Wednesday, August 3, 2022

689 River Drive

689 River Drive was a historic old farmhouse in Elmwood Park.

The home was built in 1900, with two additions added making the home 4340 sq. ft. total. The property functioned as a farm, as did the adjascent property. Both homes had large greenhouses and barns behind them.

By 1954 the farms were being surrounded by houses. Homestead Rd was cleared and developed, leaving little space around the greenhouses.

The farm at 689 ceased operations and the greenhouses were demolished in the 1970s.

 In the mid 1980s the home and neighboring farm were sold to be redeveloped into offices. The farm was demolished, but 689 was untouched aside from the demolition of a large barn that used to sit behind the house.

The property was sold in 2009 for $985,000 and sat completely abandoned until 2022 when the trees around the home were removed and the house was demolished.

Friday, June 10, 2022

"The Trees" Home

It's hard to imagine how New Jersey looked in 1775. That is the year the story of "The Trees" begins.

What began as just a humble farmhouse would go on to be one of the most elegant homes in the region when Edward Cone and his family left NYC for the wide open spaces of a town once known as Houghtenville.

Cone began developing the area along with two other prominent former NYC businessmen. They built a golf course complete with its own clubhouse and several modest dwellings, telling all their old NYC associates about their new colony.

The group of men would go on to petition the name of the town be changed to Colonia, and in 1897 that request was granted. Local legend has it the idea to rename the boro Colonia was made in this very house. 

By 2014 the home was vacant, and the new owners of the property had applied to subdivide their property, with the intent of demolishing the historic home. Despite explicit opposition from over 1000 concerned citizens, the subdivision was granted.

The home wasn't demolished right away however. The owner, knowing it was a valuable historic property, left it vacant with utilities shut off for nearly a decade. This, often in conjunction with intentionally leaving open doors and windows, allows animals, water, and vandals to get into the structure. 

These intrusions often accelerate the decay of a building, all but ensuring the owner can eventually claim the property is a burden and cannot remain standing. It happens so often preservationists have even coined the term "demolition by neglect" to describe the phenomenon.

Eventually the owners got their way, and Colonia lost a valuable piece of their history. Satellite imagery in 2022 shows the home has been demolished and the land it once stood on is now bare. Another incident of short sighted foolishness from a state that continues to disgrace their historic buildings.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Maple Street School

As Newark's population skyrocketed well into the 1920's, city infrastructure was being overwhemled by the influx of residents. Particularly hurt by this boom was the public school system. The Maple Street School was built in 1925 to deal with overcrowing at the Hawthorne and Peshine Avenue schools.


Guilbert & Betelle designed the new building in a modest Collegiate Gothic style, which had become one of the most common architectural styles for schools of the time. The structure was quite large, to accomidate kindergarden through 8th grade. The three story, L- shaped building took up the entire width of the block, and had a gymnasium and a gorgeous auditorium incorporated into the dead space between the wings.

The art department had painted this gorgeous mural backstage, which was painted over by the time we visited. Source

An addition to the right side brought the total square footage to 60,760. After the addition the school was shaped like a U, with the right side being just a little longer than the left. This floorplan is common of "Platoon Plan" schools, which refers to an idealized school design which allowed arts and literacy education to flourish together. Maple Street School is the last platoon plan school Newark ever constructed.

The school operated humbly over the years, with very few physical alterations to the structure. Eventually the school became overcrowded like many others, but instead of adding onto the building a nearby synagague was purchased and retrofitted into the Maple Street School Annex. In November of 2010 the school was visited by Michelle Obama as part of her "Let's move!" inititaive which aimed to help put an end to childhood obesity. Only five years later the school and annex were shuttered, as a result of declining enrolment. The buildings were turned over to the Newark Housimg authority to aution off the following year. It was snatched up by BN Property Group LLC. The school sat vacant until 2018 when work began to convert the building into apartments. Shortly avterward the project stalled, and plans changed to reopen the building as a school. By 2021 the structure was open as the KIPP Seek Charter school. I'm very grateful the city is fortunate enough to have such a well built school for the neighborhood children. While I haven't been inside to see the renovations myself yet, I'm hoping they did justice to the historical features pictured above. Regardless, it's nice to see a historic Newark school reopen.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Warren Street School


The original building of the Warren Street School was built in 1892, after the old school at Wickliffe and School streets was outgrown. It was one of three schools built that year, the other two being Ann Street and Wavery Avenue. The school was just a small 3 story brick building with a rotunda and copper trim and finials on every peak. The architecture of the school was very unique, as the Queen Anne style has rarely ever been used for educational buildings. Apparently Henry King of the O'Rourke architecture firm is responsible for the building. O'Rourke is known for designing many other local landmarks, including the nearby St. Michaels Hospital.
In 1908 Another large section was constructed along Warren Avenue, designed by city school architects Guilbert & Betelle. The pair designed several structures featured on this blog, including the Morton Street School. This new section was built in a tudor style with castle like turrets and arched entranceways, in keeping with the bizzare styling of the old building. Included in this new section was a large auditorium which included a balcony, as well as pressed tin ceilings throughout the structure.

Just beneath the auditorium was a small gymnasium. The room had a two hoop basketball court, and retained its pressed tin ceiling. The auditorium above was also likely adorned with tin, but it was removed during a renovation at some point on history.

A single two story hallway connected the original building to the new addition. The school operated under the stewardship of the Newark Public School district for over a century before closing in 2006. The structure was quickly occupied again, this time under the name American History High School. However they too vacated the building in 2010. 

For years the building remained used as storage for the school district. The lights remained on, as well as the alarm system. At the time I considered Warren to be the most intact of all the shuttered school buildings in Newark I had visited. 

The first time we visited the school the alarm system wasn't active. By the time we made it back it was, and we inadvertently set it off while trying to better document the structure. Within minutes the NJIT police swarmed the structure, so we were nervous to return.

A small fire swept through the basement in 2019, after starting in a room at the rear of the structure. NJIT acquired the building shortly afterwards. 

Then in 2020 it was announced that the school would be demolished for NJIT to build a new residence hall on the site. Demolition began in April of 2021, and by May the building was gone. 

I'm incredibly upset by the loss of the Warren Street School. The structure was one of the most unique school buildings I've had the pleasure of visiting. It was in decent shape, attractive, and could have easily been retrofitted into something useful for the city. To add insult to injury, the building NJIT plans to construct is architecturally unremarkable, to put it nicely. Surely historians will look back on this project as one of the greatest losses of the time for the city. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Pohatcong School

This small school, also known as the Shimer School, was built in Pohatcong Township in 1939. H. P. Everett and associates designed the school, which was built with funding from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works. 

The program was part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal", which sought to help rebuild the nation after the Great Depression. Franklin Goldsmith and Sons were the general contractors tasked with construction of the building.

In 1999 the building was closed, and sold by the board of education to the township. The town continued to use the building but it was vacant by 2005. The utilities remained on and the structure remained in remarkable shape. Fifteen years later the school was put up for auction by the town.

The school may not be the most impressive educational facility in the state, but it would still be nice to see it used again for something instead of demolished like so many other schools before it. Hopefully the new owners find a good new life for the old structure.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Mercer Hospital

Back in the late 1800s, the need for medical care in the city of Trenton was growing. In 1892 the Fisk family offered up some land on the west side of the city to to the board of directors for the new hospital, dubbed the Mercer Hospital. Much like the Muhlenberg Hospital, The formation of the hospital was largely thanks to a local Women's Auxiliary who petitioned, fundraised, and helped plan the facility. Three years later the hospital was operational, and had its very own nursing school. At the time, medical care was being offered out out of old  Fisk mansion on the property. This was very common. Elizabeth, Jersey CityNewark, and Orange all had hospitals that began in homes.


In 1902 the hospital building was expanded with several departments added throughout the new wings. The hospital received several new additions over the next few decades, largely funded by private donors. A new power plant opened on the property in 1922, and by the 1930's the hospital was a large, tight cluster of buildings. 

The hospital maintained this size for several decades, but in 1958 a large new wing was constructed on the east side of the complex. Several houses on Rutherford Ave. were demolished to accommodate the construction. This was the tallest section that would ever rise at the complex.

In the mid 1970's a massive demolition project took place around the hospital. All the homes on both Rutherford and Bellevue Avenues were demolished the whole way down to Prospect St. the only building spared was a single old home on the corner of Prospect & Bellevue. A small office building was built on the land where the homes once stood, leaving a giant parking lot all around the buildings.

Construction on the campus finally ceased shortly afterwards. The completed building had a total of 650,000 square feet of building space, making it one of the largest hospital buildings in the state. By the turn of the century the building had expanded all it could but was rapidly becoming functionally obsolete. In 2005 plans were announced that operations were going to move to new building in Hamilton.

The community was not pleased to hear this. Hamilton was quite a distance from the neighborhood where Mercer Hospital stood. Residents were concerned that an ambulance dispatched from the new hospital would take far too long to reach them and then get back, whereas now they had medical care at their doorsteps. As always these concerns were largely ignored. By 2011 the hospital was closed its doors. They shuttered everything but their satellite emergency room, which was kept open in order to appease the angry citizens. However two years later the ER had closed as well.

In 2013 the complex was sold to a developer. The complex wasn't completely forgotten however. A security guard was hired to sit inside and scare off trespassers. He had all sorts of noise traps set up, and chains around several interior doors. Even if one managed to get inside, it was a pain to navigate. 

Unfortunately at some point security responsibilities shifted and the man was only inside for a few years. We weren't sure if he was still there the first time I visited the complex. It was clear on my second visit that he was indeed gone. Scrapping and other vandalism had significantly increased, all but ensuring the building will never see life as a hospital again. 

Plans are currently being discussed to return the property back to use for the community. Whether or not that means the entire building will be lost in the process remains to be seen.