident that there was a growing number of Episcopaleans whose spiritual needs were not being met. Thus in 1968 St. David's began holding services in the chapel of the Peddie School in Hightstown. In 1982 the present building was erected on six acres of land at the south end of Cranbury. In 1995 improvements and expansions took place, including the addition of a much needed educational wing.
The Baptist Church in Cranbury was founded in 1745 with John Hight (Hightstown) as one of the 17 original members. The first meeting house was built in 1748 on property occupied later by the Spice Mill. The church was used for 40 years, then sold to Dr.Stites and moved. The congregation moved to Hightstown in 1785. The front part of the church grounds was sold and the burial grounds by 1882 were neglected and contained only 4 standing headstones.
The African Methodist Church was located, according to an 1876 map, south of the village. By 1882 the church organization had ceased and the building was converted into a dwelling.
Brainerd Cemetery, adjoining the First Presbyterian Church, consists of 5 acres donated to the church by James Rochead in 1740. 40 graves date before 1800 and 80 Revolutionary War veterans are buried in the cemetery.
Westminster Cemetery, burying ground for the Second Presbyterian Church, was opened in 1837 soon after the start of the church. It continues to be the burying ground for many families.
The lake and Brainerd Cemetery are named for David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians in the Cranbury area in 1745-46. He was said to have preached in Cranbury under a gigantic elm tree near present-day Bunker Hill.
Schools & Libraries
Early in the history of Cranbury, reference is made to a Presbyterian Parochial School. In 1850 two district schools were organized; one known as the South Cranbury School and the other as Bunker Hill School.
In 1896 a large brick school consolidated the two district schools. Over the years alterations gradually changed the appearance of the Old Schoolhouse which originally had separate entrances for boys and girls. The Old School, no longer housing students, now furnishes offices for the Township and Board of Education.
In 1969 a new Pre-K - 8 school was dedicated. Today Cranbury high school students attend Princeton High School.
In 1865, Brainerd Institute opened to provide college preparatory courses for students, later became a home for the severely learning disabled, then a health sanitarium, and presently an apartment building.
On October 14, 2001 at 2:00 p.m., the Old School was rededicated as Cranbury's Town Hall.
The Cranbury Public Library, founded in 1906, was housed at the former Cranbury Press building at 13 North Main Street and later at the Colonial House (formerly known as the American Hotel) on Scott Ave. In 1924 the Public Library was invited to move its facility to the Cranbury School, where it is now located in a large room in conjunction with the School Library, an arrangement unique in New Jersey.
Over the years Cranbury has had its share of blacksmiths, wheelwrights, wagon and carriage manufacturers, millers, candy and grocery stores, bakeries, and a shoe and boot shop owned by Daniel Hoagland.
The American Steam Coffee and Spice Mills, established in 1865 by John S. Davison and later known as the J.S. Silvers Bros. and Co., was destroyed by fire in 1927.
Two companies, Chamberlin & Barclay, Inc. and Simmons & Mount, Inc. dealt in fertilizers, seed potatoes and farm machinery to accommodate those farming Cranbury's rich agricultural land.
The First National Bank, organized in 1884, became Midlantic Bank in 1974. The original 1898 bank building remains with its 1977 addition. When the addition was dedicated a time capsule filled with Cranbury memorabilia was placed in the cornerstone of the addition, to be opened in the year 2022.
The Cranbury Savings and Loan Association, originally known as the Cranbury Building and Loan Association, was founded in 1921. It merged with the Family Savings and Loan Association in 1974. It later became the Shadow Lawn Savings and Loan Association, and is presently the Cranbury Branch of the First Constitution Bank.
Cranbury's first newspaper, The Cranbury News, was founded by R. M. Stults on January 5, 1882. The paper had a short life. Mr. Stults returned to his other vocation, music, and in 1892 wrote the ballad, "The Sweetest Story Ever Told".
The Cranbury Press, established in 1885, was founded by George W. Burroughs. In 1979 Owner and Editor Thomas C. Brown sold the paper to the Princeton Packet Group.
The oldest Cranbury firm still in operation is A.S. Cole Son & Co. Founded in 1858 as a combination furniture and undertaking business it is today a well-known funeral establishment.