THE PILLARS OF CRANFORD
By Gabe Bailer – NJ Urbanthinker – February 3rd, 2017
I’ve recently written about my adoration for Cranford, NJ, labeling it as a “Midburb” which has received widespread approval thanks to all of you. But I would also like to address something else that adds to the uniqueness of this great town. In my humble opinion, Cranford has the best…wait for it…street signs in the entire state of NJ. Okay those pillar street signs may not be the best in terms of navigation and there are many in town who would disagree with me here, but have you ever seen anything like them before?
I’ve been fascinated by these pillars since moving to Cranford last April and did a little digging to uncover their history. According to Margret Gerlach, president of Cranford’s Historical Society (isn’t it great when a town prides itself on its history?), the first regular street signs were installed in 1906. In 1929, the new style of concrete posts with street names in blue and yellow-colored tiles set vertically were installed. Okay I’m not a great mathematician (much like my hero Howard Stern who often miscalculates numbers intentionally and spins his humor into it) but 2017 minus 1929 makes these pillars 1,034 years old, right? I kid, I kid. But in all seriousness, the Pillars of Cranford as I have aptly named them are 88 years old. Margaret added that there were 200 signs installed in 1929 and it cost a whopping $1,021. I don’t want to know the cost involved of some utility improvements these days but two hundred signs at $5 a piece is a bargain for something that’s lasted nearly 90 years.
In researching the history of these signs online, I came across an article on the Cranford History website by Maureen Strazdon from May of 2012 The pillar’s distinct tile was manufactured by Mueller Tile in Trenton who “produced tiles for many important buildings and structures, including many New York subway stations. They also made the Cranford Rotary sign that still stands at the corner of North and Springfield Avenues. The Mueller Company closed in 1941 with the death of the owner.” The article also talks about how many in town felt about the signs. “Even before they were all installed, Cranford’s unique street name signs were the subject of much comment and controversy.” An article from The Cranford Citizen and Chronicle from April 25, 1929 reported on the complaints the Township Committee had heard about the difficulty of reading the street sign posts. Despite this controversy, they were installed. Over the years as the tiles diminished or were destroyed, they were replaced blue and yellow metal plates that were installed onto the pillars. According to Maureen’s article, the Girl Scouts of Troop 779 had counted that there are 77 of these original signs remaining. I was unable to find any information why these “pillars” were chosen to be the street sign style of Cranford. That will take more digging.
And then on the corner of Walnut and South Avenues is an example of the more common signs we see today that were replaced when the original tile was destroyed. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a design competition to redesign some of these pillars. I feel a make over is need.
I’ve also noticed that there are several normal/standard street signs in some intersections. Why? Did people complain? Did the town give in? Here is an example of a standard street sign also located at the corner of Blake and Walnut Avenues, taken during my pre-dawn, cold morning walk with my dog Midge.
With 567 municipalities in the state of NJ and with some towns less than a square mile, how can one decipher what town they are in and what laws to abide by (precursor to “Ordinances,” a fictional novel that I have written the first 75 pages for but likely won’t finish until 2075)? For me at least, there is a comfort once I drive into town and start seeing the Pillars of Cranford. I know I’m almost home. Love them or hate them, they are unique and the only example of these type of signs in all of New Jersey. That is something to be proud of. I know I certainly am.