BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — With a touch of a blow torch and hammer and a lift of a crane, the aging antique horse trough that has stood for 116 years along Middlesex Avenue, Route 27, is on its way to Alexander City, Alabama, for much needed restoration.
Maintained by members of the Woodwild Park Association, members say that the horse trough, a one-time water fountain for passing horses as well as dogs during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, has been showing signs of wear and tear over the years.
In February, members of the association called on the public to help them restore the historic marker through a restoration 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 one of the project is the fountain.”
Excitement filled the air on Dec. 21 as Al Neighbors, of Robinson Iron, Alexander City, Alabama, began tinkering with the blow torch and hammer and the horse trough was lifted off the ground by Ben Metheun of ABM Sign & Crane Services, Kenilworth, and placed on the bed of a tractor-trailer.
The association has estimated $45,000 will go toward the restoration and preservation of the horse trough and approximately $12,500 will go toward masonry work, including stabilizing the stone pillars and their foundations, repaving the driveway and repairing the sidewalks. The association hopes to also raise an additional $7,500 for woodland maintenance and storm clean-up.
Miller said so far that they have raised a little over $21,000.
“Most of this was small donations, mostly under $100,” he said. “I was able to negotiate the price to restore the fountain from $29,000 down to $26,500. The firm is Robinson Iron in Alexander City, Alabama. They specialize in cast iron restoration and do work nationwide. Plus their bid was the cheapest.”
The association is continuing to seek donations as the restoration of the horse trough begins.
“We decided to go ahead with the fountain restoration now as the condition of the fountain is so bad we wanted to get the restoration underway as soon as possible,” said Miller.
The horse trough is a staple in Woodwild Park, an undeveloped 3.5-acre park and wildlife sanctuary.
Once built at the end of the 19th century, 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.
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.
Member Mary Lou Strahlendorff has 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, 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.