BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Collins House, the 18th-century dwelling off Hoover Avenue in the North Center, has recently been named to the National Registry of Historic Places. Bloomfield Councilman Carlos Pomares made the announcement Monday, July 24, at the Bloomfield Township Council meeting. The national register is under the authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The house, perched on a small, steep hill with its back to JFK Parkway, is on township property alongside Kinder Towers. The route of the parkway follows the old Morris Canal bed. It was near the location of the Collins House that canal boats were taken from the water by “cradle cars.”
These cradle cars were pulled uphill over rails of an inclined plane by a water-powered mechanism. Once on higher ground — where the present-day St. Valentine’s Church stands — the boats re-entered the canal for the trip westward, drawn by mules on a towpath. Glimpses of the Collins House, now undergoing restoration and closed to the public, can be seen between North Center buildings along Broad Street.
In a telephone interview, Pomares said an application to have the house placed on the state registry for historic places was made by township residents and Morris Canal Greenway Committee members Mimi Michalski and Rich Rockwell. A non-resident, historical architect Andrew Kollar helped. Pomares also worked on the application. Last year, Pomares said the house was approved for the state registry. Because of this, it was automatically reviewed for inclusion on the national list.
“The house is a rare example of East Jersey Cottage,” Pomares said. “It’s a saltbox house with a lean-to.”
He said this is one of the reasons why the house in on the national register along with such architectural luminaries as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
“To be honest, the most interesting part of the Collins House is the interior,” Pomares said.
“You can see the ‘bones’ of the house. Some of the beams used still have tree bark on them. This is a feature normally hidden by plaster.”
Also, no nails were used in the framing of the building. The beams were connected with wooden pegs.
Renovating the interior involved removing most of the plaster walls. Sections of plaster will not be replaced. Exposed areas will instead be covered with plexiglass so visitors can see the construction. An interior wall, that once was an exterior wall until an addition was built, will remain exposed.
Pomares said another reason the house acquired national recognition is because of its occupants.
“The Collins were carpenters for the Morris Canal,” he said. “But not just in Bloomfield but in other localities.”
According to Pomares, registration at the federal level will help protect protect the house. The distinction would also help when the township applies for funding for the house.
“National recognition significantly validated the value of the house,” he said. “And it tells the story of a community. It’s a source of local pride. ”
Pomares and Rockwell helped establish the Morris Canal Greenway Committee and the group has made headway keeping the route of the canal contemporary. On Oak Tree Lane, along the former canal bed, a pocket park was created with help from local Boy Scouts. Historical markers pointing out the canal route are being installed throughout the township by the Bloomfield Department of Public Works and Parks. Pomares, who will become an Essex County freeholder Jan. 1, 2018, hopes to secure permission to have the Bloomfield greenway route cross through the Essex County right of way along JFK Parkway.
“I don’t think our forefathers envisioned a greenway,” Pomares said. “But in today’s world, it’s a place for the community. I’m very proud of this national designation.”
He sees the future Collins House as a museum/community center.
“A functional space,” he said. “It can be numerous things other than just an historic house.”
Right now, the house is in the third phase of restoration. The interior is being finished, the doors, windows and siding are being fixed. But most importantly, the house has to be made stable enough to bear the weight of a new roof. Pomares said bids to do this are due Aug. 10. Most of the cost, he believes, will be for labor.
“We’re looking to save as much timber as possible,” he said.
He called the national recognition a feather in Bloomfield’s cap.
“It’s not Mt. Vernon or Monticello,” Pomares said, “but the Collins House is rubbing elbows with them.”