Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey at the historic Spermaceti Cove No. 2 Life Saving Station within the Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook on Sunday, June 4, 2023. PNJ was joined by the advocates for this year’s endangered historic places to support New Jersey’s threatened cultural and architectural heritage.
The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural, and archeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost. The act of listing these resources acknowledges their importance to the heritage of New Jersey and draws attention to the predicaments that endanger their survival and the survival of historic resources statewide. The list, generated from nominations by the public, aims to attract new perspectives and ideas to sites in desperate need of creative solutions.
Selections to the 10 Most Endangered list are based on three criteria:
historic significance and architectural integrity,
the critical nature of the threat identified, and
the likelihood that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource.
Several challenges face properties on this year’s endangered sites list, including neglect and deferred maintenance, threats incurred by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate historic preservation funding, and the need for creative adaptive reuse proposals.
Although PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Places list is published once per year, the fight for the preservation of our historic and cultural resources is daily. Our educational programming and advocacy efforts continue year-round. Many properties previously listed among the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places have once again become assets to New Jersey’s communities. Others continue to need more attention, resources, and care.
We are fortunate that this year’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places Program is supported by the following sponsors: the National Park Service, The Sandy Hook Foundation, and Monmouth University Department of History and Anthropology.
The 2023 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ are:
Grace Episcopal Church, Plainfield, Union County
Grace Episcopal Church was founded in 1852, and the current building was constructed in 1892 by British-American architect Robert Gibson. Grace Church is a well-preserved example of Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture. Its most significant feature is the square tower with crenelated parapet and conical side tower and features a 47-bell carillon. Stained glass windows from Tiffany, Connick Studios, and Heaton, Butler & Bayne are featured. Later additions include the parish house (1905), chancel extensions (1930) and parish hall (1957). Each of the artisan firms hired to work on this building was representative of the best in their field. The early 20th century addition of one of the country’s earliest and largest carillons makes the edifice unique among religious institutions. Facing decades of diminished attendance, decreased income, potentially dangerous building conditions, and the inability to afford critical repairs to its 130-year-old church building, the Episcopal Church of Plainfield decided in 2020 (during the onset of the pandemic) to sell the building and find another worship space to continue their services to the community. During this transition, Grace Church was the subject of discussions of demolition and redevelopment of the property. In the fall of 2022, the municipality’s planning board voted to move forward with preparing plans to redevelop. The current zoning for Grace Church permits mixed-use structures including uses such as apartments, townhouses, childcare, retail, office space, restaurant, tavern, bank, or health and fitness club, banquet hall, parking lot, laundromat, and open space. Preservation New Jersey supports those advocating for the site to look into ways to adaptively reuse or if needed, sensitive redevelopment of the Grace Church that allows for preservation of the much-loved structure.
Joseph Murray Farmhouse and Barn, Middletown, Monmouth County
The Murray farmhouse and barn at Poricy Park, Middletown are examples of 18th century homesteading. Built ca. 1770 by Joseph Murray, a stonemason from Ireland, the farmhouse and barn remain on original foundations. Joseph Murray was a Revolutionary War veteran known for commandeering supplies and materials and associated with spying on British Troops along Sandy Hook. One of Murray’s stunts was stealing horses for the militia’s use. The property stayed in the possession of the Murray family until 1861. The homestead was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for a sewage plant before concerned locals fought to preserve it. The site was purchased in 1973 by Middletown Township and the Poricy Park Citizens Committee was formed to save the land from any future development. The site was restored in 1986 to allow residents and visitors to walk in Murray’s footsteps and honor his service during the American Revolution. The Poricy Park Conservancy, for financial reasons, turned control of the Park and Farmhouse/Barn over to Middletown Township. Through a continued partnership the town and the conservancy have applied for grants and funding to make necessary repairs to the Murray house, but grants have continuously been denied. While some funding has been secured through capital budgeting, there is not enough set aside to see the restoration project through. Debates have ensued on the understanding of state requirements, questions regarding the need for repairs, and finding proper contractors to complete the project. With the onset of America’s 250th celebrations, Preservation New Jersey supports and strongly encourages municipalities, counties, and statewide bodies to engage in exploring and preserving New Jersey’s role in America’s history – this can be through the development of programs and community projects, creation of interpretive resources and exhibits, and the preservation of historic sites that contribute to the story of our nation.
Samuel P. Paul House and Native American Encampment, Paulsboro, Gloucester County
Built by fishery-owner Samuel P. Paul in 1810, the Paul House is a two and one-half story, three-bay stone structure with ornate Federal woodwork. It features nine-over-nine first floor windows flanking a central entrance entablature with reeded pilasters and fanlight, six-over-nine second floor windows, and six-over-six segmentallyarched head dormers. Brick end chimneys accommodate the parlor fireplaces that are tooled with fine punch-and-gouge mantelpieces. A smaller shed-roofed rear kitchen wing appears to date to the Georgian period (circa 1795), based on its simpler molding profiles and the butt joint in the masonry. The Paul family, from which Paulsboro derives its name, owned the home until 1924. The significance of the property is due to its association with Samuel Philip Paul, and the intact nature of the Federal architectural elements, and archeological investigations that were conducted during 2012 discovered an undisturbed Native American Encampment on the grounds of the Paul House. The site is currently owned by the Borough of Paulsboro, with the goal to preserve the site to become a public space as a house museum and public park. The Paulsboro Historic Preservation Commission was formed and is actively working to have both the Samuel P. Paul House and the Native American Encampment listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite years of planning initiatives, the Samuel P. Paul House and its surroundings face several threats. The building has seen a signification trend of deterioration due to lack of maintenance and funding secured to restore it. In addition, the municipality began discussions on the redevelopment of the site and began to move forward with the creation of a community-wide recycling center along the Mantua Creek on a lot immediately adjacent to the Samuel P. Paul House both impact the house and archaeologically sensitive areas. Preservation New Jersey supports the mission and goal of the Paulsboro Historic Preservation Commission and strongly encourages special municipal recognition of the site and preservation of it as open space.
The Washington Theatre, Washington, Warren County
The Washington Theatre opened in 1926. It was built for both silent movies and vaudeville. The theatre seated 800 and was proclaimed “The Showplace of Northwestern New Jersey.” It was equipped with a Robert Morton Organ; and four years after opening it was modernized to add sound. Opened originally by the Lions Theatre Circuit, the Washington Theatre has had many owners over the years. By the 1970s much of its ornate style was covered over or destroyed. The Washington Theatre fell into a state of disrepair and closed in 1997. Several local community groups have attempted to save and reopen the theatre. For example, in 1998 the Washington Theatre was acquired by Galaxy Theatres and extensive renovations were done to restore the lobby area back to its grandeur and the cleanup of the auditorium. However, the Washington Theatre closed again in 2001 and saw several openings and closures up until 2016. In June 2022, the site was proposed for redevelopment into mixed-use space with a four-story addition for apartments. Preservation New Jersey supports those advocating for the restoration of the site and adaptively reuse, or as needed, sensitive redevelopment of the theater that allows for its continued preservation and operation as a cultural destination.
The Eagle Tavern, Trenton, Mercer County
This eighteenth-century building signifies the growth of Trenton into a commercial and industrial city from the mid-1760s through into the early nineteenth century. It was a hub for social, commercial, and industrial investments. Originally built as a private home, it was enlarged for use as a tavern in the early nineteenth century and was frequented by patrons of the nearby Eagle Raceway. At that time, it served as the political center for the city’s South Ward and was a meeting place of the Masons. In 1890, the tavern closed and became a rooming house until 1950. Later it was purchased by the city and leased to the Trenton Historical Society. Society tried and failed three times to operate the tavern as a restaurant. At the time of its listing, the city had boarded up the building and was using federal urban initiative funds to conduct a feasibility study to find a viable new use. The building underwent an exterior restoration by the city in 2005. The building envelope, roof, and windows were all restored, and a handicap ramp was installed. The interior was restored in the 1980s, but it was proven to need a lot of work. As of 2022, the City of Trenton announced and advertised for redeveloping and restoring the building with a long-term commercial or retail use. The Eagle Tavern was listed on the 10 Most in 1995. Preservation New Jersey revisits the Eagle Tavern to lend its continued support to the City of Trenton and its advocates. As we approach the celebrations of America’s 250th, we strongly encourage sites to be visitor ready and having various agencies actively explore and preserve New Jersey’s role in America’s history – this can be through the development of programs and community projects, creation of interpretive resources and exhibits, and the preservation of historic sites that contribute to the story of our nation.
The Community of St. John Baptist – Convent & Retreat House, Mendham, Morris County
The Community of St. John Baptist is significant for its French Norman Chateau Revival style Convent and its association with the event of the establishment of an important religious order of self-sacrifice and public service. The Convent and Retreat House on site welcome over 2,000 people per year and has been a community charitable resource and nature preserve in Mendham since 1900. The Convent was designed by Burr Friedley and William Cordingley in 1916 to resemble a French Normandy monastic structure. It also included Arts and Crafts elements and sensibilities, formal gardens, and a cemetery. The Community has actively engaged in preservation of the site since 2005 through seeking grants and support by both the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and NJ Historic Trust funding programs. Unfortunately, in 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled to prohibit Morris County’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund program from funding historic buildings owned by religious organizations. The ruling has had a cascading impact on historic preservation programs statewide, putting many valued architectural resources and historic landmarks at risk. As such, the Community has lost fifty percent of their bricks-and-mortar funding that has been vital for their upkeep and preservation of the site. Preservation New Jersey continues to support the efforts to continue to fight for a valued and worthy historic preservation grant program criteria that benefits all residents of New Jersey.
Old Fire House, Sayreville, Middlesex County
Sayerville’s first Fire House/Administration Building was built in 1909; a two-story brick utilitarian building. The site was used as a fire station and by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and other similar entities until 2018 when a broken pipe caused the shutdown of the building. The damage was not repaired and, for financial reasons, the building was left vacant and sealed to avoid further damage. The Old Fire House in Sayreville continues the trend of losses in early constructed emergency service buildings. The 20th century saw a rapid evolution in emergency services. As emergency services evolved, so too has the equipment. Today’s fire engines, ladder trucks and ambulances are much larger than their predecessors. The result is that historic firehouses cannot fit modern emergency equipment and communities often respond by re-locating stations or demolishing historic stations and constructing new. This has created a preservation crisis as these significant buildings of a community’s past are being abandoned or disappearing entirely. Firehouses encompass the important history of emergency services in New Jersey and represent the civic commitment of their communities to protect and serve in times of need. Rarely does an entire typology of structure come under threat, but due to rapid technological and policy changes, these iconic foundational community structures are under immediate threat throughout the state. We know that these structures can be adaptively reused for several functional and interesting purposes, such as libraries, offices, restaurants, bars, and even homes. Preservation New Jersey supports the Sayreville Historic Society and calls upon the municipality and our communities to think creatively and proactively to seek out new uses and/or owners for these structures, rather than abandon or demolish them.
George V. Hecker Carriage House, West Orange, Essex County
This carriage house building is an excellent example stick-style Victorian architecture designed by master architect Henry Hudson Holly. Holly also designed two other notable buildings in West Orange -- Thomas Edison’s home “Glenmont” located in Llewellyn Park, as well as Edison’s laboratory on Main Street. In the 19th century, West Orange was an escape for wealthy New Yorkers, including George V. Hecker, a flour miller, who built a mansion (now demolished) with a carriage house on the ridge of Watchung Mountain. Unlike most carriage houses of this era, Hecker’s has never been adapted for another use, so the original features, such as a hayloft and horse stalls, are still intact. The carriage house was designated a local landmark by the Township of West Orange and has been deemed eligible for listing. The Hecker Carriage House is one of only two buildings that remain from West Orange’s 19th century prominence and the historic Ridge neighborhood. The carriage house today sits on 12 acres of forested land open to redevelopment. The primary threat to the site is the lack of plans to preserve and adaptively reuse the carriage house for the benefit of the public. Preservation New Jersey supports those advocating for the restoration of the site and its adaptive reuse. It is critical that all stakeholders work together to make this unique local historic landmark a priority in its plans for the future.
Taylor’s Mill, Readington, Hunterdon County
Taylor's Mill is a stone grist mill built circa 1760 by Colonel John Taylor who owned and ran the mill. Taylor, an Englishman by birth, served in the Revolution as a member of the 4th Hunterdon Militia and eventually achieved the rank of General. The mill is located at the southwest corner of Taylor's Mill Road and Rockaway Road on the Readington/Tewksbury border and is one of the last surviving pre-Revolutionary mills. This mill played an important role in the Revolution as a grain supplier for Washington’s Army, and remains significant for its importance to local history, for studying early patterns of industry and commerce, for studying the architecture of early mills, and for understanding the importance of local business in support of the military effort during the Revolution. Although the site was acquired nearly thirty years ago, structures have been lost over time through demolition by neglect. The current ruins are threatened by years of deferred maintenance which was brought to the forefront of public concern when, during a snowstorm in early 2022, a portion of the Taylor’s Mill ruin was damaged by a vehicle accident. With continued lack of funding and support for the site, the future of the Taylor Mill ruins remains unknown. With the onset of America’s 250th celebrations, Preservation New Jersey supports and strongly encourages municipalities, counties, and statewide bodies to engage in exploring and preserving New Jersey’s role in America’s history – this can be through the development of programs and community projects, creation of interpretive resources and exhibits, and the preservation of historic sites that contribute to the story of our nation.
Raritan River Railroad Freight Station in Milltown, Middlesex County
The Raritan River Railroad Freight Station is a one-story, utilitarian wood framed-structure, typical of station construction in the late 19th thru early 20th centuries. The Raritan River Railroad was incorporated in 1888 and had twelve miles of tracks and stations stretching across South Amboy, South River, Milltown, and New Brunswick. After passenger service ended in Milltown in 1938, changes were made along the line to handle freight trains. By 1980, the failing Raritan River Railroad was absorbed by Conrail. Conrail did not use the freight station, so it was scheduled for demolition. The owner of property adjacent to the station saved it from the wrecking ball when he purchased the building for use as a storage facility. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair. The station still sits on Washington Avenue, boarded, and locked up. Since 2011 the Milltown Historical Society and the Raritan River Railroad Historical Society have rekindled efforts to move and restore the borough's only train station, and the last existing Raritan River Railroad station. Preservation New Jersey applauds and supports both societies in their efforts to continue to seek grants and raise funds for preserving the resource. It is critical that all stakeholders work together to identify, develop, and implement strategies for the continued preservation and reuse of this unique local historic landmark for the benefit of the public.
Our 2023 Program Sponsors
This event is not made possible without the coordination and support of these partners. We appreciate the generosity and guidance in putting together the 2023 Ten Most Program.