FLEMINGTON, NJ - Hunterdon County and the New Jersey Historic Trust are again partnering to provide funding for upkeep and restoration of one of the best known New Jersey historic sites: downtown Flemington’s Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse and Jail at 71 Main Street, site of the infamous 1935 kidnapping and murder trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, accused and ultimately convicted of killing the 20-month-old son of famed American aviator Col. Charles Lindbergh.
On Feb. 18, Hunterdon County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders approved a matching grant of $747,000 for restoration and rehabilitation work on the historic courthouse, including safety, interior and exterior upgrades. Rehabilitation work for the historic courthouse must meet the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.
The iconic building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hunterdon County architect Frank Bell, a LEED accredited professional, said the courthouse project Phase I includes the building’s exterior, from roof work and stucco to windows and painting, handrails and stairs. Protection from weather, especially rain and water infiltration, and enhancing the building’s energy efficiency, are priorities that will be addressed through dedicated grant and county funds.
“For the courthouse’s interior, we will be looking at the lighting systems, some HVAC work and the security system,” he said. “The county cultural and heritage commission is housed in the courthouse, and various work relating to presentation and function as an exhibit space and gallery space will be done. Security is very important for those sections of the courthouse, as there are items that would be on display that we want to secure properly.”
The last restoration work on the historic county courthouse took place between 2000 and 2004. Within the current scope of roof work, gutters atop the courthouse need to be addressed.
Bell explained that the work planned for the structure is not stabilization, as the building, despite many of its components being 192 years old, “is structurally in very good shape.”
The historic courthouse was finished in 1828, and is a rebuild of the original county courthouse that stood on the site (constructed in 1791), which burned down in February 1828.
Although a timeline and contractor agreements have yet to be formalized, Bell said the entire courthouse project could be completed in about six to nine months. County freeholders initially approved hiring Trenton-based planning, architecture, landscape and interior design firm Clarke Caton Hintz for Phase I.
“We have to work with the architects to develop a schedule for the contractor,” Bell said. “We’d begin doing this upon preparation of construction documents. The county is now going to receive the second phase proposal from Clarke Caton Hintz to present to the freeholder board.”
Carrie Fellows, executive director of the Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission, commented on the grant funding at the Commission’s meeting Feb. 26. The commission discussed ways of increasing visitors to the historic courthouse as its restoration initiatives enhance visitor readiness, including ADA accessibility and allocations for spaces the public can tour.
“The contract for the trust grant is complete after freeholders’ authorization Feb. 18,” she said. “The trust is funding $747,000 for Phase I of restoration and upgrades to the courthouse, exterior and interior, and the warden’s building. We are proposing matching the grant through funds in the Hunterdon County Historic Trust Fund, as there is a separate line item within that fund just covering county-owned properties.”
“Both the old county jail, which operated until 1985, within the courthouse complex, and the warden’s house will be part of the project’s Phase II, which will hopefully be beginning in 2021,” she added. “Neither of those two buildings have ever had any serious restoration work done, except minor roofing and roof membrane repairs.”
The warden’s house, Fellows said, is the current county board of taxation office at 71 E Main Street, in Flemington. The current board of elections operation is located within the old county jail, but its board of elections conference room is in the warden’s house.
The rest of the former jail is used primarily for storage, but there are lower-level cells made available for public tours.
“This is a really interesting building, but it needs repointing on mortar joints if you walk around the outside,” Fellows said. “A lot of the steel bars in the jail and some of its ground-level stone has deteriorated due to winter salting and weather. The original intent of restoration is to allow for more public history and interpretative experiences." on’s Historic Courthouse may aim at experiencing criminal justice history up close.
Dorothy P. Guzzo, executive director of the New Jersey Historic Trust, said they are thrilled to support this restoration project.
“The courthouse is an important building, not just for its architectural importance within Flemington’s downtown, but for its historical significance in the state,” she said. “The proposed project is well thought out and will ensure that the site is preserved and sustainable for the future.”
The New Jersey Historic Trust - an affiliate of the State Department of Community Affairs - has held several official meetings inside the courthouse. It met in Flemington on Sept. 18, 2019, when it approved $11,902,723 in grant recommendations from the Preserve New Jersey Historic Preservation Fund for 67 preservation planning, heritage tourism and capital projects to save and promote historic sites throughout the state.
“The historic trust has a longer history with this site in that we provided funding for an earlier phase of restoration (early 2000s),” Guzzo said. “Local and county governments often find it difficult to prioritize history over their many important responsibilities, so it is even more notable that Hunterdon County is undertaking this project at this time.”
Freeholder John Lanza, liaison for the cultural and heritage commission, reflected on how state-level legislative action, with approval of bills funding historic, open space and farmland preservation initiatives, are beneficial to the cause.
“Hunterdon County’s state senators Kip Bateman and Mike Doherty, knowing the importance of this funding to Hunterdon County’s land preservation efforts, joined in sponsorship of the legislation,” Lanza said. “We thank them for their leadership on this issue. State legislative actions this year paved the way for Hunterdon County to gain the historic preservation grant, as well as funds from the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) and the Green Acres program.”
Lanza also said that any time Hunterdon County can access land preservation funds from additional sources, “it allows the county’s open space fund dollars to be spread that much further.”
“The County has been at the forefront of qualifying for and obtaining these types of funds from the SADC and Green Acres over the years, and we will be looking to tap into those funds going forward to continue to preserve Hunterdon County’s rural character and scenic beauty,” he said. “The Historic County Courthouse, located prominently and dominating Flemington’s Main Street, anchors the downtown business and historic district and is integral to the identity of Hunterdon County."