Officials Vow to Preserve Historic Site
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg cites recent loss of Zabriskie home as impetus to preserve New Bridge Landing.
Over the years, New Bridge Landing and its historic houses have survived most of the Revolutionary War, the rising of the Hackensack River, and new development in surrounding towns River Edge, Teaneck and New Milford. And on Wednesday, the historic landmark in Bergen County may have seen the sowing of seeds towards its preservation as the state Department of Environmental Protection representatives and government officials vowed to begin working together and resolving their past issues.
"The loss of the Zabriskie House, while a different situation, should spur us to action," Weinberg said. "“I don’t want this place to die of neglect. And we need to bring together all of the partners - the state, the county, and local – to say that this is a site worthy of development, of development as a tourist destination, a mini-Williamsburg.”
The New Bridge Landing park is where George Washington led his troops to retreat from British forces in November 1776. It features the Von Steuben House, Campbell-Christie House, the Demarest House, the Westervelt-Thomas Barn and the authentic Out-Kitchen.
"The Steuben House is at the center because it is the original building to the site," historian Todd Braisted said. "All of the others were transported and reconstructed brick-by-brick in the 1950s and 1970s from New Milford."
The bipartisan meeting featured government officials from Teaneck, New Milford and River Edge along with local state Assembly and Senate members, state Environmental Protection Regional Superintendent Steve Ellis, DEP Director of Local Government Assistance Cindy Randazzo and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan along with County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato and County Republican Organization Executive Director Karen O’Shea.
New Bridge Landing advocates have pointed to the park's potential as an economic engine in the area. And that potential was repeated on Wednesday with officials looking forward to take advantage of the thousands of tourists that are expected to flock to Bergen County for the 2014 Super Bowl.
“So much of tourism is centered around the Jersey Shore," Sen. Bob Gordon said. "There is just so much else to New Jersey, particularly our history, we truly were at the crossroads of the Revolution, and 1776 was the most critical year and much of the activity took place between Fort Lee and Princeton and Trenton and the battles that occurred between those points. We are the birthplace of the American industry, the place where the first submarine was invented… all these things that most New Jerseyans don’t know about.”
But to make the site sustainable it needs decent parking and restrooms along with the available funding to make that happen. The Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission has clashed with the state over funding for the site and years of what supporters say is neglect.
“This site is probably the most important ignored site in all of our history,” Sen. Gerald Cardinale said.
Of the 9-acre property, only the one-acre around the Steuben House is owned by the state when it was purchased in 1939 and placed under the supervision of the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission. In 1994, the Historical Society picked up the land between the Steuben House and north of Main Street to buffer and protect the Steuben House from the 1930s auto parts junkyard. The junkyard was removed in 2000 when the Commission secured a $1.1 million federal grant to buy and clean the junkyard through Sen. Torrecelli.
Following the April 2007 Nor'easter, legislation was approved in 2009 to transfer administration of the Steuben House and surrounding parkland from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Commission once a master plan was completed. The master plan was adopted in September 2010.
"There is money from the state, it's a question of how it is being utilized," Weinberg said. "The statement we are making here is that this is a North Jersey site and it is important to North Jeresy."
"In two years all attention will be on Bergen County," New Bridge Park Commission Secretary Kevin Wright said. "Do you want all of American to believe that Bergen County is represented by a multi-colored patchwork building on the Turnpike or this historic location."
According to County Executive Kathleen Donovan, she has already inquired whether New Bridge Landing could recieve a portion of revenues it generates from future concessions on the site following the eventual construction of a visitor's center where Hackensack Avenue turns into New Bridge Road and the intersection of Main Street. Currently the state is investigating the possiblity.
"The state's plan is to make the park sustainable," DEP representative Cindy Randazzo said. "With this room full of volunteers, I am very hopeful we can keep the park open and continue to work with local municipalities and legislators and make this facility a success."