New Keepsakes: Preserving Cranford’s History

Preserving Cranford NJ History Mr Local History Keepsakes

The Mr. Local History Project (MLH) has been preserving and promoting local history since our non-profit organization was established in 2019. The all volunteer group started a wooden miniature keepsake program to share history, artwork, in partnership with the world famous Cat’s Meow Village Company of Ohio to support New Jersey’s local history and grow the New Jersey Historic Village Collection.

Congratulations Cranford, New Jersey – 2021 Marks 150th Anniversary

Supporting Cranford, New Jersey’s history via our MLH keepsake project is in its early stages and we hope interest in Cranford’s history will be strongly supported by the community. The idea was presented to MLH by Brooks Betz, a Trustee who once owned the Cranford Canoe Club with his family. The keepsakes bring awareness to historic icons in town as Betz plans to also one day nominate the Cranford Canoe Club to the State and National Registries of Historic Places (a very difficult process). The group is a non-profit 501c that relies on fundraisers like this to expand our history programs, so every time you grow your collection, your supporting our non-profit efforts.

Cranford Village Keepsakes

Art rendering will be the front, with the history on the back. Each collectible is approximately 4″ high by 8-10 inches long and 3/4″ wide paint on wood.

Support your local history and start a Cranford collection of your own. Each piece is handmade in the USA. The Mr. Local History Project sinks all proceeds into growing the program to offer more keepsakes as we’ve now grown the village to over 20 keepsakes by the end of 2021.

How Do I Get One?

Simple online ordering. Not available in stores. Just click the store icon and the keepsake you’re interested in.

Shop For Cranford Historic Ornaments/Wooden Collectibles – Available Now Exclusively Online

Nominate the Next Cranford Keepsake

What are Cranford’s Most Iconic Venues. Vote for your 3 favorites.

Additional Information

Back side text for each keepsake

Cranford Canoe Club – c.1907

The Cranford Canoe Club is one of the oldest canoe clubs in the United States and a community landmark of Cranford’s identity for over a century. The current canoe club, while not the first, is the Rahway River’s last surviving canoe club. Late in the 19th century Cranford saw the formation of many informal boating/hockey clubs. The Cranford Canoe Club had its origins in the “Shanty Gang” which held meetings in Alfred Clark’s red “Lobster Shanty” canoe livery at the intersection of Normandie Place and Riverside Drive.  In 1904 or 1906 the Shanty Gang renamed themselves the Skeeter Club and then in 1907 formalized as the Cranford Canoe Club. The current structure was originally the Ulhigh Canoe Club. After serving as a club, the facility was run as a private business first by George Apgar until 1972, then by the Betz family of Westfield alongside the Canoe Club Workers of America (CCWA) until 1990 when the facility was sold to the Township of Cranford. The Cranford Canoe Club resided in three locations: Normandie and Springfield Avenues, Springfield Avenue, and its last location on the corner of Springfield Avenue and Orange Avenue. The Rahway river provides approximately two miles of river in Cranford for canoeing. While no longer a formal club the facility remains a seasonal livery operation keeping the tradition of Cranford as the “Venice of New Jersey,” serving now as New Jersey’s oldest canoe livery operation.

Cranford Theater – 1926

On November 29, 1926, the swanky New Branford Theatre with 1300 seats, a stage, and a $18,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ opened on the site of Cranford’s old Township Building with actor Noah Beery Sr. starring in the silent film Padlocked. An issue over the name of the theater was ironed out and the “B” on the electric sign was replaced with a “C” as the new signs were lit with the name “Cranford Theatre.” Giddy with excitement, the Cranford Chronicle gushed: “The New Branford is Dead! Long live the New Cranford!” By 1941, Warner Brothers was operating the theater. Remodeled to 1209 seats, it remained unchanged until the 1980s when the theater was twinned. In 1998, the owner of the Rialto Theater in nearby Westfield purchased the theater and converted it to a five-screen movie house. Following a rough patch of corporate ownerships from 2014 to 2019, the theater was purchased by Jesse and Doreen Sayegh and reopened November 8, 2019.  Honoring history, the Cranford Theater was presented with the Cranford Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award.In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, forced the theater’s temporary closure. “We’re definitely not going down without a fight,” responded the Sayeghs, who opened a “pop-up drive-In” to keep going. A portion of the ticket proceeds gets donated to various organizations, including frontline healthcare workers.Televisions, VCRs, streaming services and even pandemics have challenged local theaters’ existence, but they continue to survive as long as the community provides support. Events such as Dinner & a Movie, free night Golden Tickets, and private movie screenings help keep the public coming back. In 2021, the theater hosts the Garden State Film Festival (GSFF). Honoring history, the Cranford Theater was presented with the Cranford Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award. The Cranford Theater continues writing its next chapter in the history books.

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