NJ State Historic Sites at Risk: it’s getting worse!
Word from the local advocates for Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest is that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to use a significant part of the just-restored Batsto Mansion for office space for Parks & Forestry Division staffers, and that a new, large paved parking lot is planned for a site immediately adjacent to the house.
“The mansion, which dates to 1784, is the focal point of the village for visitors, students and historians. The state of New Jersey is currently expending more than two million dollars of taxpayer monies to restore and stabilize the structure for future generations. As the project comes to a close, it has been revealed that [Parks & Forestry] is planning to vacate its current office structure and commandeer approximately one third of the mansion for office space…. This area, today known as the caretakers or servants wing, is critical to the historic interpretation of the early settlers of Batsto….”
Meanwhile, the DEP has closed the Indian King Tavern in Haddonfield, thanks apparently to the state hiring freeze which prevents hiring staff to manage and keep open to the public New Jersey’s first State Historic Site (est. 1903).
These are just two examples highlighting the crisis facing the state’s precious historic sites. The Governor and Administration have warned fans and supporters of state historic sites and parks that new sources of non-tax revenue must be found in order to keep these important places open and available to NJ citizens.
The crisis isn’t limited to New Jersey. This spring, California Gov. Schwarzenegger just barely dropped his plan to slash $13.3 million in parks funding – 8.9 percent of the parks department’s budget – which would have meant shuttering 48 parks and historic sites, although the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the entire system in the annual 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America for its $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance. And Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently followed through on threats of painful government cutbacks, announcing layoffs of 450 state workers and closing two dozen state parks and historic sites, including the Dana Thomas House in Springfield.
We’re going to have to explore innovative ways of funding and managing these important historic places as the NJ state budget shrinks even more. Donna Ann Harris’ book, New Solutions for House Museums, is a must-read examination of possible options for house museums to assure their continued preservation. It provides a decision-making methodology as well as a dozen case studies of house museums that have made a successful transition to new funding and stewardship paradigms.
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