Retrospective: Winter as a Kid on Cranford’s Rahway River

Childhood Winters in Cranford, New Jersey

Or as I like to say “Memories from the Frozen Venice of New Jersey.”

Retrospective: As a writer for New Jersey’s Mr. Local History Project I recently wrote about skating on a pond in Westfield. But what I didn’t tell those readers is that I was really a closet Cranford resident as the son of the owner of the Cranford Canoe Club. That story led to my winter trips over to the Canoe Club to skate on the Rahway River. I call this episode “Chapter 2.”

A statement on Facebook made me laugh, cause it’s true!
Click any photo below to start the slideshow.

Have a Pic Skating on the River? Send to Us!
#Cranfordriverskate photo album

Click on any photo to start the slideshow. Share a story or a photo for the community to look back and remember what once an annual winter ritual in Cranford, New Jersey. (Form is at the end of the story.)

One of the best memories growing up in Cranford New Jersey was winter skating off the iconic Canoe Club just off Springfield Avenue along the Rahway River, know to many as the “Venice of New Jersey.” But in the winter, Cranford became the “Frozen Venice of New Jersey” which looked more like Ottawa.

Skating from the Canoe Club dock quickly became the place to be if the river froze. Bill Frutchey c1955.

As a young kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents that owned the Cranford Canoe Club. What is now just a distant memory, I wrote this post in hopes that the public will also remember and help expand the online tribute slide show below. We call it the “Cranford Outdoor Skate Album,” or the “Frozen Venice of New Jersey.” My goal: have those with similar memories post their story AND create an online photo album of skating memories on Cranford’s Rahway River.

Cranford Canoe Club – The Unofficial Meeting Spot

There are so many things I can remember growing up skating on Cranford’s Rahway River. While I loved setting up the 2×4 wooden goals that the older kids built, I was always the first one to grab a shovel and clear any snow from this little section of the river that I deemed “the outdoor rink.” I also remember getting in trouble for turning on the water hose under the dock and spraying the ice to get it nice and smooth. People loved when I did it. But m dad didn’t like it when I forgot to turn the outdoor water off and the pipe froze and broke. Every time we had to call in the local plumber to fix it.

9 Blake Avenue – Cranford Staking on Rahway River- Ken Morris. Looks like my era in the 60s.

I also remember the year when the Department of Public Works would bring a mini-zamboni snow clearing vehicle down to clear the snow on the river. An awesome idea indeed when it worked, but I do remember one time when they were driving it onto the ice and it fell through. Boy I bet someone got in a heap of trouble for that one.

The 1 1/2 Mile Skate – From Nomahegan to Union Avenue

On some of those long skates I felt like Eric Heiden hitting my stride. Eric Heiden skated to victory wearing this slick gold suit at Lake Placid in 1980 (had a good US Hockey story as well).

I’ll never forget one winter when the entire Rahway River froze from the top at Nomahegan Park up by the skeet shooting range, under the foot bridge, all the way down to the dam and waterfall around the bend at Union Avenue. From what I remember it was almost 1.5 miles. I can still see myself doing it right now on that black, clear, flawless ice. I felt like I was a speed skater alternating blades as I said to myself; left, right, left, right, or 1, 2, 1, 2 with my hand firmly planted behind my back just to keep my rhythm like they did at the Olympics on TV. I would look in awe as I would actually see other skaters on the ice with actual long blade skates like the speed skaters had. Now that was a memory that I hadn’t thought about in years!!!!! I hope others did the same as I did. Please confirm it below with a comment if you did so I don’t feel stupid.

Pickup Hockey & The Cranford Hockey Club Ringers

While my family lived in nearby Westfield, there was nothing better when dad would bring me over in the winter months to the Canoe Club dock. I’d shovel everything; the sidewalk, the stairs, the dock and even the river ice. You see, I wanted this space to be my public Madison Square Garden with smooth ice, hockey nets, night lighting, and yes access to the Canada Dry soda machine.

This was the dreaded jersey you had to look out for. If you saw it, you knew there was another ringer looking to skate circles around you.

While I tried to get some of my Westfield friends to come play, there was no greater challenge for a Westfield kid when the blue and gold Cranford Hockey Club jersey’s started showing up. To me, they were the ringers; the ones that would skate circles around me. But that didn’t last for long as after my first year of being picked last for pickup games, that all changed when I joined the Cranford Hockey Club. But in the winter, I loved skating from the Canoe Club dock all the way around the river to “Cranes Ford” to Mr. Crane’s house to say hi to my hockey god and mentor “Old Man Crane”. I had to remember to bring my skate guards because those rocks would do some serious damage to a skate blade (see what I learned)! I still remember him in his tan long winter coat and his hat.

An early rendition of the goals built for the Canoe Club hockey arena.

Since those days, both Cranford and Westfield High Schools have very popular accomplished hockey programs. But what many don’t know is the Cranford Hockey Club is the oldest youth hockey club in New Jersey and there are all kinds of other midget and bantam programs throughout New Jersey.

Meeting New Friends and the “Bump Oops Method”

I have to admit, there was no better place to meet the young ladies. Sure you could be shy, but there was never a rejection when you just skated into another member of the opposite sex and they save you with a full hug embrace. Sure you’d apologize, and maybe get punched, but it sure was fun doing it.

Does anyone remember getting tired and resting on the Canoe Club dock? What a great resting place that was. Get up and grab a Tahitian Treat soda from the soda machine and maybe a candy bar if the machine wasn’t jammed or broken.

Growing up at the Cranford Canoe Club - Mr. Local History Archive #mrlocalhistory
I still have the sign from when I was a kid. Cold soda after a fun day on the ice. Strangely, the fruit punch soda was one of my favorites.

Or how about sitting on the first stair off the river with that metal skate hook pulling those laces as tight as you possibly could to make sure your ankles weren’t sore in 10 minutes. As a kid, I didn’t realize that the tightness was actually causing the pain. Thankfully an older neighbor told be about taping the ankles, which later became a distinct advantage on the ice.

Lifelong Memories

Now living in Basking Ridge, New Jersey it’s so funny when you mention skating outdoors. EVERYONE REMEMBERS SKATING OUTDOORS. There’s just something about the fresh air and the pureness of putting on a pair of skates, your gloves, hat, and hopefully a hockey stick. I even have been paying close attention to the pond hockey national championships as well as the NHL’s outdoor series.

But for me,when I first came to Cranford’s Rahway River it literally changed my life. While I gained a solid skill playing pick up hockey on Gumbert Field, Ghost Pond, Mindowaskin Park, and the Rahway River in Cranford, they all prepared me me to play for the Cranford Hockey Club. I treasure those memories so much that I actually still have my Cranford jersey in my closet and I wear it once in a while for a goof to show people I haven’t grown too much since I was 16. There’s nothing worse when a hockey jersey is tight!

I later helped start the Westfield Hockey Club in the late 70s then went on to play a few stints at Concordia University (West End/Montreal) and Bryant University. But it was those friendships I made on that outdoor ice and I’m so grateful for the memories!

Finally, I lost my dear friend Dave Crane to cancer in 2021. He and I met on many local ponds around Union County and eventually played the same line for a few years on the Cranford Hockey Club. Even today, every time I put on the skates, I think back to when Dave and I ruled the outdoor ice.

Lastly, I want to thank the internet for providing a spot to share these brief childhood memories that pop into my head.

Thanks Mike Lerner for the family footage from the 70s.

Have a Pic Skating on the River? Send to Us!
#Cranfordoutdoorskatephotoalbum

Share a story or a photo for the community to look back and remember what once an annual winter ritual in Cranford, New Jersey.

Submitted photos will be added to the gallery above. Just tell us the year and participants you know from the photo.

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Additional Cranford Skating Information

3 Thoughts to “Retrospective: Winter as a Kid on Cranford’s Rahway River”

  1. Local History

    From: Bill Maher
    My hometown is Westfield

    Enjoyed reading about your experiences skating on the river and what it meant to you..
    One year the river froze from the No.Union Ave dam to Nomahegan was 1957. I remember making the trip with my now wife Eileen Galen Maher. There is no question in my mind that the winters were very cold in the 50’s as one year we had ice in March. Granted it was soft and there was a bit of water on the surface but we still managed a game of “shinny”.

    I was a member of the Cranford Hockey Club during it’s first two years coinciding with my Junior and Senior year in high school. I remember very well the first organizational meeting at Mr. Cranes house that filled his living room with dozens of prospective players.

    We practiced at the outdoor rink in Branchbrook Park in Newark at some ungodly hour in the morning either Saturday or Sunday morning. Most of us had never played on a surface with boards so it took us a while to figure out how ti use them.

    To this day, some 65 years later, I remember some important lessons learned playing for Coach Crane. We played a limited schedule and did not do exceptionally well. The guys who came a few years after us really started a dynasty that I assume it goes on today.

    I note the picture of the CHC sweater. Ours were the old CHS uniforms from the late 30’s. They were wool and a great deal moth eaten but we wore them proudly.
    I forwarded a photo of my hockey gear and hope it transfers… rather sparse when compared to today’s gear. Note.. no helmets, shin guards that a baseball catcher would wear, skates from our local sport shop, and gloves we put sponges in to help deaden the pain when we batted down the puck.

    The river was a significant part of our lives growing up in the town of Cranford.    

    Bill Maher

    https://www.mrlocalhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/wp_dndcf7_uploads/wpcf7-files/Hockey-Gear.jpg

    This e-mail was sent via Mr. Local History Project (http://www.mrlocalhistory.org)

  2. Local History

    Great submission. Love it

  3. John C Munday Jr

    From my home at the corner of Hampton and Eastman, my brother Ted and I would skate up to Nomahegan, and then all the way back down to the dam in town. Total length 3 miles. Absolutely magical when we skated sometimes after dark.

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