What do the modern kitchen range hood, milk of magnesia, and The Cranford Historical Society all have in common? Quite the stumper, isn’t it? And yet, there truly IS a connection.
That connection would be The Crane-Phillips House. Known as “The Little House on the Rahway,” the house was first built in 1840 by Josiah Crane, one of the founding fathers of Cranford. It was intended and used as a honeymoon cottage for his son, Josiah Jr. The Crane family occupied the house while running the mills and farms in the surrounding area.
In 1867, the Cranes sold the house to the second occupants, Henry and Cecilia Phillips, who added onto the original cottage and expanded the building. The Phillips lived in the house until Henry’s death in 1911. And now for the odd opening connection . . . Henry Phillips was the inventor of the modern kitchen range hood, and his brother, a frequent visitor to the house, was Dr. Charles H. Phillips, the inventor of Phillips Milk of Magnesia. (Useless but interesting trivia, in case you ever find yourself on “Jeopardy!”)
Since 2005, hundreds of visitors have been able to enjoy the refurbished Crane-Phillips House as a living museum, under the direction of The Cranford Historical Society. Cranford children know it as “The Watermelon House,” so named for its green and red color scheme, and enjoy the model version of the building as it is driven past during local parades. Recreating the way it looked in the 19th century, the building now houses true-to-period artifacts and displays. There is a collection of Native American artifacts, items from the Revolutionary and the Civil War, 19th century farming tools, a period parlor, and a fully decorated and furnished Victorian girl’s bedroom. There is even an authentic 19th century kitchen, complete with period kitchen tools and implements.
This museum acts as a type of time capsule, giving children and adults alike the opportunity to not only see what life was like when Cranford was being formed as a town, but also to FEEL and experience the time period. Guides bring the visitors through the home, explaining in great detail what day-to-day life would have been like. It may be just as amazing to hear how similar that day to day life was to ours as it is to hear how different it was. The museum is a favorite spot for class trips, cub scout dens, etc., but it is also open to the general public from September – June, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. It’s a very short trip for the purpose of gaining a whole lot of perspective, and greater appreciation for our town’s ancestors.