SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Old Stone House in South Orange, believed to be the oldest standing building in New Jersey, was named one of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in the state by Preservation New Jersey at a virtual press conference on May 14.
Built sometime between 1666 and 1680, the Old Stone House’s original stone foundation and walls sit within the building’s expanded and remodeled footprint. This piece of history sits nearly out of sight behind the South Orange Police Station, between Grove Road and South Orange Avenue. The original was a 1.5-story Dutch Colonial on 75 acres of farmland.
The “Most Endangered” program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural and archeological resources in New Jersey in imminent danger of being lost through neglect and deferred maintenance, threats by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate preservation funding, or lack of creative adaptive reuse proposals. The places on the list were chosen for historic significance and architectural integrity, the critical nature of the threat identified, and the likelihood that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource.
The South Orange Historical and Preservation Society studied floor plans and property maps, consulted other architects and conservators, and gathered anecdotal information in order to complete its nomination of the Old Stone House, presenting its case to the Preservation New Jersey selection jury of historians and preservationists.
Architect Duane Schrempp, a board member of SOHPS who has been examining relevant documents for two years, reported that the group discussed the possibility of converting the edifice into a welcome center, offices, museum, meeting spaces or research center, and possibly stripping away some exterior walls added in the late 19th century.
“The site, as a museum and welcome center for the Oranges and New Jersey, would dramatically illustrate periods of use and development in the area from pre-Colonial times,” Schrempp said. “This could easily become an asset of statewide and national significance and a magnet for tourists and students.”
SOHPS President Bryn Douds, noting that Old Stone House is on both the NJ and Federal Historic Registers, called the building’s selection for Most Endangered a ”third badge of honor, but a scary one, since it represents an official acknowledgment that the old property is threatened and won’t survive without intervention. The oldest anything is worthy of saving, and South Orange can boast of having the oldest house in the state. Restoring the historic Old Stone House would be a great way to preserve its glory and bring more focus to Destination South Orange.”
South Orange has owned the Old Stone House since 1953, when part of its land was taken for the construction of a new police station. The house was then used by the South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education, but since 1983 it has stood vacant and suffered significant water damage and deterioration. Despite significant alterations, the oldest parts of the house can still be traced in the present building. Three of the original walls are visible from on the exterior, while a fourth can be seen from inside. Unable to bear the cost of restoring the building, the village unsuccessfully tried to sell the house.