The Dr. James Still Office is a one-story hip-roofed vernacular frame structure, eighteen feet wide by forty feet deep, constructed in 1836. “Doctor” James Still, born in 1812 to former slaves Levin and Charity Still, was a self-taught physician in the Medford, New Jersey area. He was widely known as the “Black Doctor of the Pines.” Still was determined from childhood to become a doctor, but was refused admittance to medical school because of his race. Instead, he studied the healing powers of herbs and plants, and developed medical practices based on his own observations. In some areas, such as the treatment of burns and syphilis (then treated with mercury) he was more progressive than his formally-trained colleagues.
Dr. Still built the office in 1836 when he was twenty-four years old, as well as a small residence next door. The three-bay-by-three-bay main block is symmetrical, with windows flanking a center door on the façade. A simple front porch may be partially of historic construction, while small side and rear additions are of twentieth-century construction. The stone foundation has been covered with stucco, and a brick chimney on the west side is located outside the footprint of the house. The only decorative elements are the brackets with drop acorn pendants supporting the wide roof soffit. Over the years, Still expanded the residence until it was a three-story mansion. He also purchased many parcels of land throughout his lifetime until, at the time of his death, he was one of the largest landowners in Burlington County.
After his death the property was sold out of the family. Dr. Still’s residence was demolished in 1932. In 2006, the State of New Jersey bought the former Still property and the property to the east, making it the first African-American heritage site to be purchased by the state. The site is under the auspices of the Division of Parks and Forestry, Department of Environmental Protection. In 2013, The Medford Historical Society was designated as the Dr. Still’s Office Friends Group, and since then has rehabilitated a twentieth-century farmhouse next door to the east as a visitors and education center. However, because of the severe lack of funding for historic sites owned by the state, no restoration work has been performed on the Office and it is in a state of disrepair.
The New Jersey Historic Trust funded the preparation of a Preservation Plan for the office in 2009. However, no physical work has been performed on the building since its purchase by the state. It has structural problems that prevent all access into the building. However, over the past three years the Medford Historical Society has been pursuing a program of bringing the site to the public’s attention and developing a constituency for its preservation. The society has rehabilitated the visitors’ center next door with volunteer labor, and since its opening has developed programs for visiting school classes, teaching about the tradition of herbal healing as well as Dr. Still’s life and legacy. The society has sponsored events at the site, such as concerts, though access to the interior of the office is not possible.
The Division of Parks and Forestry is supportive of the site, and works closely with the Medford Historical Society to monitor it, but has been appropriated no funds with which to restore and maintain it. The acute lack of funding currently available from the state for historic sites in New Jersey, including those owned by the state, is responsible for the threat by neglect to Dr. Still’s Office. The 2014 referendum appropriating a portion of the Corporate Business Tax was resoundingly supported by the public, but the funds that appeared to be intended for capital repairs were subsequently redirected to pay for salaries and operational expenses. This is an issue that must be resolved in order to protect not just Dr. Still’s Office, but all state-owned historic sites.
This threat could be eliminated by the legislature and the governor assuring an adequate and permanent source of funds for rehabilitating and maintaining historic properties owned by the state, which most citizens assumed would be the result of the 2014 referendum. Since the funds from the referendum are being used for purposes other than capital improvements, the Medford Historical Society is taking it upon itself the task of raising private money to counteract the threat as best they can.
Preservation New Jersey