Danford’s Corner – 478 Main Street, Metuchen, New Jersey

Isaac Kremer/ March 16, 2021/ Writing/ 0 comments

Everts & Steward Map, 1876

A grocery store, boarding house and hostelry were once situated on this corner. As far back as 1876 the Everts & Steward map shows a “Gro. Store” on this corner. The wear and tear on this earlier building were evident. A newspaper article from April 1904 reported a story of Mrs. Morris roasting a turkey. “The fire was crackling with delight and the rich flavor of the bird filled the room. Suddenly the stove pipe fell. The kitchen was filled with smoke and fire, but Mrs. Morris tried her best to set things to rights. She threw the stove pipe outside and opened the doors to let the smoke out. It was no use. A trolley car was passing and she called on the crew for assistance. The trolley men willingly responded and in a few minutes things were straightened out. Not much damage was done, but the boarders ate of the 18 pound turkey at night instead of at noon as originally planned.”[1]

Later in the same article it was mentioned how William A. Morris was “contemplating erection of a residence building on Main Street” and how James Danford “will erect a two story residence this spring.”[2]

William A. Morris died in his house January 9, 1913. His obituary recounted how he was “very well known in Metuchen, for years having been in the grocery business with Postmaster Campbell under the name Campbell & Morris.”[3]

Campbell & Morris had a barn destroyed by fire on March 24, 1903. William Morris who was a partner in the firm locked the barn up shortly before the fire broke out and everything was in order. Two Raritan Traction Company men rushed into the building and saved the horses and wagons. A newspaper article recounts how “they deserve credit for saving Laforge’s carpenter shop, which was four feet form the barn.”[4]

A few years later Howard C. Campbell entered a small building to the rear of his premises on September 24, 1905 to get gasoline while carrying a lighted lantern. The gasoline caught fire to the building. Local companies promptly responded and the flames were quickly extinguished. Damage was slight.[5]

James Danford

James Danford built the handsome brick building on this corner. Ground was broken for a new brick building on the corner of Main Street and Middlesex Avenue on Thursday, August 17, 1905. Mr. Danford’s store which had previously been on this location was removed to a location immediately east on Middlesex Ave.[6] The 1910 Sanborn Insurance Map clearly shows a two-story vacant store with porch on two sides similar to what had previously appeared at the corner. Before being a grocery store this building had served as a hosteler’s before the time of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Middlesex Avenue was the main line of travel between Philadelphia and New York.

Metuchen, August 19, 1905

As the building neared completion in 1905, an article in The Central New Jersey Home News Tribune touted the new building: “James Danford’s new building, corner Middlesex avenue and Main street, will enjoy the honor of being the finest store building in Metuchen.”[8] A hot water heater was installed in October 1908.[9] In 1910, “Mr. Danford from Oklahoma, is visiting his uncle, Mr. James Danford.”[10] James Danford sold his business to his nephew William Danford.

An addition happened to the new building on the corner between 1910 and 1920. A comparison of Sanborn maps between those two years shows a “Gro.” (for grocery store) in 1910. By 1920, however, a one-story addition was added to the east with the front square section noted as “Auto” and two rooms accessible to the rear with entrances from the original grocery store that was now labelled “Conf’y” (for a confectionary). The Danford’s Corner had an influence on another notable no longer extant Metuchen building – the old Borough Hall, designed in 1924 by Metuchen architect Clement W. Fairweather Sr. “The round front concept actually came from the rounded front of the upper stories of the building that houses Danford’s Office Supplies.”[11] The replacement Borough Hall was also rounded.

Following the death of James Danford his will provided that his real estate shall go to his nephew William C. Danford, and his personal property to his sister, Elizabeth Morris.[12] James at the time of his death was remembered as having many friends and for his “genial disposition.” He was a member of the Metuchen Presbyterian Church. Following his death James Danford was buried at the Presbyterian Cemetery.[13] William Danford at the time of his uncle’s death was a “single man”[14] who took over ownership of the store and building his uncle built.

The corner of Middlesex Avenue and Main Street was an important site on the Lincoln Highway. This road was dedicated on October 31, 1913, and ran coast-to-coast from Times Square in New York City and west to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. New Jersey is one of 13 states that it ran through.

William C. Danford and Jack H. Danford (son)

In the 1920’s William Danford weighed in on the issue of daylight savings time. A newspaper article identified him as an “ice cream dealer” at the time. Danford said:

It may seem somewhat selfish on my part, but certainly a daylight saving proposition would benefit my business immensely, therefore I am in favor of it. You know that people do not eat ice cream in the morning, so I do not care when it begins, but the extra hour in the afternoon would suit me right down to the ground.”[15]

Later in 1928 “Danford’s store” was mentioned as the starting point for a “masquerade parade for the children of the town Hallowe’en afternoon.” Prizes were given for the prettiest, funniest and most patriotic costumes. The parade went only a few blocks ending at the Railroad Plaza.[16]

The 1930s and 1940s were full of some disruptions from the absurd to the serious. A tongue and cheek article recounted how a call from “Danford’s store” required the dog warden to come out, only to find that the subject in question “was in neon lights on a Greyhound bus terminal sign.” The writer ironically reported that “The Greyhound company may be asked to license the dog.”[17] A few years later Patrolman G.R. Mundy extinguished a blazing awning around 3:30 in the morning of Wednesday, November 1, 1944, by pouring pails of water over the flames.[18]

The following year an ensign from the US naval arsenal at Whippany, left a wallet in the telephone booth at Danford’s store. Mrs. Louis M. Doyle stepped into the booth and found it. She called the naval recruiting station in New Brunswick for advice and was instructed to contact Metuchen police. She did and the whole episode was remembered in a news item “Honest Metuchen.”[19]

An attempted burglary happened in September 1945. Early in the morning of September 27, 1945, thieves attempted to break into the Danford Confectionery store. The attempt was unsuccessful. According to local reports, “It is believed that the sign of Police Headquarters, directly across the street from the Danford St. address, made the would-be burglars think twice.”[20]

Jack Danford was the son of William Danford. He married Frances Compton on April 19, 1933.[21] Around 1937 he lived at 20 Carson Ave.[22] Previously they had lived on Grove Ave. Jack H. Danford and wife Frances transferred property on Middlesex Ave to his father William C. Danford in 1942.

William C. Danford died December 9, 1959, just a few years after selling the business.[23] Jack H. Danford died at the age of 71 on March 13, 1978. His residence at the time of his death was 279 Newman St in Metuchen. He was an employee of Natco Corp., Woodbridge, and Fedders Corp., Edison.

Ryan Brothers

After 36 years of owning the business, William Danford transferred ownership of the business to the brothers Al and Warren Ryan of Roselle, who took over the business on September 1, 1947. Danford agreed to continue on the job and retain ownership of the property, living in the upstairs apartment with his wife. Upon acquiring the business, the Ryan Brothers began work on remodeling and renovating store:

When the work is finally completed there will be a modern luncheonette and fountain installed, all new fixtures, and new floor. The entrance to the store has already undergone a change. The Ryan Brothers state that they intend to completely remodel the store and that they will carry a complete line of candy and refreshments. They also said they intend to continue to serve Danford’s Home made ice cream.[24]

The Ryan brothers both served in World War II in the European Theatre for two years. Alvin J. Ryan was in the 19th Infantry Division, and Warren with the Troop Carrier Command. They acquired another similar business in Matawan.[25] The Matawan store, Ryan Brothers Stationery, was in operation for 20 years. Alvin died July 21, 1984.[26] The only significant change to happen to the building, likely when the Ryan Brothers owned the business, is the two-story auto garage with one-story porch to the rear was removed between 1929 and 1949 as shown by Sanborn maps from those respective years.

Saul Kaufman and Sid Marcus

Saul Kaufman grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He made his own toys. Kaufman attended the Brooklyn High School of Automotive Trades in Greenpoint to become an automobile machinist.[27] Upon graduating he applied to the Ford Instrument plant on Long Island. He recalled they had a reputation of openly not hiring Jews, but he applied anyway leaving the religion portion of the application blank. When the Ford official insisted he fill it out, he did: “Jewish.”  And that made it certain he was not hired. Kaufman later got a job at the Bronx Gear and Bearing Company and put his training to use grinding pistons and building engines.[28] He enlisted in the army when he was just over 18 years old on November 11, 1942. “I wanted to fight Hitler” he said. During the war he served in Italy with the Fifth Armored Division as a commander of an Mr-4 Sherman tank, in the Fifth Army of General Mark Clark. He was discharged from serve as a master sergeant.[29]

After the service he worked as an apprentice clothing cutter and became a pattern maker. He later worked in Maine for the same garment company which had employed him in New York.[30] His wife Ilse Levy of Cologne, Germany, escaped the Holocaust with her family in 1936. After getting married Saul and Ilse had two children. When he bought the business in 1954 his partner at the time was Sid Marcus. Among the first decisions the two owners made was to change the name back from the Ryan United Cigar Store back to Danford’s. Soon after opening they held a Friday the 13th promotion in May 1955. A triple decker cone was offered for 13 cents. Over 800 “unsuperstitious school kids” crowded in and consumed 60 gallons of ice cream.[31]

They ran into some trouble in 1956, when the plumbing inspector charged Saul Kaufman with connecting an air conditioner unit waste direct with the sewer. At a hearing with Magistrate Dubois Thompson, Kaufman claimed to have hired a plumber to remedy the condition and the charge was dismissed.[32]

Danford’s Corner, September 1960[33]

Six years after buying the business, Sid Marcus and Saul Kaufman also bought the building. An article notes Marcus lived at 26 B Thomas Blvd and Kaufman lived at 25 B Thomas Boulevard in North Brunswick. This marked the first time since being built that the building owner no longer resided on this corner. At the time the second floor had a six-room apartment with two bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen and utility room occupied by Daisy A. Danford, widow of William Danford.[34] She would live several years more before dying on August 2, 1968.[35] Sid Marcus was recognized as a store owner in 1963.[36] Kaufman was active in civic affairs, particularly his service in Kiwanis. In 1969 he was part of a campaign to “Lock Your Car and Pocket Your Key. Stickers were handed out to prevent auto thefts.[37]

Saul Kaufman in Courier-News photo from May 28, 1960.

This corner continued to have more than its fair share of excitement. In 1966 a 19-year old by the name of Allen T. Sigle of South Plainfield, assaulted an officer in front of Danford’s Confectionery Store. Sigle alleged Patrolman Ralph Salamone became abusive.[38]

A tragic incident occurred on February 6, 1977, when a fire above Danford’s Stationery Store. Four of the eight apartments were damaged. James P. Orr, then 34 years of age, sustained extensive burns on his upper body and was reported in critical condition at John F. Kennedy Medical Center.[39]

An estimated $50,000 worth of damage was done and 10 people were left homeless. The fire also burned through the rear section of the store (The Courier-News, 1977). James Orr was subsequently transported by helicopter to the Chester-Crozier Burn Center in Chester, Pennsylvania. The cause of the fire was “after Orr fell asleep while smoking in bed.”[40]

In 1977 Kaufman was indicted for receiving two stolen business machines in Metuchen.[41]

An indication came in 1983 that major changes for the Danford’s building were being considered. Saul Kaufman went before the Planning Board in 1983 to tear down two buildings that front Middlesex Avenue, and build a one-story addition to the rear of his Main Street operation. At the time Kaufman said “What we’re really proposing is to square off the building,” Kaufman said. “We’re very tight for space here.” The buildings slated for demolition were used for storage of stationery supplies. Kaufman planned to install 10 parking spaces but needed a variance because the ordinance requires 27 parking spaces. Apparently he did not prevail for in 1987 he was before the Planning Board again asking for permission to tear down two buildings on Middlesex Avenue and build a one-story addition to the rear of his Main Street store. Kaufman said “What we’re really proposing is to square off the building. We’re very tight for space here.”[42]  One of the buildings set to be torn down years ago: “housed a ‘hippie clothes’ operation called Breedlove.”[43] Ultimately the one-story buildings to the east were torn down and replaced by a two-story extension with several parking spaces fronting Middlesex Ave.

Danford’s, circa 1987 [44]

In addition to the owners, many employees had a connection with Danford’s Corner. Larry Buchner was a long-time employee of Kaufman’s. At its peak the store sold around 1200 newspapers on Sundays and had lines out the door. He gave that up as demand slacked. Also cigarettes were dropped. Another person with ties to Danford’s was Jean Fisher. She worked at “Danford’s Stationery Store” in Metuchen for many years before retiring in 1991. She died a few years later at age of 66 in 1994.[45]

The Home News Tribune on March 22, 2007, reported that Saul Kaufman sold the business and buildingto two Indian businessmen from New York City.”[46] This ended his run of owning and operating a business on this corner dating back to 1954 for a total of 52 years in business.

Photo of Saul Kaufman at work, April 30, 2003.

Chander Malik and Dadu Gulati

The corner saw a number of business after it was sold. These include La Gateaux, a French-inspired bakery, that opened in 2014. Another was the New Jersey Dance Academy from 2017 to December 2018. Since then the ground floor has been vacant and awaited a new tenant. This came when The Hair Loft moved from their previous location in the Robins Building where Akihi is now, to the Danford Building after completing a through renovation of the interior and painting the exterior.

Danford’s Store, December 2019

Historical Maps

1903 Sanborn
1910 Sanborn
1929 Sanborn
1949 Sanborn

Property Owner and Uses of Danford’s Corner

1903, FebJames DanfordGro.Sanborn
1905  Groundbreaking
1910, Jan Gro.Sanborn
1920, FebW.C. DanfordIce cream dealerNewspaper
1920, Aug Conf’y, AutoSanborn
1929, Jan SSanborn
1932W.C. DanfordW.C. Danford,Photo
  Confectionary, Cigars, 
  Tobacco, Cigarettes 
1942, DecWilliam C. Danford Jack H. Danford and wife
   Francis C. transfer
   property on Middlesex
   Ave to William C. Danford
1944William DanfordWilliam Danford storeNewspaper
1945, Sep Danford ConfectioneryNewspaper
1949, Aug SSanborn
1951, JulWarren K. Ryan and Called Ryan United Cigar
 Allen Ryan of Company before turning
 Metuchen back to Danford’s
1954Saul Kaufman and Bought in 1954
 Sid Marcus  
 Saul Kaufman andDanford’s CornerNewspaper
 Sid Marcus  
  Confectionery Store 
1977“”Danford’s Stationery 
1984“”Danford’s Office SupplyNewspaper
2007, Mar“”Danford’s Office Store 
2007Chander Malik  

[1] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 22, 1904, p. 3.

[2] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 22, 1904, p. 3.

[3] Death of William A. Morris, The Central New Jersey Home News, January 10, 1913, p. 2.

[4] Mysterious Fire at Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, March 26, 1903, p. 3.

[5] Gasolene Explosion Sets Building on Fire, The Central New Jersey Home News, September 25, 1905, p. 6.

[6] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 19, 1905, p. 6.

[7] Rifkind, 1977

[8] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 19, 1905, p. 6.

[9] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, October 13, 1908, p. 6.

[10] Personals, Metuchen Recorder, October 22, 1910, p. 1.

[11] Metuchen’s landmark Borough Hall goes down, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 25, 2002, p. 37.

[12] James Danford, The Central New Jersey Home News, September 30, 1914, p. 3.

[13] James Danford, of Metuchen, Dies, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 29, 1914, p. 2.

[14] James Danford, of Metuchen, Dies, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 29, 1914, p. 2.

[15] The Inquiring Reporter, The Central New Jersey Home News, February 16, 1920, p. 6.

[16] Town Notes, The Central New Jersey Home News, October 19, 1928, p. 29.

[17] Warden Meets Match Chasing ‘Greyhound,’ The Central New Jersey Home News, August 3, 1939, p. 8.

[18] Puts Out Blaze, The Central New Jersey Home News, November 1, 1944, p. 7.

[19] Honest Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, March 14, 1945, p. 4.

[20] Burglars Attempt Job Opposite Police, The Courier-News, September 27, 1945, p. 1.

[21] Frances Compton is Home Bride of Jack H. Danford, The Courier-News, April 20, 1933, p. 1.

[22] Metuchen Personal Notes, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 23, 1937, p. 26.

[23] Died, The Central New Jersey Home News, December 9, 1959, p. 47.

[24] Danford’s Sweet Shop Sold to Brothers from Roselle, Metuchen Recorder, October 2, 1947, p. 1.

[25] Shore Business Sold by Walling, Asbury Park Press, July 8, 1951, p. 8.

[26] Alvin J. Ryan, The Daily Register, July 23, 1984, p. 7.

[27] Reminiscent business owners sells shop, The Central New Jersey Home News, March 22, 2007, p. 3.

[28] Man and Machine, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 30, 2003, p. 9.

[29] World War II vets wear service as a badge of honor, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 24, 2008, p. 24.

[30] Man and Machine, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 30, 2003, p. 9.

[31] 13th Lucky for Kids in Ice Cream Store, The Central New Jersey Home News, May 14, 1955, p. 3.

[32] Violator of Plumbing Code Scolded, The Courier-News, October 25, 1956, p. 9.

[33] Metuchen Confectionery Store Sold, The Central New Jersey Home News, September 11, 1960, p. 27.

[34] Metuchen Confectionery Store Sold, The Central New Jersey Home News, September 11, 1960, p. 27.

[35] Mrs. William Danford of Metuchen Dies, The Central New Jersey Home News, August 3, 1968, p. 5.

[36] Money Theft Laid to Two, The Courier-News, March 11, 1963, p. 5.

[37] Prevent Thefts – Save Lives, The Courier-News, May 28, 1969, p. 12.

[38] Boro Suspect Pleads Guilty to Robbery, The Courier-News, January 4, 1966, p. 11.

[39] Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, February 7, 1977, p. 3.

[40] Man Badly Burned in Metuchen Fire, The Courier-News, February 7, 1977, p. 5.

[41] Court News, The Central New Jersey Home News, June 23, 1977, p. 14.

[42] Danford’s joining parade of Main Street projects, Metuchen Edison Review, September 4, 1983, p. 1.

[43] Danford’s joining parade of Main Street projects, Metuchen Edison Review, September 4, 1983, p. 1.

[44] Danford’s joining parade of Main Street projects, Metuchen Edison Review, September 4, 1983, p. 1.

[45] Jean Fisher, The Central New Jersey Home News, February 13, 1994, p. 13.

[46] Reminiscent business owners sells shop, The Central New Jersey Home News, March 22, 2007, p. 3.

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About Isaac Kremer

A nationally recognized downtown revitalization leader, downtowns Isaac managed achieved $350 million of investment, 1,300 jobs created, and were 2X Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist and a 1X GAMSA winner in 2023. His work has been featured in Newsday, NJBIZ, ROI-NJ, TapInto, and USA Today. Isaac is a Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) with additional certifications from the National Parks Service, Project for Public Spaces, and the National Development Council.

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