Saving Jersey’s Past

Faculty member Margaret Westfield keeps Lucy, the Margate elephant, in fine form.

By Lori Chambers

More than a resplendent Mead Hall arose from the fire that nearly destroyed the Greek Revival mansion 20 years ago. Inspired by the success of its historically faithful three-year restoration, Drew launched in 1997 a professional certificate in historic preservation.

Open to anyone with an interest in preservation, the program attracts architects and artisans, homeowners and town planners, real estate agents and historic site directors like the six graduates and faculty featured here, who are preserving New Jersey’s past for future generations.

Photo credit: Bill Cramer.

Jeanne Kolva

Certificate Holder 2004
Historic District Survey
Cape May

Even in Cape May, where owners of ostentatious Victorians take sidewalk gawkers in stride, Jeanne Kolva’s brand of nosiness attracts attention. Camera clicking and pen scribbling, she spends hours on each block, painstakingly documenting fish-scale shingles, gingerbread ornaments and stained-glass windows. Her mission? To survey every building in the Cape May Historic District, a National Historic Landmark and one of the country’s largest collections of 19th-century buildings. “This project is a joy,” says Kolva, an architectural historian with McCabe & Associates, the firm hired by the city of Cape May to inventory its Victorian treasure trove and owned by Wayne McCabe, a historic preservation faculty member. Since 2008, she has surveyed about 315 houses, inns and hotels and hopes to continue the work over the next two years, eventually cataloging all 1,200 properties in the historic district.

Photo credit: George Tenney.

Cathy Messmer

Certificate Holder 2005
Historic Register Nominations
United Methodist Church, Madison

With panes missing and hardware broken, the church’s soaring stained-glass windows were in sorry shape. But without a place on the state or national historic registers, the church stood little chance of attracting grant money to restore the windows. Enter Cathy Messmer, a student in the historic preservation program that she herself, as then-director of continuing education and special programs at Drew, had helped create. As a class project, she undertook the nomination of the church—Drew’s next-door neighbor—to the registers.

Messmer knew that the 1870 church had architectural significance, being a fine example of the Romanesque Revival style. But from the church’s extensive—and largely overlooked—archives, she also built a case for its historic significance as a landmark in the modernization of Methodism. Today, the stained-glass windows in the church gleam, newly restored with preservation funds granted after the church was added to the state and national registers in 2008.

Photo credit: Peter Murphy.

Marta McDowell

Fosterfields Living Historical Farm Garden Revival

Persnickety and domineering in life, Miss Caroline Foster was not about to cede control of her beloved cottage garden in death. After all, hadn’t the well-heeled farmer dug the garden and built the one-room cottage with her hands, wearing knickers and a man’s necktie, in an era when women of her station generally stayed indoors with their embroidery? As historic garden expert Marta McDowell went about the work of resurrecting the circa 1917 garden at the request of Mark Texel, director of historic sites for the Morris County Parks Com­mission and a 2006 certificate holder, her every action seemed guided by Miss Foster’s hand. Century-old nursery receipts pointed out the proper plants to purchase. Long-buried stones revealed the correct contours of a garden path. And crocuses that McDowell freed after decades trapped beneath the sod confirmed that the new beds had been dug in just the right places. “‘Channeling Miss Foster,’ that’s what I call this project,” McDowell smiles, happy to concede power to a higher authority. In this, the restored garden’s first spring, a light breeze blew and the daffodils nodded in recognition.

Photo credit: Bill Cramer.

Margaret Westfield

Lucy the Elephant Restoration

Like many a lady past her prime—for, despite the tell-tale tusks, this elephantine oddity is most assuredly a lady—Lucy needs a little help keeping herself together. “She’s wood and metal and sits 100 yards from the ocean,” points out Margaret Westfield, sympathetic to the old girl’s plight. Since 1992, Westfield, an architect and preservation consultant, has been defend­ing the world’s only elephant-shaped building from the ravages of time.

It’s a job for which there are no best practices. Lucy, a six-story, 90-ton architectural folly, was built in 1881 to lure prospective home­buyers to this seaside resort, but by the 1960s, her metal skin had peeled, her wooden ribs had rotted and her cavernous belly had been gutted. Westfield recreated the interior and then turned to protecting Lucy from chronic water damage with a force of experts, contractors and master craftsmen. Today, Lucy appears to be dry (knock wood), but her caretaker of almost two decades has no plans to walk away now. “I have,” Westfield admits, “grown attached.”

Photo credit: Bill Cardoni.

Sean Ryan

Certificate Holder 2008
Warinanco Park Stream Creation
Union County Parks

As a landscape architect, Sean Ryan knew Union County held an unrecognized national treasure: Its entire park system had been designed by Olmsted Brothers, the sons and torch-keepers of the legendary Frederick Law Olmsted. Like their father’s masterpiece, New York’s Central Park, the Union County parks embraced the English Romantic tradition of landscape architecture. Ryan’s job, for the past 15 years as assistant park planner for Union County, has been to guide restoration. “Answers to thorny, complex problems came from Drew,” declares Ryan, explaining that the certificate program gave him the skills, knowledge and professional connections to hew to the English Romantic style. Case in point: the creation in 2008 of a rambling, 2,000-foot stream from a stagnant drainage ditch in Warinanco Park. Ringed with native shrubs and trees, the new stream provides wildlife habitat and protects the watershed while transporting modern suburbanites into the Olmsteds’ idealization of nature.

Photo credit: Peter Murphy.

Janet Foster

Wyckoff-Garretson House Restoration

People have always been driven to make their space as beautiful as they can, even in godforsaken frontier outposts,” laughs Janet Foster, explaining that the Raritan Valley wilderness was first settled by Dutch farmers around 1700. So while pioneer John Wyckoff built his new house some 280 years ago with timber felled from the surrounding virgin forest, he brought craftsmen from faraway Brooklyn to shape the 32-foot-long white-oak beams into a marvel of Dutch anchorbent framing. And while Wyckoff mixed his own paint from linseed oil and white lead, he imported a luxury pigment from Europe so that his formal rooms would impress with fashionable Prussian blue walls. “The granite countertops of its day,” quips Foster, a conservator and architectural historian. Her analysis of the house, both its physical features and written record, helped to guide a 10-year restoration that returned this rare Dutch dwelling to its roots—and may lead to designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Lori Chambers is a freelance writer who lives in an 1874 Italianate farmhouse in Metuchen, N.J.


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