Everyone in New Jersey is affected by historic preservation. In a state so enriched by history, it is difficult to miss the historic places that tell our stories. Whether it’s a Revolutionary War battlefield you drive by each day, a bank on Main Street you stop in during your lunch hour, a historic building in which you work, or if you’re really lucky, a historic house that you call home, some part of the historic built environment touches each of us daily.
But do we appreciate these places that help define us and our communities? Are we doing all that we can to ensure that these unique, irreplaceable treasures continue to exist and to prosper? In an effort to call attention to the ever-pressing needs of New Jersey’s historic resources, Preservation New Jersey, the statewide non-profit membership-based group advocating for historic preservation, publishes the annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites in New Jersey. The 2009 edition was announced on Tuesday, May 19, at the State House in Trenton, and includes three Mercer County historic resources, each facing distinct threats representative of the dangers bearing down upon historic properties all across New Jersey.
Most prominent is Princeton Battlefield, now threatened by the potential for encroaching development by both the neighboring Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton Township. The Institute has proposed new housing construction on unprotected land east of the Battlefield, while the Township also has the right to develop acreage adjacent to the park. Contemporary development would visually encroach on the protected lands and destroy opportunities for further archaeological study of these areas, study that could potentially revolutionize our understanding of the Battle of Princeton.
First Presbyterian Church of Ewing also made this year’s list. In a classic preservation emergency, the structural stability of the church’s sanctuary has been questioned after falling debris and professional measurements indicated severe deterioration. While the extent of the required stabilization is debated, whatever solution is deemed necessary will require significant funds. Church leaders have agreed to put demolition on-hold while the congregation undertakes a fundraising campaign, but the deadline is fast-approaching.
Robbinsville Industrial Track, a railroad right-of-way that spans portions of Hamilton and Robbinsville Townships, is the third Mercer County site to make the 2009 list. The right-of-way and related historic structures is an original portion of New Jersey’s and one of the nation’s first railroads, the Camden and Amboy line. The right-of-way is now threatened by proposed official abandonment, which would permit sale of the land to Robbinsville Township. The Township has indicated plans to subdivide and sell the property for commercial development.
Other resources on this year’s list include the BPO Elks Lodge 128, also known as the Charms Building, in Asbury Park, a circa-1914 commercial building threatened with ongoing deterioration; the Cope Building in Mullica Hill, a turn-of the century schoolhouse threatened with demolition; the Fell House in Allendale, a Revolutionary-era homestead threatened with demolition for residential development; The Lampkin House in Plainfield, an abandoned but intact example of one of New Jersey’s earliest house types that is deteriorating and in need of a buyer; Liberty Hall in Union, a National Historic Landmark, threatened with the loss of much of its significant landscape; and the historic Police Headquarters building in Maplewood, recently vacated and in need of a plan for adaptive use.
The 10th spot on this year’s list is dedicated to the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT), which is not a property, but the state’s funding resource for historic preservation and open space and farmland conservation. The programs supported by the GSPT, including the New Jersey Historic Trust’s grants for preservation, have run out of funds, endangering countless properties that could potentially be rehabilitated or restored with these grants, and rendering the need for a new funding source desperate.
In the current economic climate, typical preservation challenges such as a dearth of funds, a lack of historically-sensitive and financially-capable buyers, and intense pressure to create new tax rateables via new development have become particularly menacing. In New Jersey, we are the fortunate beneficiaries of a rich, diverse, and extraordinarily significant historic built environment. It is up to us to respect this privilege by finding and advocating for creative, viable solutions that respect our past and preserve and celebrate the unique character of every community. Preservation New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites list aims to connect people with such ideas to the properties that need their help, and facilitate the understanding that every loss of any historic resource is a loss to every citizen of New Jersey.
Preservation New Jersey
Preservation New Jersey Inc., 30 South Warren Street, Trenton 08608; 609-392-6409; fax, 609-392-6418. www.preservationnj.org.