April 7, 2014 at 6:00 AM
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- The Old Stone House, the oldest standing house in New Jersey, may lose that distinction.
The village is preparing an application that would allow it to demolish the historic building, according to Trustee Steve Schnall. Deputy Village Administrator Adam Loehner, who is putting together the documentation, said it is a lengthy process.
John Overall, one of the founders and members of South Orange Historical and Preservation Society, he said he was not aware of any plans to demolish the Old Stone House.
“Because the town owns the property, it cannot proceed without first having the property taken off the (historic) registers," he said. "This is a somewhat lengthy process, and the town would need to show something substantial other than just that it’s in 'bad shape.'”
The village put the Old Stone House up for sale last year but received no bids for the property, even after extending the deadline by three months.
In addition to the state's permission, Overall said, South Orange would need approval from the village's Historic Preservation Commission, which has to rule on all proposed demolitions first. Loehner said members of the commission are aware of the village's intentions to tear down the structure.
Overall said there is also the issue of the approximately $200,000 grant in stabilization funds from the New Jersey Historic Trust. The money was spent on work on the roof and other parts of the house. If the Village were to go forward with the plans to demolish the Old Stone House this money would have to be repaid to the NJHT, he said.
“Demolition of this house would very likely create a bad precedent if we were to apply for the Trust’s very limited funding in the future for some other project.” Overall said.
However, village officials have said it is too costly to make the necessary repairs. In addition to the problems with the roof of the house, built in 1680, there is water damage to the structure. There also are problems with access. The house is located behind the South Orange Police Station and is landlocked. There is no direct access to South Orange Avenue or to Grove Road.
During a Board of Trustees meeting in May 2013, Trustee Mark Rosner said, “The village does not have the money, and I don't sense most residents want to save this at the expense of other projects.”
The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.