BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — Without help from the community for its preservation, the aging antique horse trough, a one-time water fountain for passing horses as well as dogs during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, may not have a prolonged future.
Maintained by members of the Woodwild Park Association, members say the 116-year-old horse trough is showing signs of wear and tear and are calling on the public to help them restore the historic marker.
“In a lot of ways, the horse trough is a symbol of Metuchen,” said Mary Lou Strahlendorff, a member of the Woodwild Park Association.
A recent evaluation of the horse trough by a specialist in cast iron restoration shows substantial corrosion since it was last restored in 1980.
Strahlendorff said about a year ago, member Richard Miller, who provides landscaping for the area, brought his concerns about the condition of the horse trough.
The horse trough, along Middlesex Avenue, Route 27, is a staple in Woodwild Park, an undeveloped 3.5-acre park and wildlife sanctuary.
Built in 1900, the horse trough was purchased and installed by the Woodwild Park Association as a public service in collaboration with Middlesex Water Company and the Metuchen Savings Bank (then known as the Metuchen Building and Loan).
At a time when well water was the norm in the area, Middlesex Water offered to supply free running water to public drinking fountains as a means of generating interest in their service. After the municipality declined the offer, the Woodwild Park Association agreed to take on the project and held a series of fundraisers before purchasing the cast-iron structure for a whopping $351.21.
“That was a lot of money during that time,” said Strahlendorff.
The Metuchen Building and Loan donated a triangle of land to the association so the fountain could be placed on a major thoroughfare where it would be most useful, rather than in the park itself, out of sight of travelers.
The fountain was repaired in the 1980s at a cost of about $8,000.
Strahlendorff said the association’s understanding is that there were three horse troughs erected in the borough.
“Where and what become of the other two [fountains], we don’t know,” she said.
The Woodwild Park Association, a non-profit volunteer membership organization, has relied on members’ dues to pay all costs, including annual insurance fees and maintenance.
Strahlendorff said the restoration campaign, which hopes to raise $65,000, is for the horse trough as well as the historic mid-19th century stone pillars along Route 27 that frame the entrance of the park.
The pillars originally ornamented the mid-1800s estate of Thomas W. Strong. In the late 19th century, Strong sold the property to Charles Corbin, who later deeded it to the Woodwild Park Association for the general benefit of the public.
The association has estimated $45,000 will go toward the restoration and preservation of the horse trough; approximately $12,500 will go toward masonry work, including stabilizing the stone pillars and their foundations, repaving the driveway and repairing the sidewalks; and $7,500 for woodland maintenance and storm clean-up.
Strahlendorff said the park is preserved for open space for everyone to enjoy. She noted that the area is a sanctuary for migrating birds, wildlife, and plants, which she said she has documented through a photo lens.
The Woodwild Park Association, which has about 44 members, has put together a booklet for the preservation campaign.
The association is a pubic charity and is exempt from federal income tax. All dues and donations are tax-deductible.
For more information visit www.woodwildpark.org.