Metuchen Edison History

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included on the NJ and National Register Nomination of Historic Places
by the Fairweather Friends

The Metuchen Borough Hall is locally significant under National Register Criterion A for its association with Metuchen's development as an independent municipality, and its representation of the national City Beautiful Movement effort to improve communities. Borough Hall is also eligible under Criterion C both as a representative example of early twentieth century Neo-Classical municipal buildings and as a major work by a local architect. Built in 1924, Borough Hall was the first municipal structure for Metuchen (incorporated in 1900) and reflects Metuchen's early twentieth century efforts to establish its own identity and create an attractive community. The structure was designed by Metuchen architect Clement W. Fairweather, who served as President of the New Jersey Chapter of Architects and a delegate to the International Congress of Architects.

Metuchen's Development as a Municipality

In 1900, Metuchen separated from Raritan Township and was incorporated as an independent municipality (Snyder, p. 170). Although relatively small in size, Metuchen had a successful commercial district centered on its Main Street. Early twentieth century Sanborn Fire insurance maps indicate the area's commercial and residential growth. The number of businesses on Main Street increased and diversified, and residences were developed on newly divided lots.

Metuchen's location on the Lincoln Highway and accessibility by direct train lines to major metropolitan areas led to its rapid population growth: 1800 residents in 1910, 3334 in 1920, and 5748 in 1930. The "country atmosphere" and ability to commute to New Brunswick and New York City attracted bankers, writers, and other "literati" to the area. Metuchen became known as the "Brainy Borough" when literary figures such as novelist Mary Wilkins Freeman and Harper's Magazine editor Henry Alden Mills moved to Metuchen (Heritage Studies, p. 3).

By the early 1920s, the new municipality recognized the need for its own municipal building. Since Metuchen's incorporation in 1900, the Borough Council had been meeting in the rear rooms of Robbins Hall, a commercial building on Main Street which also housed at various times a grocer, barber, the post office, and a Masonic Temple (Sanborn maps, 1903-1920). A larger, independent space was now needed to accommodate the growing town. A local paper, the Metuchen Recorder, reported in August of 1923 that the Borough Council had considered plans for a small, 20' by 40' two-story structure at a cost of $7,000, but there were concerns about the inadequacy of such a small building.

Minutes from the Borough Council meeting in the fall of 1923 indicate that by September, 1923, plans for a larger and more elaborate structure had been submitted to the Council by Metuchen architect Clement W. Fairweather. Instead of just a simple Council chamber room, the new plans included offices, space for the library, and a police station. The Council approved Mr. Fairweather's designs, and authorized the expenditure of $25,000 for the construction of Borough Hall as well as a garage and cesspool. The Council also approved hiring a local contractor, David Ross, for the construction of Borough Hall, and a local mason, Thomas Winter, for the building's masonry work. Their work was to be supervised by the Borough Engineer, Otto Voeleker, and the Borough's Chairman of the Building Committee, L.E. Riddle, Jr.

Local newspapers and town Council minutes indicate that the opening of the building was an occasion of great civic pride. For the laying of the cornerstone at the new Borough Hall site in May, 1924, a ceremony and parade was organized to coincide with Memorial Day. The Metuchen Recorder wrote "It is to be hoped that the dedication of the new Borough Hall will mark an epoch of increased prosperity and growth for Metuchen." Several months later, upon its completion, a formal opening was planned for January 1, 1925. All residents, societies and friends of the Borough were encouraged to join the celebration in which Metuchen resident Governor George S. Silzer and other well-known citizens would present the key to Borough Hall to Mayor Clarkson. According to the minutes from the Borough Council's first meeting in the new building on December 29, 1924, Mayor Clarkson declared that they now have "quarters that a municipality many times our size might be proud to possess" and felt assured that it would be so for many years to come.

City Beautiful Movement

American architecture was greatly influenced by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As discussed below, following the Exposition, American architects were increasingly interested in Classical styles. However, according to architectural historian William Lebovic, "the most important outgrowth of the Columbian Exposition" was "the incorporation of city halls into civic center plans or even larger city plans. Under the rubric of the City Beautiful Movement, the architect Daniel H. Burnham and his associates began applying the Beaux-Arts planning concepts they had learned at the exposition in redesigning American cities." (Lebovic, p. 28). For municipal buildings, the application of the Beaux-Arts planning concepts meant an increased interest in new civic buildings as well as an increased attention to issues such as landscaping, siting, and a building's relationship to its surrounding community.

The period when Metuchen Borough Hall was built has been described as a time of "an explosion of Beaux-Arts-inspired civic projects.Aspiring cities throughout the country were attempting to enoble their centers with libraries, museums, city halls, and courthouses." (Guter, Section 8, p. 4). Between 1900 and 1936, two dozen states built new statehouses and in New Jersey numerous cities including Plainfield, Paterson, Trenton, New Brunswick, Newark, Montclair, and Woodbridge built new civic structures. (Ibid).

The Beaux-Arts emphasis on siting and landscaping is evident in the design of the Metuchen Borough Hall. The structure was prominently located at the intersection of two major streets in Metuchen, with the main entrance set at a diagonal to both streets. In contrast to the surrounding commercial structures along Main Street, the structure was set back on its site to allow for a landscaped lawn along both of its main facades.

Contemporary records from the 1920s indicate that the construction of Borough Hall was just one of many steps taken in Metuchen to improve the quality of the new municipality. With the growing population and economic expansion following World War I, Metuchen began efforts to enhance the services and appearance of the town as it transitioned from a farming region to a cosmopolitan suburb that attracted new residents and businesses.

The Borough Council minutes from the early twentieth century indicate the Council's on-going concern with Metuchen's quality of life. There are numerous authorizations for expenditures to improve sidewalks and roads and to install a sanitary sewage system. In addition, the Council strongly opposed the Consumers Gas Company constructing a filling station across from the new town hall as it would be unsightly and increase congestion. Perhaps one of the most symbolic examples of how the Borough Hall's construction must be seen as part of an overall effort to improve the quality of life in Metuchen is indicated in the minutes from the Council's first meeting in the new Borough Hall. Mayor Clarkson used the opportunity to reinforce the importance of the town's physical image:

"Fine streets, sewers, public buildings and all improvements however, cannot alone make a town attractive. Civic pride on the part of each and every citizen is a necessary contribution to the prosperity and good looks of any municipality. Throughout Metuchen I frequently find much evidence of the lack of civic pride. We thoughtlessly throw papers and rubbish about the streets or deposit it in such places that the first high wind distributes it all over the borough. No ordinance or penalty can as effectively combat this as can an educational campaign to inspire our people to want their town clean and attractive."

Similar to other communities where private groups formed to focus on the community, Metuchen's public efforts were supported by citizen effort. In 1901, the Borough Improvement League (B.I.L.) was formed as a civic society whose aim was to "promote the general welfare of the newly independent Borough of Metuchen." The B.I.L. was active in preserving older structures and improving the look and community well-being of the town. In 1906 the B.I.L. purchased and restored the Franklin Schoolhouse (located across Middlesex Avenue from the Borough Hall) for the purpose of making the building its permanent headquarters.

Architectural Significance

The Metuchen Borough Hall is architecturally significant both as a representative example of early twentieth century Neo-Classical architecture, and also as a major work of a local architect, Metuchen resident Clement W. Fairweather.

Following the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, architects throughout the United States turned to Classical forms of architecture. Representative early twentieth century Classical features evidenced on the Borough Hall include strict adherence to symmetry, the prominent two-story central entrance, the central section's flat roof with a central parapet, Classical columns and pilasters, entablature with a wide frieze and modillion cornice, decorative stone cartouche with a Classical shield and swags, paneling in the doors and the fascia board between the central doorway, the three-part window above the main entrance, the multi-pane six-over-six and eight-over-eight windows, and the keystones above the windows.

Several documents from the 1920s and 1930s indicate that the structure was viewed as an important building within the region. It was pictured in a 1926 document produced for the dedication of the Victory Bridge between Perth Amboy and Sayreville with the caption "Symbolic of Progress, Metuchen Borough Hall, on Lincoln Highway" ("Dedication of the Victory Bridge Across the Raritan River, New Jersey, June 24th, 1926"). In 1927, the structure was featured in a statewide publication entitled Architectural Exhibition Held Under the Auspices of New Jersey Society of Architects, Newark. In 1936, Vernon Howe Bailey, an artist described as "an artist who has gained a national reputation for his pen and ink sketches of places of civic and historical interest drawn for a metropolitan newspaper", selected Borough Hall to sketch as he considered it "the building of greatest architectural beauty in the borough" (vertical file information, Metuchen-Edison Historical Society).

The two end bays on the northwest wing of the building, added in 1937, maintain the original structure's Neo-Classical detailing. This addition was designed by Clement W. Fairweather, the architect for the original structure. According to a May 13, 1937 newspaper article in the Metuchen Recorder, the addition measured 18 feet by 58 feet, and was erected as a WPA project at the cost of $11,722, of which $9,302 was federally funded (vertical files, Metuchen-Edison Historical Society).

Clement Fairweather

Borough Hall's designer, Clement W. Fairweather, was born in 1882 in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. He studied architecture under John W. Dyson while in England, and emigrated to United States in 1910 and worked for various architectural firms in New York City. He became a United States citizen in 1917, and moved to Metuchen in 1921, where he built his home and began his own practice (Who's Who in America, 1956, p.808). While much of his work centered around churches and private homes in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, he also worked for the Public Service Electric and Gas Company, where he was involved with industrial improvements (Obituary of C.W. Fairweather, Plainfield Courier-News, April 17, 1957). In 1924 he designed the Borough Hall, which remains the most prominent example of his work in his hometown.

There are numerous indications that Clement Fairweather's significance extended beyond his hometown of Metuchen. From 1926 to 1928, he served as Chairman of the State Board of Architects. In 1927 he served as a delegate to the International Congress of Architects (CIAM) in the Netherlands. In 1933 he was named a member of the Construction League of the United States, and from 1950 to 1952 was a member of the Governor's Advisory Council for New Jersey's State Institutional Building Program (Who's Who in America, 1956, p.808). He was honored by being placed in the 1957 and 1960 editions of Who's Who in America and when he passed away on April 16, 1957, his obituary appeared in The New York Times as well as in several New Jersey newspapers.

Known works by Clement Fairweather in New Jersey include: the Congregational Church in Irvington, the Corpus Christi Church & Rectory in South River, the Dutch Reformed Church in Metuchen, residence of Arthur R. Clapham at 83 Linden Avenue in Metuchen, 39 Rector Street in Metuchen, the First Presbyterian Church in Plainfield, Theological Seminary buildings in New Brunswick, the Townley Presbyterian Church in Union, the Employee's Building in Camden, St. John's Roman Catholic Church & Rectory in Allentown, remodeling of the Hertzog Hall in New Brunswick, Terminal Building addition in Newark, and the Boiler Unit addition in Kearney. Other works outside of New Jersey include: the Reformed Church in Levittown, New York; the Southern Normal School Chapel in Brewton, Alabama; Fisher's Island in New York; Hay Harbor Golf & Yacht Club (unknown location); Coke Plant (unknown location); and various residences in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (Who's Who in America, 1956, p. 808 and several obituaries).

Although several of the houses which he designed in Metuchen are extant, many of his major works and public buildings have been demolished, including the St. James Episcopal Parish House in Montclair, the War Memorial in Metuchen, and the Theological Seminary Chapel in New Brunswick.

In conclusion, the Borough Hall of Metuchen is historically significant for both its association with Metuchen's development as an independent municipality, and its representation of the early twentieth century City Beautiful Movement effort to improve communities. In addition, the structure is architecturally significant as a representative example of early twentieth century Neo-Classical municipal buildings and as a major work by a prominent local architect. Despite several additions to the original design, the structure has retained its overall integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

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