BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — And just like it left last December for much needed restoration, a lift of a crane picked up the now fully restored antique horse trough last week and lowered it back in its place along Middlesex Avenue, Route 27.
The 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, was delivered home on April 12 after being restored by Robinson Iron in Alexander City, Alabama.
Mary Lou Stahlendorff, a member of the Woodwild Park Association, said the horse trough looks great aside from a couple of minor spots where paint rubbed off during transport and needs to be touched up.
“It came in two pieces,” she said noting that Al Neighbors from Robinson Iron attached the top section when it was put back in place.
Maintained by members of the Woodwild Park Association, members have said the 116-year-old horse trough had been showing signs of wear and tear over the years.
In February 2016, members of the association called on the public to help them restore the historic marker through a restoration/preservation campaign.
“The goal originally was to raise $60,000,” said Richard Miller, a member of the Woodwild Park Association. “That was to fix the fountain, the driveway and the sidewalk. Phase 1 of the project is the fountain.”
The firm Robinson Iron, which specializes in cast iron restoration, came in at the lowest bid. Miller had said he negotiated the price to restore the fountain from $29,000 to $26,500.
The association had estimated $45,000 for the restoration and preservation of the horse trough and approximately $12,500 for masonry work, including stabilizing the stone pillars and their foundations, repaving the driveway and repairing the sidewalks. The association also estimated an additional $7,500 for woodland maintenance and storm clean-up.
Miller said the association is continuing to seek donations as the restoration campaign moves forward.
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 $351.21.
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.
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 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.
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, had put together a booklet for the restoration/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.