Trenton’s Greater is He Ministries Makes Preservation New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places List for 2021
In recognition of National Preservation Month this past May, Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey at a virtual press conference. PNJ was joined by the advocates for this year’s endangered historic places via a Zoom rally 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.
In recognition of National Preservation Month this past May, Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey at a virtual press conference. PNJ was joined by the advocates for this year’s endangered historic places via a Zoom rally 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.
Two of the sites on this year’s list are entire municipalities, highlighting the immense variation in the local tools available for preservation in New Jersey’s cities and municipalities. The list also includes two religious sites that provide important histories of New Jersey’s African American communities, and point to the challenges faced by congregations since the 2018 New Jersey Supreme Court decision to prevent New Jersey Historic Trust grants to religious structures.
Preservation New Jersey proudly points to many properties previously listed among the 10 Most Endangered that have now been saved and preserved or rehabilitated and have once again become character-defining and economy-boosting assets to New Jersey’s communities. As PNJ announce this year’s list, they are encouraged by stories like the Wallisch Homestead, included on the 2012 10 Most Endangered List, and the Krueger-Scott Mansion, now ‘Makerhoods’ which was included on the 2011 10 Most Endangered List and recently hosted Preservation New Jersey’s Virtual Annual Meeting. Advocates for these sites and many more across the state have moved mountains since their listing on the 10 Most Endangered List and continue to leverage the publicity and attention brought by the listing to bring these resources back to a useful and productive life.
Although PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Properties list is published once per year, the fight for the preservation of historic and cultural resources is daily. This year, in addition to the 10 Most Endangered Historic Announcement, PNJ has added several educational programs to its summer schedule to further support current and former 10 Most Endangered site advocates as they work to preserve the sites. In June, the first two sessions will focus on ‘Communicating the Value of Preservation and an ‘Introduction to Public Relations for Historic Sites.’ PNJ is fortunate that this year’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places Program is being supported by the following sponsors: HMR Architects, Kreilick Conservation, The Litt Law Firm, Architectural Window Corporation, Quadrille, Harrison Hamnett, and Mills + Schnoering Architects.
The 2021 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ List:
Allen AME Church, City of Cape May, Cape May CountyAllen African Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1888 on Franklin Street is an important African American Landmark in the Cape May Historic District. The building was the home of a congregation that left the Cape Island Methodist Church and moved into a former church on Franklin Street in 1845 before erecting the current structure. Within two square blocks stand civic institutions, churches, and the center of the historic African American community. Over the years the AME Church has served as an advocate for education and provides support to members in need. An accidental fire occurred to the entrance tower in 2018. The tower was removed and a benefactor paid to have the tower opening and roof covered. But the tarp has now failed putting the building at risk. The City has expressed interest in acquiring the building and restoring it as a historic site. Preservation New Jersey encourages the City to move with all due speed to do so, to secure the structure as soon as possible, and to restore it utilizing historic preservation grants and donated funds.
The Borough of Cape May Point, Cape May CountyLocated at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May Point resembles its original roots as the Presbyterian retreat “Sea Grove” established in 1875. This borough of 285 residents and 0.3 square miles is a beach community with a diversity of housing, landmarks, irregular street patterns, and historical landscaping. 33% of the buildings were built before 1955. Many of the buildings in Cape May Point have undergone changes without diminishing architectural merit which contributes to the borough’s distinct community character that deserves protection. The threats to Cape May Point are through beach erosion, demolition and redevelopment. Cape May Point has an historic preservation element in their master plan and Preservation New Jersey supports their strategies, including establishing a Historic Preservation Commission, educating the public about historic preservation issues, and maintaining a list of properties that meet the criteria that apply to local historic sites to ensure this unique community exists for generations to come.
City of Elizabeth, Union CountyThe City of Elizabeth’s historic resources span the centuries with colonial homes of early citizens, opulent Victorian homes of late-19th Century elite, and Italianate row houses of factory workers. It boasts many historic churches, Greek Revival civic buildings (including a Carnegie Library), Art Deco theaters and commercial buildings, as well as red brick and steel industrial complexes. Unfortunately, the historic fabric is slowly being compromised through unsympathetic renovations, neglect, and demolition. Just in the past year, two prominent buildings were demolished. Lack of protection has also resulted in the loss of architectural features. The City can control the loss of its historic resources through adoption of a Historic Preservation Master Plan Element and preservation ordinance, and establishment of a Historic Commission. Progressive policies relative to historic preservation have been proven to advance economic development efforts. In furtherance of its own revitalization goals, the City should be proactive in protecting its historic resources before too much of the community fabric is lost.
James Street Commons Historic District, Newark, Essex CountyThe James Street Commons Historic District is a 24-block area containing some 64 acres of land and possesses the largest and finest examples of brownstone and brick structures clustered together anywhere in the city. Unfortunately, about 190 buildings out of 425 total in the district have been demolished since 1975. That is about 45% of all buildings included in the original National Register nomination. With so many structures lost, the original brownstones that remain become particularly valuable because of how they contribute to and commemorate the visually rich streetscapes of 19th century America. Residents of the historic district have spoken in opposition to demolition of sites at several community meetings and recently at two meetings before the Historic Sites Council. Preservation New Jersey charges institutions and developers to think more deeply about ways their new projects can respect and respond to the Newark history embedded in the James Street Commons Historic District and respect the boundaries and corresponding scale and stylistic guidelines of the James Street Commons Historic District to prevent further out-of-context development and demolition.
Greater is He Ministries (former St. Monica’s Episcopal Church), Trenton, Mercer CountySt. Monica’s Episcopal Church lies in the very center of the Spring Street neighborhood of Trenton. Spring Street was the center of Trenton’s middle class African-American community during the mid-twentieth century. St. Monica’s was included as one of 34 African American sites identified in the 2011 publication by Richard Grubb & Associates for the Trenton Historical Society, Three Centuries of African-American History in Trenton: A Preliminary Inventory of Historic Sites. St. Monica’s Mission for Colored People was established in 1919 as a mission congregation of the Trinity, Cathedral. In 1935, a three-story dwelling located on the church property was removed and the existing one-story church constructed. St. Monica’s was the first Black Episcopal congregation in Trenton. When Bishop Banyard closed the church in the late 1950s, the congregation dispersed. About 60% of the congregation joined St. Michael’s Church in Trenton. About 40% joined St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Ewing. The site today is operated by Greater is He Ministries. The primary threat to the site is the expenses associated with critical upkeep. Greater is He Ministries leadership would like to upgrade work that was done piecemeal by previous tenants to protect the structure. Preservation New Jersey believes it is critical to identify and save more resources like this one with a direct history to communities of color in Trenton. Preservation New Jersey encourages the City of Trenton to prioritize taking the next steps identified in the 2011 Inventory and prepare a nomination for the Spring Street District to the National Register of Historic Places. This site spotlights how the 2018 New Jersey Supreme Court decision to prevent New Jersey Historic Trust grants to religious structures could hamper future fundraising efforts for this important structure.
The Robert Marshall House, Gloucester Township, Camden CountyThe Robert Marshall House is a two-story wood-framed structure in Gloucester Township. The original farmhouse section dates to c. 1720, and a significant addition was constructed c.1810. The Marshall House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 for its local significance as a work of vernacular architecture, containing distinctive examples of Federal period interior features. The home is currently facing the double threats of development pressure and demolition by neglect. While the Town Council has been considering designating the Marshall property as a Redevelopment Zone, the Planning Board voted last fall to recommend to the Council to preserve the home and consider a recent land trust offer to acquire the property for conservation. The Township Historic and Scenic Preservation Committee has proposed the property serve as a recreational resource and the building be used for educational purposes. Preservation New Jersey agrees that the property offers a unique opportunity as a destination along an extensive trail system that connects Gloucester and Camden Counties.
Shafer Grist Mill, Stillwater, Sussex CountyFor centuries rural grist mills dotted the waterways of northwestern New Jersey with industry and agriculture working together and creating the communities surrounding them. The Shafer Grist Mill in Stillwater is a 19th century intact example of one of these mills. The 3 1⁄2-story, side-gabled building was built in 1844 by Rev. Casper Schaeffer. In 2009 the mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant example of early sustainable technology and masterful craftsmanship. Sadly, the Mill has sat idle since the 1980’s but has not lost its importance to the community. Local residents raised approx. $23,000 in the mid 1990’s towards stabilization of the structure. Since being purchased by Green Acres and becoming part of NJDEP Swartswood State Park in 2010 the structure receives little care or maintenance due to minimal funding. Preservation New Jersey encourages the state of New Jersey to work with local supporters of the mill to save this important industrial resource.
The Shahn House & Studio, Roosevelt, Monmouth CountyThe Shahn House was constructed in 1936 as part of Jersey Homesteads (later renamed Roosevelt), a New Deal project established in response to the Great Depression as an agricultural-industrial cooperative community for Jewish garment workers and farmers. Architect Alfred Kastner was commissioned for the project, and he hired a young Louis Kahn as assistant architect. Combining modernist design with suburban American ideals, they used prefabricated construction techniques and clusters of housing with common space in the middle of each block. Ben and Bernarda Bryson Shahn, both successful artists, moved to Jersey Homesteads in 1938 after Ben painted a mural in the town’s public school (included on PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered list in 2020). George Nakashima, a leading woodworker, architect, and furniture designer of the mid-20th century, and a close personal friend of the Shahns, designed additions and modifications to the house in the 1960s. The Shahns continued to live in the house throughout the rest of their lives. In 2010, the family decided to sell the home and placed a preservation easement on the property through the New Jersey Historic Trust to protect its significant architectural heritage. The new owners had an interest in Kahn and Nakashima’s work and expressed their intent to restore the home. However, due to a work relocation, they were never able to fully occupy the home, and it has suffered from a lack of attention and regular maintenance over the years. The current owners have made some interior repairs and installed a new roof in 2019-2020, but more repairs are needed. Unless the property receives the full attention it needs and deserves, it will continue to deteriorate. Preservation New Jersey encourages the Trust to maintain the intent of its easement and work to ensure the preservation of this important resource.
Tomlinson House, Stratford, Camden CountyThe Tomlinson House (the “Mansion”) is a three-story, brick Greek Revival mansion built by Ephraim and Sarah Tomlinson in 1844. The Mansion is a brilliant example of Greek Revival architecture. Greek Revival gems, such as the Mansion, are rare in South Jersey, given that the area was sparsely populated during this architectural style’s heyday. The Borough of Stratford’s crest features three images: The White Horse Tavern, the Whitman Oak, and the Mansion. Of the three icons featured on the crest, only the Mansion is still in existence. The Mansion is the oldest surviving building in the Borough of Stratford. In August of 2020, the site upon which the Mansion sits was sold to a private developer who plans to develop the site into an assisted living facility for senior citizens. Local preservationists, including the Stratford County and Camden County Historical Societies have lobbied to preserve the Mansion. It is imperative that the site be developed without demolishing or otherwise compromising the integrity of the Mansion.
COVID-19’s Impact to Historic ResourcesThe COVID-19 pandemic has been international in its scope and debilitating in its societal impact. For preservation and history non-profits it has meant a severe reduction in programming and associated revenue. For historic resources used for commercial purposes like restaurants, performance venues, and more, the impact has been great as well. Though programming may be on hold or have transitioned to virtual, maintenance expenses, utilities, rent, and mortgage payments continue. They will need us to visit their sites, support their fundraisers, shop in their stores, dine in their gracious-hearted rooms, and stay in their welcoming inns. The architecture will last through this pandemic. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the proprietors of these storied places last and thrive as well.
Founded in 1978, Preservation New Jersey is a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes the economic vitality, sustainability, and heritage of New Jersey’s diverse communities through advocacy and education. Preservation New Jersey produces this annual list of New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in addition to other advocacy programs; provides educational workshops; publishes an interactive website; serves as a resource for technical assistance and general advice for the public; and addresses legislation and public policies that impact New Jersey’s historic places and communities. Visit Preservation New Jersey’s website at https://www.preservationnj.org/
Kenneth Miles is a veteran journalist and a founding partner of 3rd Space, a boutique coworking space in Newark, New Jersey. Miles’ work has appeared in the New York Times Syndicate, Interview, Black Enterprise, Industry, Paper, The Source, and WBGO.org. Miles has managed award-winning film director Jerry Lamothe and has handled public relations for actress and producer Tami Roman. Miles holds a BA in Broadcast Journalism from Bloomfield College and mentors students from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Newark. Miles is currently working on his memoir.