Public sculpture is an important reflection of our culture. Our public monuments say who we are, what we value, and what we hope will be remembered by future generations. In New Jersey, there are over seven hundred works of public sculpture. Most are representational, memorials to the veterans of war. But captains of industry, politicians, activists, faceless heroes and beloved pets are also honored. Few pieces are purely decorative. The horse trough fountain in the center of Swedesboro, an early 20th century memorial to the local banker and businessman John C. Rulon, is a utilitarian – and now rare – example of these important monuments.
The first large burst of public monument making in New Jersey occurred in the 1870s and 1880s, when Civil War memorials and monuments to the centennial of the War for Independence were erected across the state. In the early 20th century, more than fifty memorials commemorating World War I were erected.
Between1890 and the 1920s, a period known as the American Renaissance, sculpture played an integral role in the ornamentation of parks, squares, boulevards, and grand civic buildings, and we are currently seeing another burst of enthusiasm for public art in New Jersey. Recent surveys reveal that at least ten percent of the older works are in urgent need of conservation treatment, and another thirty five to forty five percent are in critical condition. The sculptures are threatened by benign neglect, by harsh weather, and by development pressures.
The Rulon horse trough in Swedesboro is isolated in a traffic island and in danger of destruction by a road-widening project. While some isolated pieces, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Monument in Tenafly or the Settlers’ Monument in Newark have undergone recent conservation, most are ignored by the same civic leaders who commission new public works.
PNJ would like to encourage communities to increase awareness of the history of their public monuments to preserve and protect them. The Rulon horse trough and other monuments to beloved and often heroic early citizens should be celebrated as part of the story of New Jersey.
The Rulon horse trough in Swedesboro was relocated from a cement island on Kings Highway to its new home in front of the borough’s municipal building.
200 Forrestal Rd.
Princeton, NJ 08540
Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants
425 White Horse Pike
Haddon Heights, NJ 08035