For more than 40 years, the State of New Jersey has recognized the importance of preserving and rehabilitating important historic landmarks owned by the county and local governments and non-profit organizations. In accord, the citizens of New Jersey, in each decade since the 1980s, have strongly supported statewide ballot questions on funding the NJ Historic Trust’s historic preservation grant programs as part of the state’s “greening” initiatives, which also include Green Acres open space conservation and the Farmland Preservation program.
Now, in 2009, the three programs of the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) are entirely out of money, and by year’s end the New Jersey Historic Trust’s planning and “bricks and mortar” grants will come to an end. The potential loss of the only grant program in New Jersey dedicated solely to advancing historic preservation projects endangers most every landmark in the state, including government buildings, houses of worship and museums housed in historic sites. Not only are cherished historic places at risk as funding ends, but so, too, are many hundreds of skilled design, planning and construction jobs. And the economic revitalization that these key historic preservation projects spur in their communities will sputter without the related development activity that the Trust grant-funded projects infuse in often-troubled neighborhoods. The many millions of dollars in restoration and rehabilitation grants that this program has provided have leveraged private investment many times over in the eleven years since the GSPT was created. Just a few examples include:
Rogers Locomotive Fitting Shop, Paterson
The $6.3 million adaptive use of the Rogers Locomotive Fitting Shop in Paterson’s Great Falls National Historic Landmark District was completed with Trust grants that funded the exterior restoration. Now the “Frank Lautenberg Transportation Opportunity Center,” the facility provides transportation, education, day care and administrative services to immigrant and welfare-to-work residents to assist them in gaining employment in the region.
Church of the Presidents, Long Branch
Constructed as St. James Chapel in 1879, the Church of the Presidents is the last landmark associated with the Gilded Age in Long Branch, and the only house of worship outside of Washington D.C. attended by seven different presidents. It’s repair, following years of structural instability, and restoration as a museum would not have been possible without matching grants from the NJ Historic Trust.
Hunterdon County Courthouse, Flemington
Best known as the site of the infamous 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington is one of the oldest surviving county courthouses in New Jersey. Built in 1828 and a fine example of Greek Revival civic architecture, its restoration was completed thanks to critical matching grants from the Historic Trust.
Franklin Street School, Cape May
Franklin Street School in Cape May is significant for its associations with Cape May’s African American community. The building’s long-term tenant, the Center for Community Arts, has used Trust grant funds to stabilize the building and significantly improve its overall condition. When work is completed, the building will house a community arts center.
Governor Corzine and the New Jersey Legislature must agree on an appropriate and effective GSPT funding source, enact needed legislation, and place a question on the ballot to allow citizens to vote on the continuation of the NJ Historic Trust, Green Acres and Farmland Preservation programs. The historic preservation, land preservation, and environmental communities have come together in an unprecedented partnership, through the NJ Keep it Green campaign, to push for the legislation and ballot measure. Even if this effort is successful, the challenge will continue, as a victorious vote on the ultimate ballot question will require a vigorous public campaign and commitment of significant resources on the part of every history and preservation organization and the preservation building industry.