Yesterday I drove over to the New St. Mary's Cemetary, Browning Rd., Bellmawr, to say goodbye to the Huggs//Harrison//Glover House, built in Pre-Revolutionary New Jersey. It is slated to be demolished this year, 2016. For more and accurate information please visit Jerseyman's blog History Then and Now.
The reason New England seems to beat us in representing itself as a place to visit to enjoy a look at our glorious past, is that they seem more able to recognize and protect cultural landmarks.
In 2002, the Harrison House in Mount Ephraim was demolished for no other reason than that the property purchaser had the idea the property might sell faster without that 'old house' on it. The house was owned by the Harrison family and put up for a loan to finance a militia that fought alongside the Marquis d'Lafayette in the Battle of Gloucester City during the Revolutionary War. The lot remains empty and overgrown, a mute and sad witness to, and testimony to the ignorance the allows people to destroy our irreplaceable cultural landmarks.
Both houses were neither derelict, nor crumbling. Historians such as the author of the excellent blog History Then and Now, Jerseyman, fought to save the house on the hill at the New St. Mary's Cemetary, but they were defeated, and so are we all.
In truth, tears ran down my cheeks, and joined the rain, when I looked at that house and pondered all it had survived, weather, war, economic ups and downs, the change of the area from farming to suburbs, all of that swept by and left the house standing until the giant snake of highways wrapped around it and squeezed the life from it. How sad.
I cannot understand the blind and ignorant thing in the heart that allows people to destroy what is irreplaceable, a beautiful old tree that has witnessed many human lifetimes go by, a beautiful old house that can tell a story about our history. All my years as a teacher, I did my best, although I was, in fact not a history teacher, I tried to incorporate history into everything I taught whether Language Arts or Art. Also, I tried to instill in my students a respect for each other and for material culture and our history. Apparently the forces in charge of this particular challenge had not such experiences, and therefore were not moved by any such love of the material culture of our historic past. Thank goodness other people in other places have been able to withstand such blind destructive ignorance and save those treasures that teach us so much about our ancestors and how they lived, such as Elfreth's Alley and Betsy Ross House, to name just two, because they were the buildings of the common people.
My hat is off to and my salute goes out to those who work still, to save those fewer and fewer treasures of our New Jersey Colonial history that still stand, Whitall House, in National Park, Burrough Dover House, in Pennsauken, the old Mills converted into Antique Emporeums, old schools converted into community centers and Taverns such as The Indian King in Haddonfield. If only our administrators had the foresight that the people of Haddonfield had in saving that historic treasure.