County: Essex County
The Van Ness House was built by one of the earliest Dutch families to settle in western Essex County. Simon Van Ness brought his family to Fairfield in 1701 to claim the ownership of this land, and was one of the founders of the Reformed Church of Fairfield in 1720.
The house was likely built circa 1760, but may incorporate earlier construction features. Consisting of two stone sections of 2 ½ and 1 ½ stories, the structure is a typical 18th century farmhouse in the Dutch brownstone tradition of northern New Jersey, which predates the Revolutionary War.
Currently owned by the Township of Fairfield, repairs and improvements were made to the structure in 1995 using a historic preservation grant. The building was used for special events and senior supportive services for a time, but the former stewards of the property, the Women’s Club, is no longer active and anticipated reuses of the building were never realized. The building has sat now vacant for a number of years.
Unfortunately, a leaking roof was not repaired properly, causing mold and mildew to the interior. Recently, structural problems were identified in the second floor, preventing use for safety reasons. The municipality has cited insufficient funds to properly stabilize or maintain the structure. Fairfield is open to efforts by a local group to sponsor a program of renovation and continued use, but none have stepped forward.
Preservation New Jersey encourages Fairfield Township to redouble its efforts to repair the structure and find a suitable occupant for this important piece of regional history before it is too late. The first order of business would be to obtain a historic engineer and/or architect to determine the extent of damage, provide a cost estimate for stabilization, and then complete the minimum repairs necessary to prevent further deterioration. The Township or an organization willing to manage the structure, should then pursue the creation of a Preservation and Reuse Plan to determine the potential extent and cost of rehabilitation, and recommend future uses of the property. The New Jersey Historic Trust has a number of grant opportunities for planning and capital projects that could be sought for this effort.
Many municipalities have undertaken similar historic preservation projects at minimal cost to taxpayers by utilizing grants from the NJ Historic Trust, US DOT, CDBG, and other funding sources. The Boroughs of Hopewell and Fanwood have both restored their historic railroad stations for small meetings, offices, and community uses. The Apple Tree House in Jersey City is being used for city offices upstairs, and community space on the ground level.
Ultimately, the municipality can decide to manage the property itself, work with a partner non-profit organization, or lease the structure to a private entity. Should a partner not step forward and/or the Township not want to put forth the effort to restore the structure, Fairfield could work with the State Historic Preservation Office to enable the sale of the structure with proper preservation easements.
The Van Ness House is an important historic resource that is well worth the preservation effort. Preservation New Jersey encourages Fairfield Township to take the first critical steps to stabilize the structure before it is lost, then seek out partners and funding sources to ensure its full restoration and reuse.
5th Great Granddaughter of Peter Van Ness