Mrs. Eby: I was born here in a house where the nuns had their convent on Middlesex Avenue. Now, there were only seven ponds in the town at that time but there are only three of those seven left because the water level has changed so. But you can see by looking at that picture, which is typical that anyone could have a spread of the sky with only perhaps a church spire to interrupt the view. It was a great sweep of land. When I was child I lived on Middlesex Avenue opposite Woodwild Park. Do you know where that is?
Mrs. Eby: Well it’s where there are stone gates over there on Route 27 and a little patch of greenery set aside by the Corbin family for a park and I really think the town does not make enough of it. It’s a beautiful little spot. We lived across the street from that. And over in the park were some small patches of primeval forest trees and of course as a child I played there. It was a beautiful place to play. And I learned about country things, devils, cookboxes, acorns, all the pretty wildflowers, mountain laurel and so forth. And it was very beautiful and interesting in front of the house.
Ruth Eby: Well now we’ve come up to about World War I and I don’t think of anything else that I think would be of interest to outsiders or to other people, other than personal friends I don’t remember too much more. The Fourth of July parades?
D. Heinlan: What about them?
Ruth Eby: They were big deals. Every house had bunting around their porch. And up in the park, Woodwild Park was a grandstand and we had a speaker, a state senator or someone of prominence. Very often it was Dr. Mason, who was the Presbyterian minister for several years, who would make a speech. And one year we even had a band. They played Poet and Peasant and what’s that other old song, Glowworm. Oh, we thought it was the latest thing! And then at night we had fireworks up on the high hill. There’s a big flagpole up in that park at the top of the hill and at the top of the flagpole the flag could be seen from all over town floating in the breeze. And we had a parade and a band concert one year and speakers and fireworks and then we’d be so exhausted we’d go home at night and have ice cream and cake. That was a very big day, the Fourth of July.
M. Jessen: What were the roads like?
Mr. Fenton: Those were macadam roads. People who kept going on them would say they were not too good. They would be pot-marked and they would be the rough edge of a tooth, you know, there’d be ridges around it and frost would heave it, but they were solid. This was the old Morris Essex Turnpike.
M. Jessen: How about – was there much traffic on Route 27?
Mr. Fenton: That was the original Lincoln Highway. It was a consequence that it was the main artery listed in the travel books for California. There were times when the traffic was horrendous. You take a Princeton Yale football game and the only way they could come through to that would be through New Brunswick and through Metuchen over that bridge by Klein’s Hotel and then at every stop light they had a man working on it. So that was part of the congestion and then of course a lot of people would just use it to go places. And they had Woodwild Park install one of these fountains, which still exists in principle. In fact, the Water Company is technically supposed to continue putting water in there all the time; the lower one for the dogs and the upper one for the horses, but the Stanley Steamers, you see, would come along. So that was stopping place for Stanley Steamers.
R. Terwilliger: This is the fountain that sits on the little island?
Mr. Fenton: So Corban went down and looked at and realized it didn’t have a supply of water where it was so he suggested they move it back. It doesn’t have water in it now.
R. Terwilliger: Right. But it was actually a horse trough and the lower one was for dogs? And there is something in back, was that for people?
Mr. Fenton: That was for people.
R. Terwilliger: That was for people in the back I want to get us back on our little outline here so we don’t miss anything.
M. Jessen: You mentioned the Savings and Loan. The Savings and Loan took part in developing this area around Woodwild Park. And then a lot of those lots were sold to people from New York City.
P. Fenton: Yes, maybe a little later I can tie those in with my talk but that is a peculiar organization and the whole history of that savings and loan revolves around that particular tract.
Miss Halsey: As a small child, about 9 or 10 I suppose, on Sunday afternoons my mother and I used to walk over to Woodwild Park, a small hill area about where Mr. Hannisford’s house now stands. Just beyond his house, two stone pillars still stand with a metal plate and a name, Woodwild Park. A path went up to the hill between these pillars and at the top, seats were made of boards stretched between trees. There we would sit and watch the infrequent cars go by. On Saturday my mother would have bought a 5 cent bag of peanuts and when a car went by going toward New York, I could have a peanut. And when one went by going toward New Brunswick, she could have one. Needless to say a small bag of peanuts would be more than enough for a couple of hours.
Note: In the first two excerpts below, Lou Litterst reads part of a letter written by her father, Alexander C. Litterst, in the 1930s, about his arrival in Metuchen in 1882.
LL reads: From our house towards Metuchen along the Turnpike, Lincoln Highway, there stood on the north side the house once occupied by Ten Eyck and owned by Cephas Waite. Prior to that it was occupied by Lawyer Browning and his family. Then came the Corbin homestead into which Charles L. Corbin had moved in about 1879. Then came Woodwild Park – it had just been sold by Mr. Strong to the Connor, John M. Connor, a hat manufacturer of New York. Then came the Episcopal Church and Rectory.
LL reads: Coming east now on the side of the highway stood the old schoolhouse, the oldest in Metuchen, now the Borough Improvement League and a very attractive clubhouse. This is occupied by the family of Markey, the shoemaker, with three gangly sons. Alongside was an old dwelling, since then modernized and occupied by the Greenwald family, now owned by Van Winkle. There was nothing then until you struck the house now of the Sisters of Africa, opposite Woodwild Gate and then occupied by the lawyer, Browning.
EL: That’s gone too now.
EL: Opposite St. Luke’s – that whole Woodwild Park section. They bought this... Is this all going on now?
Interviewer: Sure – you’re on the air.
LL: This is inappropriate then.
Interviewer: No it’s okay.
EL: Well, the Building & Loan bought the whole piece of property across from the - did I tell you this before about Frank Smith and his remark?
Interviewer: No, as matter of fact.
EL: Is that in there? Should I tell it?
EL: Well, the Building & Loan bought that whole piece of property that they called Strong. Strong was the owner of the place out there. And the whole thing had to be settled so the Building & Loan got it at a good price and they had visions of making a lot of money on it. And Frank Smith was the Main Street barber that every old-timer in Metuchen knew. He came over to Mr. Litterst and said, “Oh, A.C. I don’t think you should develop that place. That’s a beautiful place for a ‘cementery’. It’s all hills and hollows and if you break it up into building lots it will spoil a nice ‘cementery’.”
Interviewer: Cementery, huh? You had a lot of stories about him, right.
LL: Oh yes. Everyone does.
Metuchen-Edison Historical Society (homepage of the Society)