Historic Battleground Site Could be Lost Due to Neglect

Ongoing funding fight with DEP could result in continued deterioration of Steuben House at New Bridge Landing

Few towns in Northern New Jersey can boast of the historical significance of a Revolutionary War battleground in their backyard, but if things continue as they have, River Edge may be facing the loss of the Von Steuben House. 

"I'm very aware of the importance that New Bridge Landing could be to River Edge," Mary Donohue, Vice Chairwoman and River Edge representative of the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission said. "I say could be because at the present time it is in a terrible state of neglect, an almost willful deterioration that is taking place there; not on the part of the Commission or Bergen County Historical Society, but on the state of New Jersey."

New Bridge Landing is a historic site in portions of New MilfordRiver Edge, Hackensack and Teaneck and includes the , the and Demarest House Museum, both of New Milford, the Westervelt-Thomas Barn from Washington Township, and a constructed working out-kitchen.

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 1944, 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.

According to Kevin Wright, the Society donated a little more than half an acre to the County of Bergen in 1953 for the right-of-way to extend Hackensack Avenue northeast to a junction with New Bridge Road, thus allowing a new highway bridge to be constructed north of the Steuben House, rather than immediately south of the landmark residence, thus preserving its historic setting. The Society also donated a third of an acre to the State of NJ in 1959 to allow for construction of the first parking lot adjacent to the house.

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 . The master plan was adopted in September 2010.

Years later and the , even though the Commission for the reopening of the Steuben House for school groups and the public in general.

"New Bridge Landing could be a great economic engine in town, as a matter of fact the southern end of town is designated as the New Bridge Center," Donohue said. "We envision this downtown area as a little Williamsburg. More of the Revolutionary WAr took place in New Jersey than any other states, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachussetts combined. With the neglect taking place at this time, it will all be gone in a couple years."

According to a 2011 report in the Record, Assistant DEP Commissioner Amy Cradic wrote that the DEP and Attorney General's Office agree that without an appropriation of state funds to the DEP or the Division of Parks and Forestry that is specifically for the administration of the Steuben House and the parkland, the department is not required to turn over any money to the commission.

"In the stalemate we're in I would consider this an insult to River Edge," Kevin Wright, Secretary of the Commission said. "Recently a complete record of the Council of War held by Washington in the Steuben House with all of his major and brigidier generals was found. That Council of War was to essentially collect opinions on what to do with the recently landed French army in Rhdoe Island. These events occurred in River Edge and we need to break the stalemate."

Currently the Commission is working to set up meetings with Senators Gerald Cardinale, Loretta Weinberg and Robert Gordon to have a line item set up in the DEP funding for New Bridge Landing so that funding can officially be transferred to the Commission.

"If you watch TV and see commercials for Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania, these peopple know how to make money from far less history than we have," Wright said. "Am sure we're all acutely aware that when you drive up and down Main Street there are empty store fronts and vacant offices and I would never claim that New Bridge is the engine that will drive River Edge's economy but I think it would play a significant role. Two-thirds of the Revolutionary War took place in River Edge, it was seven years that Americans fought and died down there. It's Gettysburg, Yorktown, all those things in our midst. Imagine if you could open this on a steady basis to the public."

The group along with the Bergen County Historical Society is also working to raise $350,000 to construct a first-rate museum building and library where the former junkyard was located. So far, approximately $97,000 was raised this past year.

Representatives from the Commission and Historical Society stated they will meet with the New Milford and Teaneck governing bodies in the near future as well.

Kevin Wright June 27, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Thanks for a great article! Just to correct a typo, the Bergen County Historical Society purchased about 8 acres, adjacent to the Steuben House, on April 18, 1944 (not 1994), through the kind offices of David D. Bellis. The Society donated a little more than half an acre to the County of Bergen in 1953 for the right-of-way to extend Hackensack Avenue northeast to a junction with New Bridge Road, thus allowing a new highway bridge to be constructed north of the Steuben House, rather than immediately south of the landmark residence, thus preserving its historic setting. The Society also donated a third of an acre to the State of NJ in 1959 to allow for construction of the first parking lot adjacent to the house.
Eamon Harbord (Editor) June 27, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Thanks Kevin. I'll fix the typo now.
Kathryn Longo June 27, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Yes it is a great article and something must be done to save the Steuben House. I had a tour several years ago and it is a fabulous treasure. I hope the State provides money or you should do a fundraiser
njdelta June 27, 2012 at 06:32 PM
What exactly and specifically is the deterioration that is noted in this article several times. I've been there and it is wonderful.
Kevin Wright June 27, 2012 at 07:43 PM
The Bergen County Historical Society, a non-profit, volunteer association, maintains its own property and buildings. Two years ago, the Blauvelt-Demarest Foundation restored the Demarest House, which they moved to the Society's lands in 1955-56, and maintains its property. A restoration of the Westervelt-Thomas Barn is imminent. Beyond maintaining our own lands and buildings, the Historical Society expends about $80,000 on programming and supplies all volunteer labor. Our recent fundraiser added about $10,000 to our museum building campaign. We depend entirely on membership dues and donations of time, talent and money to provide programming, publications, website, and conservation of artifacts. It is the state lands and building we are concerned about. Take a good look at the Steuben House and you will see serious neglect. State lots are overgrown and capital projects poorly designed and badly executed. Come for our next event and I'd be glad to point out the many serious problems. Most importantly, the Steuben House is closed, having been open to the public from 1939 to 2007.
Sandy Flanagan June 27, 2012 at 08:44 PM
I grew up in River Edge in the 1950's and '60's and remember going through the Steuben House with my class from Roosevelt School. I think it is most important to preserve our history and keep it alive so that future generations can enjoy this very historic landmark. It would be tragic to loose such a treasure. Sandy Flanagan (River Dell Class of '64)
njdelta June 28, 2012 at 03:06 PM
How much money does the Steuben House receive from the company that sells Christmas Tree's there every year?
mike Trepicchio June 28, 2012 at 08:03 PM
The Christmas tree sales are on the property of the Bergen County Historical Society, and the Tree Company leases space from the Society. The Society is a 501c3 non profit organization. This revenue goes to support the programing at New Bridge Landing. So, the Steuben House indirectly benefits from these revenues, as the BCHS is the sole programer on site, and opens the Steuben House with volunteer time and labor for special events. All this is done without a dime of public money. The problem is the BCHS has a partner and neighbor, in the form of the NJDEP, who does not maintain the property the taxpaying public intrusted to them (Steuben House, Meadow, Saw Shop property, old Pizzatown property) to administer in a proper manner, and to allow the public regular entry. The House has been closed since 2007. that is too long.
mike Trepicchio June 28, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Further, the State Legislature passed a law to transfer the administration of these public lands from the State Park Service to the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission. The Legislature did this because they understood that the State Park Service had failed the public, time and time again at New Bridge. This law was passed UNANIMOUSLY by both houses in 2009. Since that time the NJDEP has refused to transfer the adminstration and the funding that goes with it, to administer these public lands and building on behalf of people. This should have been a simple adminsitrative transfer from one State entity to another. Unfortunately, is was not. The NJDEP is willing to let our collective public property deteriorate and shut the public out of their own property, due to their loss of administration. This is the punishment from NJDEP for standing up for our heritage and an American Battleground. It is Bureaucracy run amuck. Truly sad, truly pathetic. Truly Un-American. River Edge suffers, Bergen County suffers, New Jersey suffers.
Joseph Woolston Brick June 29, 2012 at 03:01 PM
When I lived in Paramus we would always go on class trips to the Von Steuben House. We all loved going there visiting the house and walking around the park. We especially would wonder about the dungeon and what it would have been like to stay a night it in. It's a shame that those in power over the years have let the place go.
Beth O June 29, 2012 at 03:43 PM
We would go on a field trip to this house from Ridgewood in the 1980's. I now teach Revolutionary War history in Virginia elementary schools, and we always discuss Baron Von Steuben and his invaluable contribution to the Patriot cause when he assisted General Washington in training the Continental Army at Valley Forge. Many believe that the war could not have been won without him. He was a fascinating man, and the story of the house (being seized from loyalist family and given to the war hero) is also interesting. It would be tragic to let this disappear due to neglect - so many could be learning about colonial life, what happened to everyday families when the war came (consequences of choosing sides), the war itself and NJ's role in these battles, and historical figures such as Washington and von Steuben!
Joyce Cladek June 29, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Such a shame! As little kids, we'd always ride our bikes there and go through the tour. On some anniversary, we were approached by The Record and we had our pictures taken and put in the paper (I was 12). My family and friends have a lot of memories of the Von Stueben house and would hate it if it were to go by the wayside. Would writing a letter to someone help and if so, will you post an address? I no longer live in the area but I'd be willing to help so that someday I can bring my kids to this wonderful place!
Sally Hinz June 30, 2012 at 01:15 AM
I live in MI now, but grew up in Paramus. I have found memories of field trips to the Von Steuben house, and talk about all the history preserved back home. I hope that these jewels can be saved and enjoyed by future generations!
Deborah Powell July 01, 2012 at 11:34 AM
School groups have been denied opportunity of coming to the Steuben House for 5 YEARS. WE NEED: The HNBL Park Commission properly funded with the transfer of monies from the DEP, funds already appropriated for the Steuben House. No new money. MISSION: to effectively and professionally administer the park. ACTION: Contact the governor and your legislators. *** DONATIONS to the Bergen County Historical Society (nonprofit 501 c 3 org). MISSION: to build a museum and library building on BCHS land at HNBL to care for collections related to the history of Bergen County. ACTION: Email contactBCHS@bergencountyhistory.org to sign up for email blasts for event info and news. Visit: www.bergencountyhistory.org to make a donation or join. 100% goes to our mission.


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