FLEMINGTON, NJ - Although it may not be readily apparent from the outside, contractors are hard at work restoring the landmark Large house, which the non-profit arm of the county Chamber of Commerce bought last year.
The Chamber plans to use the front part of the Main Street mansion for its headquarters and training programs. The group has established the Unity Bank Center for Business & Entrepreneurship, and its founders want it to become a place of training and support for the entire business community of Hunterdon. That will be housed in the back of the building.
It will also be the headquarters of Flemington Community Partnership, the management group that runs the borough’s business improvement district.
Mahlon Fisher built the house in 1847 for John Reading. It was chosen for inclusion in the Historic American Building Survey in 1937. According to documents on file with the Library of Congress, the two-story rear wing was added around 1900. In 1854, a masonry vault was built in the basement, and it served as the first office of what was then the Hunterdon bank.
The building is named for George Large, who bought the house in 1900. Large was named a special prosecutor in the trail of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in the kidnapping and death of the 20-month-year-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Large later served as president of the state Senate and also served as acting governor.
There was a lot of work to do on the building before renovations could even begin. For example, Chamber president Chris Phelan said workers removed about five tons of paper from the structure that had belonged to Hunterdon County National Bank. Care has been taken so that nothing of historical value was discarded.
The work will be completed in two phases, Phelan said. Interior work will allow the Chamber to move in by June, Phelan hopes. Exterior renovations will comprise the second phase, which Phelan hopes will be finished by the spring of 2018. Once complete, the building will be ADA compliant; that will require the installation of an elevator as well as other modifications to the building.
The exterior work will be complicated, in part because the building actually has five different roof lines. The building has extensive rooftop ornamentation, and students from Hunterdon Polytech are expected to help with the exterior work.
Phelan said the cost of the renovations is expected to be about $1.5 million. A public fundraising campaign will be held to help recoup that cost, Phelan said. The group has already raised about $600,000 for that work.
George Eckelman of Eckelman Brothers Construction has been amazed by some of the details he found while working on the project. Much of the wood is in much better condition than many might expect.
“It’s old growth lumber,” Eckelman said. “It’s better than anything we can get now.” That’s why he’s using the existing material whenever possible. When that can’t be done, wood is fabricated to match the original parts.
Improvements have already been made to the building’s sewer connections, which terminate in the original clay sewer pipe. Phelan said it’s likely the clay section may have to be replaced, an undertaking that may require some delicate work if the large tree in front of the house is to be protected.