65 Lincoln Avenue, West Milford Township, Passaic County
R. Steven Boshart, Jr.
Chair, West Milford Historic Preservation Commission Chair
The Tichenor-Gregory-Goddel-Wallisch Farmstead, known commonly as the Wallisch Estate, is one of the last surviving large tracts of land that formed the original township of West Milford. The Tichenor family, one of the early families to settle the area, constructed the original homestead in 1824 as a one-and-one-half-story vernacular, frame farmhouse. J. H. Gregory purchased the property from the Tichenors in 1836, and during his tenure built the extant frame barns. In 1912, a Mr. Goddel purchased the property for use as a dairy farm. Goddel transformed the frame farmhouse into the extant Dutch Colonial Revival house with additions that likely included the front porch, the dormers, and the rear wing. He also constructed outbuildings that include a chicken coop, two stone barns, and a windmill. Louis Wallisch, Sr. purchased the property in 1923, and his sons, Louis Jr. and John, took over the property in 1935. The Wallisch brothers ran a law firm out of the house and maintained the property until their deaths. The brothers were heavily involved in the development of the township and witnessed its growth from a rural farming community to the suburban enclave it is today. It is understood that the Wallisches never subdivided or sold off any property in order to keep their estate representative of local heritage and early development.
When John Wallisch died in 1984, he willed his half of the property to the West Milford School Board. Louis Wallisch, Jr. maintained the site until his death in 2001, at which time he willed his half of the property to West Milford Township to be preserved as open space. This complicated co-ownership arrangement has led to the inadvertent neglect of the majority of the buildings on the site since 2001. Jurisdiction issues have permitted neither party sole use of the property, and therefore, neither has occupied or maintained it.
One barn is used for storage, but the main house and all other structures are vacant. No buildings are open to the public, and a small historical display, including papers, artifacts and other historical pieces, sits unattended in the main house, unappreciated and subject to deterioration. Due to the lack of maintenance, the buildings are in fair to poor condition. The roof has failed at the main house, and moisture infiltration has caused damage at the interior including at the ceiling where there is significant plaster loss in several rooms. The outbuildings are also in need of new roofs and other repairs, and all of the buildings are in need of stabilization in order to prevent further deterioration while long-term planning efforts are undertaken.
The township is interested in stewarding the property and is currently working to acquire full ownership of the property, which should allow for proper funding and maintenance of the site. The school board has agreed to sell their interests to the township, however, the deed transfer has been recently delayed due to the discovery of contaminated soil at the site. The contamination is minor, but requires remediation. Because both entities still own the site, they have agreed to delay the deed transfer in order to ensure that both parties can be held responsible for funding the remediation efforts. Pending further assessment and clean-up, basic stabilization, much less any efforts for the site’s long-term preservation and adaptive use, are on hold indefinitely.
The Wallisch Farmstead grounds also have an important environmental message to convey. As preserved open space, the grounds are open to the public and in 2009, became a visitor destination when Ramapo College established the Wallisch Environmental Education Trail, a wetlands education center, on several acres at the rear of the property. The center educates the public about the diversified land areas within West Milford and at the Wallisch Farmstead. This trail and other activities that take place within the preserved open space could be used as a springboard for developing a long-term re-use plan for the property, which would then drive the preservation of the site’s architectural resources.
The Tichenor-Gregory-Goddel-Wallisch Farmstead presents a classic example of the title, ownership, and jurisdiction issues that can hold historic properties in limbo. It appears that West Milford Township and the West Milford School Board have been actively trying to resolve the ownership issues, but have met with several obstacles, including the latest soil contamination problems. Meanwhile, non-profit groups have expressed interest in using the property’s structures, and particularly with the site’s already-established visitor destination status, the opportunity for this remnant of early West Milford and Passaic County development to continue to play a vital role in the community’s future is great. However, time is drawing near for many of the buildings on site to receive stabilization, at a minimum, before they are lost to the elements. Although funding opportunities are potentially available for preservation, the township and other interested parties cannot move to take advantage of these opportunities until ownership is resolved. It is vital that the township continue to take the lead in resolving the issues of ownership; however, in the mean time, it could consider developing a master plan for the site that would address the current needs of the buildings, establish appropriate and viable uses for the buildings and the grounds, and attract greater community interest and support in the property. Such a plan could be used to garner bricks and mortar funding and permit the township to “hit the ground running” on preservation and reuse upon resolution of ownership.
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