The restoration of the Ewing Presbyterian Church isn’t the first time David Knights and Michael Mills have worked together to preserve and restore a historic building. More than a decade ago, the two joined forces to save the 19th-century train station building in Hopewell Borough.
Located on Broad Street, the elegantly detailed red-brick building was built in 1876 and is one of the oldest stations in New Jersey.
The station served as a stop on a passenger line that ran from Bound Brook to West Trenton for more than 100 years, but by 1969 usage of the line had declined to the point where only two trains a day were running. Service was finally abandoned entirely in 1981.
In 1984 — the same year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places — the station was purchased by developer Bernie Fedor for $84,000. He had hoped to restore the building and turn it into a restaurant but abandoned the project in 1989.
By the early 1990s, the building had sat dormant for more than a dozen years. In 1993 Hopewell Borough received an anonymous $250,000 donation to be used for the purchase of the station and its 4.3 acre site.
The town funded an additional $65,000, purchased the station, and ultimately teamed up with Preservation New Jersey to restore the station to its former glory.
“We immediately did a survey, distributed door to door, asking local residents what should be done with the station,” said Knights, a Hopewell resident and member of Borough Council. “We got an incredible response ratio, over 85 percent. Right off the bat there was a lot of community support.”
But there was still a long way to go. Although the borough owned the property, there was no money for the restoration. Funding had to be found.
“We did a lot of research to determine what grants the project might qualify for,” said Mills, who at the time was partner in charge of historical restoration at Ford, Farewell, Mills, and Gatsch, a Carnegie Center architectural firm selected to prepare restoration plans.
“That took some time,” said Mills. “We figured out that the project would be a prime candidate for a Transportation Enhancement grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.”
The committee prepared the grant application, and the borough received $703,400 from the federal government for exterior restorations in 1994.
The following year the project was awarded an additional $586,050 from the New Jersey Historic Trust to be put toward design work and interior restorations. Receiving the grant proved to be the key to the realization of the project.
“After we got the DOT grant, we were off and running,” said Mills. “Then when it was clear that there was support for this project, the other grant from the trust just fell into line.”
After the bulk of the money for the restoration was secured, the nuts and bolts part of the job began. A paint analysis was undertaken by of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities to determine the original paint colors of the interior and exterior of the building. In January, 1999, construction began and continued until June, 2000.
“Michael Mills and his firm were invaluable,” said Knights. “You just can’t measure the role they played. A good example would be the cresting — that’s $17,000 worth of metal along the top of the building. This was a major issue because we were about to run out of money. It had only been on the station between 1880 and 1920, then it started to rot and rust. So for most people’s lifetimes that cresting was never there. But that’s the kind of detail that Mills was able to pursue and to convince us to go ahead with, over a lot of objections..”
The station wasn’t the only structure on the property to be preserved. Despite age and neglect, the station building was still in good shape when the borough took it over.
“The structure was basically sound,” said Knights. “Nobody ever voiced a comment about tearing down the railroad station.”
On the other hand, a freight shed on the same property — built at the same time — was within year of collapsing.
“It probably should have been torn down,” said Knights. But subsequent grant money allowed for significant restoration. “It is now the most structurally sound building in Hopewell Borough.”
Today, the building in the home of the Bunbury Company, a philanthropic foundation, on the second floor. The first floor of the building is used for community space.