We’ve written before about “preserving” historic homes through subdivision (for a look at some of these cases, see our article “‘Preserving’ Historic Estates Through Subdivision?”). Usually, this process involves cutting up a large tract of land (usually a historic farmstead) for the purpose of building a new subdivision, with development approval hinging on a caveat that the developer “save” or “restore” or “preserve” the historic house currently on the land. Most preservationists & old house lovers would argue that preserving a historic home in some form is better than it being bulldozed for a new McMansion. But sometimes, the end result of this process is a quick, obligatory facelift to a historic property, which ultimately loses much (or all) of its historic character. Without any regulatory teeth to force historic standards, developers unsensitive to historic preservation might basically gut & rebuild a new house on the “old bones.”
In Hillsborough, NJ, the nationwide development group Beazer Homes recently “saved” the 3,108-square-foot “Gabriel House” — an early 1800s farmhouse that sat on over 300 acres, until recently…
Preserving this historic house was– of course– part of the Planning Board’s approval for Beazer to build a 165 house development off Mountain View Road (see left for example home). The planning board, in conjunction with the township’s Historic Preservation Commission, wanted to ensure that the home was preserved while kept as a reminder and tribute to Hillsborough’s “bucolic beauty,” said Commiteeman Anthony Ferrera. [more at MyCentralJersey.com].
You definitely can’t say that Beazer Homes “did it on the cheap,” since they claim to have spent a half million dollars on the renovations. And that wouldn’t surprise me, since the house seems to have been in pretty rough shape (see above, left). I wonder, however, how much of an effort was made to restore this house (see right), versus “renovate” it with modern sensibilities for quicker resale. The photos in the above newspaper articles don’t reveal much (see small, grainy photo on right), and I couldn’t find any websites showing interior photos. But the developer’s own comments might be most revealing. Jodie McCool [you can’t make this stuff up!], the project manager overseeing the work on the historic house, never mentions anything “historic” when talking up the historic home’s marketing points. From the article:
“The home includes four bedrooms; 2 1/2 bathrooms; a parlor; a library; eat-in kitchen; breakfast area; partial basement; laundry room; two-car garage; and front and rear foyers. The master bedroom includes a large bathroom complete with soaking tub and shower; 112-square-foot closet; and separate room for a gym or office.”
You can also sense possible frustrations that she may have encountered in having to conform to the Historic Preservation’s parameters. The article notes that “working with the township’s Historic Preservation Commission was a first for the developer,” and McCool said there was “a lot of give and take between the two partnerships, but we got here . . . It was a learning process different than what we do every day.” It’s hard to know what Beazer did right, and what they didn’t. But the finished product in the tiny photo above (with its admittedly aweful resolution) just doesn’t scream “historic” to me. Maybe it’s the color. I don’t know. It just looks like a newer house to me.
Regardless of the historic elements that survive, it is definitely a good thing that the anchor property — the house that has stood sentinel over the property for over two centuries — survives in some form to remind people of the neighborhood’s past.