County: Passaic County
The United States Animal Quarantine Station, also known as the “Ellis Island for animals”, was developed by the US Department of Agriculture between 1900 and 1907 to handle the receipt and isolation of foreign animals along the entire East Coast of the US in order to safeguard the nation’s livestock and poultry against diseases of foreign origin. The primary function of the facility, which when constructed contained 27 buildings, including three frame dwellings, three garages, four sheds, 14 brick cattle barns or stables, and a frame sheep barn, was to confine and inspect commercial animals; however, wild animals for zoos and exhibition purposes coming to this country were also processed through this station. Prior to 1900, the quarantining of animals was done on a rather ad hoc basis with the primary location being in Garfield, but other local barns and facilities were also used when needed.
Once adequate funds were provided, the Department of Agriculture purchased 50 acres in the Athenia section of Clifton due to its relative isolation as well as its convenience to the railroads that served the ports in New York. The Quarantine Station was planned in a uniform grid pattern with four rows of structures arranged linearly and oriented in a northeast-southwest axis. The first row consists of the administrative, residential, and storage buildings and each of the successive rows contain the animal stables. An extensive system of roads, also laid in a grid pattern, framed the buildings.
During the first fifty years of operation, the station received its foreign animals via railroad from ships coming into New York Harbor. After 1950, however, air travel became more prevalent, moving the majority of quarantine operations to a new facility near Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, New York. As such, the Department began to sell off the property beginning in 1948. By 1966, the City of Clifton acquired the property that today represents the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places listed property.
Since Clifton’s acquisition of the site in the late 1960s, some of the buildings have been rehabilitated to serve as fire headquarters, a senior center, a recycling center, an adult opportunity center, an animal shelter, and an arts center, but there are approximately 15 buildings in need of rehabilitation and a new use. Currently, the Clifton Arts Center also uses portions of the site for its sculpture park so that when a visitor walks the site to view the artwork, the historic buildings stand as a backdrop. The arts center, which opened in 2000, utilizes two brick barns with a joining atrium addition, could serve as a model for the adaptive reuse for community and civic purposes of the other buildings and structures.
The City has recently undertaken an assessment of the buildings; and a nonprofit, the Clifton Historic Quarantine Station Preservation Foundation, was formed early in 2019 to help preserve the buildings that are currently unused or underutilized. Some funding has been allocated to assist in the repair of one of the frame barns, which is the building in the worst condition. The nonprofit’s goal is to assist the City in their efforts by seeking grants and private donations that will be allocated specifically for restoration and to help the City prioritize the repairs based on a planned, more thorough assessment, of the buildings. Preservation New Jersey applauds these recent efforts by the local citizens and the City to restore and rehabilitate the quarantine station buildings for adaptive reuse. Given the number of buildings and the cost of restoration and rehabilitation, however, additional funding will be required. It is hoped that listing the site on the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey will help the Clifton Historic Quarantine Station Preservation Foundation raise the necessary funds to see complete restoration before any structures are lost.
For additional information and opportunities to help preserve the barns, please visit the Clifton Historic Quarantine Station Preservation Foundation Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/groups/C.H.Q.S.P.F
Clifton Historic Quarantine Station Preservation Foundation
Mary Sadrakula, President