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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Restoration in New Jersey

Another great article was shared in the RevWar Yahoo group I am a part of. It is an editorial from regarding the restoration of an historical area that was affected by floods in early 2007. Here is a link directly to the article, and below I have put the text. I found it to be very interesting, and I always love to see another historical site saved!

Troubled bridge over water
Saturday, June 28, 2008

CALAMITOUS it was, but the April 2007 nor'easter that wreaked havoc on one of North Jersey's most historic sites may have provided the spark that will transform Historic New Bridge Landing into a long-envisioned educational and tourist destination.

The storm brought floodwaters 28 inches deep from the swollen Hackensack River into the site of the former Colonial mill hamlet off Main Street in River Edge, north of The Shops at Riverside. Particularly hard hit was the Steuben House, an early-18th-century Dutch Colonial brownstone that held about 600 historic documents and artifacts attesting to the area's pivotal role in forging this nation.

That story is simple but compelling: After the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the British invaded New York and drove Gen. George Washington and his bedraggled Continental Army north to Harlem and White Plains and ultimately west across the Hudson River to Fort Lee. With British troops in hot pursuit up the Palisades, Washington continued his retreat through what is now Englewood to the narrows of the Hackensack, where today the borders of Teaneck, New Milford and River Edge meet. They crossed a simple wooden bridge, then burned it, stalling the British chase.

By December, Washington had crossed New Jersey into Pennsylvania, only to famously cross the Delaware and retake British-occupied Trenton, providing Americans their first victory of the Revolutionary War and proving that the scruffy Colonials could outwit the greatest army in the world.

Memorializing that critical juncture is a relatively obscure state park containing a bucolic riverside village of historic cottages and an unusual iron truss swing bridge built in 1888. It's fronted by a jughandle and a barren lot contaminated by lead and petroleum from a former auto parts junkyard. But that would change if new efforts prompted by last year's devastation – to preserve, restore and interpret the site - succeed.

Already, the state Department of Environmental Protection is committed to removing 20,000 cubic yards of tainted soil, which could lead to construction of an appropriate gateway to the area from downtown River Edge. In a show of bipartisan cooperation, state Sens. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, have introduced a bill that would boost local control of the site by transferring financial and administrative responsibilities from the state to the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission, composed mostly of local residents.

But perhaps most significant, the commission and the Bergen County Historical Society have joined forces to dramatically transform the area with construction of a new museum, a visitors center and restoration of the Steuben House. Especially appealing are historically sensitive plans to design the museum to resemble the Veldran Mill that once stood in nearby Oradell – raised on stilts to stand above river floods, as Colonial mills often were – and model the visitors center on the original Hackensack courthouse, built in 1819.

With an estimated cost of $1.25 million, the goal of an upcoming fund-raising drive is realistic and attainable. The historical society hopes to involve schoolchildren – who often visit the site on field trips for a firsthand look at American history – in the preservation effort through penny drives and other projects. And certainly local residents and businesses should support this attempt to finally give the site the attention it deserves.

After all, it's the bridge that saved a nation.

Believe me yours faithfully,

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