BELLMAWR - The National Park Service, a congressman and a citizens petition have joined the effort to save from demolition an historic plantation house with rare architecture and ties to the Battle of Gloucester during the Revolutionary War.
And the state has admitted a consultant's report on the Hugg-Harrison-Glover house was "flawed."
Capt. William Harrison, a former owner of the house, was a militia commander serving under Marquis de Lafayette during the 1777 battle. One of the skirmishes occurred on the captain's Timber Creek plantation, which straddled both sides of the creek.
The state Department of Transportation has slated the house for demolition because one corner is where a noise barrier wall is to be built as part of the Interstate 295/Route 42 Direct Connection project.
First owned by the Hugg family, the house is now the office for New St. Mary's Cemetery. It was owned by the Diocese of Camden until the state took it by eminent domain for the interstate project and in return agreed to build the cemetery a new office in the near future.
But on Friday, the transportation department announced it is in the process of setting up a meeting requested by local officials and the Camden County Historical Society to discuss the fate of the house.
The National Park Service calls the house a “significant surviving historic resource from colonial-era Gloucester County,“ which once encompassed Camden County.
Archaeological historian Garry Stone, a retired archaeological historian for the state Department of Environmental Protection, agrees so strongly about it that he asked the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the house situation in an official email request last week.
“The National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program would like to express its support for the Camden County Historical Society’s efforts to prevent destruction of the Hugg-Harrison-Glover House,” Paul Hawke, chief of the battlefield protection program wrote in a March 21 letter to the Camden County Historical Society. A copy was also sent to the state.
Hawke said the house is notable not only because it was the home and military headquarters of Harrison and part of the battle was fought on his land, but also because it is a “rare, surviving Timber Creek tidewater colonial plantation house and an important example of 18th century patterned brickwork.'
“Because of these historical associations and its architectural merit, the house is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places."
Rep. Donald Norcross, D-NJ, sent a letter last week to the transportation department supporting efforts to save the house. Enclosed in his letter was a petition of support signed by more than 1,000 residents and circulated by the Camden County Historical Society.
“I understand that re-evaluating large scale infrastructure projects at this late stage may not be feasible," he wrote.
"However, I respectfully urge the New Jersey Department of Transportation to review the recent findings of the Camden County Historical Society and duly consider their proposal to relocate and preserve this piece of local history," he added, urging the house’s supporters to "pursue all options at their disposal" to accomplish that goal.
Stone said Lafayette aided Gen. Nathanael Greene in reconnaissance of British positions in the Battle of Gloucester, which was fought in what is now Gloucester City, Mount Ephraim and Haddon Heights. With about 350 soldiers, Lafayette defeated a larger Hessian force on Nov. 25, 1777.
That victory by Lafayette and earlier battlefield action, including a gunshot wound he survived just a few months earlier at the Battle of Brandywine, led the Continental Congress to give the Frenchman ally, until then only an honorary major general, a division command in the Continental Army. That was the recommendation of Gen. George Washington, who wrote the congress president a Dec.1 letter praising Lafayette.
Stone said the house's Revolutionary War connections are more than sufficient reason for it to be listed on the national register.
"We can't believe they are going to demolish it," said county historical society president Chris Perks.
Margaret Westfield, a renowned Haddon Heights architect and architectural historian, said mistakes made in the initial research and conclusions reached by the state in 2002 about the significance of the house need to be rectified now by at least moving the house in order to save it.
"We haven’t given up. We're still fighting and we want DOT to do the right thing," she said. "They're spending nearly a billion dollars on this project and it would take a couple hundred thousand dollars to move it and come up with a solution to move it."
Westfield wrote a letter to the state in 2014 that prompted another review. The review concluded the house may be eligible for historic listing, but the road project was too far along to be changed.
She said it fits all the criteria for historically significant ties and has architectural importance as an example of bond brickwork.
The building has additions and interior modernization that cover its original walls, which date to 1764.
Stephen Schapiro, a transportation department spokesman, insists the state followed all the proper procedures in studying the house but blamed the state's consultant for mistakes.
"The original consultant’s report had many flaws," he acknowledged.
"NJDOT and the SHPO (State Historical Preservation Office) conducted further investigation and reached a common agreement that based on the existing information, the house was not eligible. The consultant was asked once again to provide information to substantiate their original claim, and they stated that they had none."
Schapiro said the original consultant also failed to report the patterned brickwork, which is the reason the house has since been deemed eligible and meets the criteria for having architectural significance.
"At no time during the original assessment, or since then, has there been evidence that anything of historic significance took place at the house or on the property," he added.
Stone challenged Schapiro's account, saying the department's 2006 architectural resources report evaluating the house made no reference to the Revolutionary War associations of the house and that the state preservation office also was never informed about the associations at that time.
"The prose (of the consultant's report) appears to have been rewritten to strengthen the argument that the house did not retain adequate architectural integrity to be national registry eligible," Stone asserted.
Schapiro said the while the house is still slated for demolition, there is no timetable for its destruction but moving it would be "logistically unfeasible" and costly.
However, he said the department agreed to set aside $75,000 for research on Flemish brickwork in the region.
Westfield countered that the money would be better used toward moving the house.
"There is a way to get it off the site via St. Maurice Street instead of St. Mary’s Street, which is lined with trees," she said.
She also said the historical society is exploring potential sites in Bellmawr, where the house could be moved close by. Bellmawr mayor and council support its preservation.