Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Columbian School/George Washington Carver Academy

The city of East Orange is no stranger to fine architecture when it comes to public school buildings. These handsome brick structures are peppered throughout the streets, with many dating back to the 1800's. One noteworthy example of this standard of architectural elegance and excellence was the Columbian School in the Ampere neighborhood.


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The three story, eight room brick building was constructed on the corner of Grove street and Springdale avenue in 1892. The land it was built on was originally grazing land for the cows of nearby dairy farms.


The relatively large building originally accommodated grades k-3. As the city around the school grew, so did the need for more space. In 1912, several new sections were added to the building. One of the new additions was a beautiful large auditorium.


The auditorium had large windows separated by tall pilasters. The stage was flanked by smooth, corinthian capped columns. Another highlight of the room was the mezzanine level that included a projection room.


Surrounding the ceiling was an ostentatious stacked plaster crown molding. The hand carved display featured a floral rim perched atop a large cove. Below that existed a denticulated egg-and-dart detail. In addition, several more rows of hand carved ornamentation were banded around the bottom rim.


The field of the ceiling also had a plaster grid that extended all the way to the crown. The new auditorium was a monument to the skill of the Italian masons who constructed it.


Another interesting feature of the school was the library. The large room was the highest point on the building. The hallway leading to the room was lit by skylights. Stained glass transom windows were installed over the doorways, and were still intact over a hundred hears later.



Eventually the population of the city began to dwindle. The school was closed, and was reborn as the George Washington Carver Academy.  They made a number of improvements to the building, including replacing all of the windows with new aluminum models. The GWC academy continued to use the building until 2006, when a pervasive mold problem forced them to vacate the historic school.







The structure sat vacant for a decade before I caught word that it was supposed to be demolished. Plans called for a brand new school to be built on the site. Usually when an old school building is torn down with the intent of being rebuilt, I quell my preservationist reservations and tell myself "at least the students will have a brand new, state of the art school building". However, something about this decision bugged me. While there are still tons of historic schools in use around the city, there are also an abundance of vacant lots. The city is also designated a "transit community"; a distinction that allows incentives for development through tax breaks. This, paired with historic tax credits that the structure was certainly eligible for, could have offset the cost of reusing the building significantly. Alas, my feelings were dashed as demolition began in late 2016. A few months later, the site was but a pile of brick and twisted steel.


This sad but all too common story is one that will certainly be repeated. Major cities all across the state are choosing to replace their historic schools, rather than sell or reuse them. A few notable cases being Trenton Central High School and the former Newark Technical School. As these stories continue to unfold, I will do my best to continue to tell them.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Woodland Cemetery

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This beautiful cemetery was founded 1855 as the "West Newark Cemetery". It was designed in a Garden style, which at the time was fairly uncommon in the region.


The population of west Newark at the time was mostly German. The cemetery is only a few blocks from the site of the St. Peter's Church, which was built shortly after the cemetery and catered specifically to the Roman Catholic Germans. Encompassing thirty six and a half acres, the burial ground was a major landmark in the community. Between 1873 and 1881 a beautiful brownstone gatehouse was built at the corner of Rose & Brenner streets, where the main entrance to the property sat.


As the decades passed the grounds saw over 80,000 burials. There were people off all classes, creeds, and race buried here, as well as veterans and famous former Newark residents. The cemetery managed to survive beyond the infamous Newark riots, but not for terribly long. Burial activity eventually began to slow down in the late 1980's.


By the 2000's, the cemetery had been largely neglected. A small patch of the property along S. 10th street  was maintained to attract potential future burials. The portions of the property tucked into the neighborhoods remained overgrown and abandoned. The iron fencing was stolen, headstones were toppled over, and the mausoleums were burglarized. With no income being generated, the cemetery could do little but continue to waste away.
 
 
 
 
In the mid 2010's an activist group became vocal in their charge to clean up the cemetery. The group clocked countless volunteer hours cleaning up the property, giving tours, and have spoken out about how integral the property is for the city. The group feels that using the remaining free land as burial space will doom the already damaged property. They argue that building a crematorium is the best option for a sustainable future. One of their main goals is to raise enough money to restore as many of the historical features as they can.

 


Hopefully the cemetery will get the crematorium and won't be lost to time like so many other former vestiges of Newark's past.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fibermark Paper Mill

The history of what was most recently known as the Fibermark Paper Mill starts in the early 1900's. It was built by the Riegal Paper Company. Riegal already owned two other paper mills in the area, one in Hughsville and the other in Milford. Little is recorded about what the Warren Glen facility specialized in, but the massive building was the largest structure for miles.


In 1976, the Riegel Paper Company was acquired by the James River Paper Company. James River gained control of the three Hunterdon Riegel Mills. Around this time, James River was the largest paper corporation in the world. James River continued operations at Warren Glen until 1991, They then leased the facility to Custom Papers, a subsidiary of the Specialty Coatings group. This is when an important part of the story occurs. The James River Company agreed to construct a landfill across the Muskenetcong River from the Warren Glen mill. This landfill would have a basin to collect the runoff and "leachate" water and send it back across the river to the facility's treatment facility. From there it would be treated and discharged safely back into the river.


Four years later, James River officially sold the mill to Custom Papers. They also sold the landfill to Crown Vantage, who operated the former Riegel mill in Milford. Despite both agreeing to carry on the landfill agreement, Crown Vantage stopped accepting waste at the landfill a few short years after purchasing the property.


Over the next few years, the company would see significant restructuring. In 1996,  they were bought out by Specialty Paperboard. A year later, they changed their name to Fibermark. Things changed once again in September of 1999 when it was announced that Fibermark was planning to close the Hughsville mill. Things weren't all bad though, as they announced that they were planning to add a new fifteen million dollar specialty paper production machine at the Warren Glen facility.


By 2001, Crown Vantage had filed for bankruptcy. Part of their bankruptcy included plans to abandon the landfill. In exchange, the company agreed to pay the NJDEP a measly $1 million to investigate and clean up the property. The DEP withdrew their objection to the bankruptcy. The agreement that the Fibermark company had with the landfill was ignored in the proceedings, leaving Fibermark responsible for the runoff from the landfill. It is reported that the money paid by Crown Vantage went to pay for the cleanup of another nearby landfill, and the Warren Glen landfill was largely ignored save for periodic landscaping.


Despite promises that the new paper machine would enable the Warren Glen mill to operate competitively with the Chinese paper market, the facility was still losing money. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in Vermont in 2004. The company also filed a motion that they be absolved from the agreement to maintain the runoff of the landfill. The motion was passed, and the DEP didn't react.


Two years later, Fibermark formally announced the planned closure of the Warren Glen mill. The DEP was reminded of their obligation to manage the landfill and began investigating what to with the property. The Hughsville Mill was subsequently sold to International Process Plants and Equipment. They tried to sell the Warren Glen property as well, but the runoff from the landfill proved to be an impassible issue. In June, Fibermark issued a letter to the DEP explaining that the plant was closing and that they needed to stop the runoff. The DEP reportedly ignored this letter, as well as subsequent attempts of Fibermark to reach out. It wasn't until August, after the firm finished their assessment of the landfill, that they responded to Fibermark, all but dismissing their demand. They explained that since they didn't have an alternative treatment option, it was Fibermarks problem. Fibermark responded that they had already been released from the agreement legally, and that they had no obligation to treat the runoff. After months of fighting it out, the DEP told Fibermark that they planned to dig a trench to divert the runoff back to the landfill until a permanent solution was found. Work was expected to be completed by January 12, 2007. Four days earlier, IPPE agreed to buy the Warren Glen mill. However, this deal was contingent on the DEP following through with their plan to finally stop the runoff onto the Fibermark property. The next day the DEP informed Fibermark that the plan didn't work out and that they needed to go back to the drawing board.


Due to the DEP's carelessness, the deal once again fell through. Fibermark immediately went to the courts and filed a tenporary restraining order that would bar the DEP from further contaminating the property. The order was granted by a judge, but it was acknowledged that it could not be an immediate thing and that the DEP simply needed to hurry up and figure out a solution. A month later, on April 12th, the DEP removed the pipe that had been discharging the contaminated water into the Fibermark property. Shortly after that, IPPE once again signed an agreement to purchase the plant. This time the company offered significantly less for the property, with some of the money being contingent on the sale of the equipment inside. The buildings and land itself sold for only $400,000. Fibermark was desperate to offload the property though, so they accepted what was offered and were finally done with the Warren Glen Mill.


This brings us to 2008, when Fibermark sued the NJDEP claiming the contamination was responsible for the company's failure to find a buyer for the property. They wanted the DEP to cover some of the financial damages they were directly responsible for. Fibermark claimed that they had to operate their wastewater treatment plant for years after the factory closed, at an estimated cost of nearly $70,000 a month. The company had a witness to back up the validity of their agreement with the former Crown Vantage company. In addition, they had testimony from those at the DEP that were were in charge of maintaining the site, as well as those that strong armed them into continuing to accept the contamination. Though most of the evidence and testimony backed up Fibermark, they lost their case. They were called out by the judge for mishandling their bankruptcy, and not adequately notifying the DEP that they needed to take care of the contamination.


Fibermark was out of options, and that is where their place in the mills history comes to a close. They were the last operators of the mill, which has been sitting vacant for the last ten years. It was the last of the three Hunterdon Riegal mills, and just like the others it sits as a testament to the forgotten industrial legacy











Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center

The history of the Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center in Farmingdale, NJ goes back to the early 1900's. Mr. Brisbane was a well respected newspaper editor and journalist. Born in Buffalo, New York, he spent his entire career digging up stories and telling them through various well known outlets. In 1907, he purchased the deserted land that was once the Howell Ironworks to build his new dream home.

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 He also built a tuberculosis hospital for children known as the "Howell Preventorium" In the 1920's, after construction on his home was finished, Mr. Brisbane began restoring the old ironworks which dated back to the 1800's. Upon his passing in 1936 the land was again disused, but in 1944 it was donated to the state of New Jersey and it became Allaire State Park


Though it was originally meant to house U.S. military veterans, the Brisbane mansion would instead undergo renovations to become a psychiatric hospital. In 1946, the children's unit of nearby Marlboro State Hospital moved to the facility which operated as a satellite campus. However. Just one year later, the Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center became it's own separate entity. The new hospital was the first in the state specializing in the treatment of children with psychiatric issues.


The hospital origianlly operated mainly out of the mansion, but a large new school building was built in 1972. Not much else had been reported of the hospitals early history, but by the 1980's the state of adolescent psychiatric care in New Jersey was the subject of severe turmoil. In 1986, the Slocum V. Perselay litigation was filed, alleging the death of a minor at the Trenton facility stemmed from a culture of over-drugging and physical abuse rampant at developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals across the state. These patients, mostly children under the age of 18, were warehoused inside understaffed and overcrowded buildings. They were rarely allowed adequate time to recreate in fresh air, which only served to agitate the underlying conditions which brought them to treatment centers in the first place. The "State Plan for the Establishment of Regional Psychiatric Programs for Seriously Mentally Ill Children and Adolescents" designated the Brisbane Center as overflow for other nearby children's psych hospitals in 1987. The Brisbane Center now treated children ages 11 to 17 with "acute" psychiatric disorders. By 1988, the adolescent Unit at Trenton State Hospital closes, due to Slocum V. Perselay litigation.


In 1989, the Brisbane Center underwent a mandated evaluation. The results were depressing. Staff were observed intimidating patients on several occasions. Several children suffered injuries due to improperly implemented and outdated restraint devices and methods. The admissions ward, meant to hold 40 children, held roughly 80 in outdated conditions. There was no infirmary on the campus, only dormitories and a school. Patients were not separated based on the severity of their disorders, which led to a grim environment for those with mild disabilities. The separation of patients was not just a recommendation. It was a court order that was being blatantly ignored. Because of this, several violent altercations between patients were recorded. The overall consensus was that Brisbane should be closed like the unit in Trenton.


The formal recommendation to close the Brisbane Center came in 1990 by Dr. Robert M. Friedman. In addition to the list of complaints observed during the prior years evaluation, he described the hospital as not having an adequate layout for either a hospital or a group home type setting. He noted the state children's hospital system as being "over centralized and fragmented". He also pointed out that the conditions required to be met for admission were much more expensive to treat in home like settings, so the only option was to dump them in the terribly overcrowded hospitals. This contributed to many of the problems the hospitals were facing. The state admitted the issues with the facility and began their own management team for Brisbane..


A follow up investigation of the Brisbane Center in 1991 showed several areas of improvement. It seemed that the cries of advocates had not fallen on deaf ears. However, there were still several persistent problems as well. Brisbane was still responsible for both short term and long term care, on a campus that could barely support either properly. The hospital was still operating without a specific goal or mission. This contributed significantly to the mismanagement of the hospital.


The hospital was once again under fire in 1997, when an exit sign broke and leaked radioactive Tritium into a portion of the main building. The staff did not dispose of the sign properly, but rather threw it away with the regular medical waste, This was done intentionally despite frequent warnings from several veteran staff members. The director claimed that they were over budget on contamination cleanup and couldn't afford the proper disposal.


The rampant abuse projected on the patients at the hospital came to a head in the first few days of 1998, when a patient named Kelly Young was killed after being physically restrained by a staff member of the hospital. After making a phone call to a family member, Kelly became visibly upset. Nobody knows what was said on that phone call, but we do know this was the last time the family ever spoke to Kelly. After being denied another call, Kelly was even more upset. The head nurse left the room to get Kelly some medicine for menstrual cramps, and one of the two social workers had left to get dinner. This meant the only person available to try and calm Kelly down was a male social worker that was much larger than the young girl. He ordered Kelly to sit down, but in her emotional frenzy she was hesitant to do so. Instead of following the proper protocol, which involved calling for help and administering several methods of non violent intervention, Youth Worker Nelson Williams grabbed Kelly and immediately attempted to put her in the controversial "Basket Hold". He forced her to the ground, then dragged her back to the chair where she was sitting. Due to his sloppy execution of the hold, Kelly wasn't calming down, but rather struggling for her life. The second social worker returned, and he immediately called for backup. Before they could get there, however, Youth Worker Stoll grabbed the young girls legs while Nelson Williams restrained her. By the time backup arrived, Kelly had already lost so much oxygen during the struggle she began to turn blue. She was put on life support at a nearby hospital but was taken off and pronounced dead on January 5th, 1998. The staff was heavily criticized for ignoring proper protocol, but none of them were ever forced to be accountable for the murder. They even went so far as to tell the family that Kelly "choked on an object". The only thing that came of the incident was that Nelson Williams was fired several months later.


The "Basket Hold" was the go-to technique for forcing patients into compliance at Brisbane. The technique was supposed to be reserved for instances where the patient was an immediate harm to themselves or others around them. It was a last resort method for when all other measures failed. However, just a few years earlier, the facility was instructed to stop using mechanical restraints on the patients. Since the ban on mechanical restraints took away the staffs easiest option for control, the next easiest was forced submission through the basket hold. The State Department of Youth and Family Services received an influx of abuse reports from the facility in the late 1990's. Almost every instance was the result of the psychical restraint procedure applied by the staff. Even more chilling, it was observed on several occasions that the outbursts that landed the children in the basket hold were actually provoked by several staff members. They would bully the children, and then punish them for being upset by it.


Following the murder of Kelly Young, several changes were forced upon the small hospital. A new method of psychical restraint was mandated, called the "Handle & Care" hold. Staff was no longer, for any reason, allowed to use the basket hold. The staff was also no longer allowed to be verbally aggressive toward the patients. Finally, the hospital promised to hire over a dozen new workers, both orderlies and psychiatrists. However, the reports of abuse never completely went away. A few months after the Young incident a patient had their arm broken while being transported in the "Handle & Care" hold.


It wouldn't be long before the extensive deinstitutionalization movement occurring across the country would hit home for the troubled facility. The decision to close the Brisbane Center came about in the summer of 2004. It was acknowledged that although the center filled a critical need for the state, the staff refused to adapt the new mandates designed to keep patients safe and that the closure was in their best interests.


The Brisbane Center officially closed in 2005. The fourty patients that the center was still serving went to developmental centers and private home environments in some cases. The complex sat empty, but used as storage for a number of years. However, in late 2015, a news article ran about important files being left in an unsecured building on the property. This was a common practice in many vacant hospital buildings on the east coast. The abandoned Sanatorium in Passaic County had an entire forensic lab left behind, which included physical evidence and photos of hundreds of crimes. This was eventually all just tossed in a dumpster when the building was demolished. The Overbrook and Greystone hospitals also had record vaults with documents dating back to the 1800's.


While Mr. Brisbane would probably feel great dismay towards the tragedy that enfolded on the property that was once his dream home, I can't help but feel that he wouldn't want these stories forgotten as they have been. He would want everybody to know about it. We can look back on the history of the Brisbane Center and use it to improve conditions at our current psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers so these types of incidents never repeat themselves.



The Flatbrook Hotel/Delware View House

In 1837, when the town of Flatbrookville was still a vibrant mining community,  a small Greek revival home built overlooking the Delaware River was constructed.
It remained a humble farmhouse until 1892, when large addition was built onto the front of the house. The purpose of the addition was to allow the building to accommodate guests as the "Flatbrook Hotel".


The Flatbrook Hotel operated for a number of years before being renamed the Delaware View House in the 1900's. In 1926 it closed and was reopened as "Salamovka", a Russian resort.


After a terrible flood in 1955, the US army Corp of Engineers proposed the construction of a new dam at Tocks Island. Tocks was a small, unoccupied landmass a short way up the river. After the project was approved, hundreds of historic structures in the Delaware Water Gap were vacated. However, the project never came to fruition. It was stalled after a few hundred buildings had already been demolished. The land, peppered with a handful of remaining historic buildings, was given to the state.


The Delaware View House sat vacant until 1990, when the building was leased out as general store. The goal was to begin to breathe new life into the blighted buildings that still stood in the national park. The new owner signed a 40 year lease, ensuring the building would not continue to deteriorate.


That all came to an end in 2009, when a seven year old girl was electrocuted after activating bear repellant device at the house. The operator of the store was arrested, and the building was once again vacated.


In 2015, after significant vandalism had played most of the historic buildings in the water gap, the NPS launched an initiative to dispel trespassing at the old buildings. Many people were contacted and told to remove their photos from various websites. The rangers that patrol the park began issuing tickets to anybody caught trespassing. While visitors are allowed to roam the park and learn about the history, the buildings are closed to the public. It is illegal to enter any of the condemned structures. Don't say I didn't warn ya....