Revisiting the Abel Nicholson Study House
We spent an amazing weekend afternoon at the Abel Nicholson Study House in Elsinboro Twsp, near Salem, to see the tremendous progress being made by the Salem Old House Foundation on stabilizing that remarkable 1722 Pattern Brick House. A National Historic Landmark (NHL), the house is uniquely intact. The 1722 portion, built adjacent to an even earlier house that was later replaced by the present west wing, has been unaltered for more than 285 years. It has had no remodeling or restoration, no intrusion of electricity, plumbing or a central heating. The Foundation plans to stabilize and maintain the house “as is,” as a place for scholars and architectural historians to study it in its nearly unchanged state. Perhaps more than any other house of its period in the mid-Atlantic states, it tells the story of its evolution by its physical state today.
The Foundation recently received both Save America’s Treasures and NJ Historic Trust grants, among a host of donations, for roof replacement and brick pointing and stabilization on the diaper (diamond) pattern brick gable, east end elevation. While working on the “newer,” west end wing of the house recently, the date stone near the gable top was carefully examined and what had been thought to be a construction date of 1859 was discovered to be 1839. The wing had previously been regarded as a “late” rendition of a Federal house; now it seems it was pretty “modern” when it was constructed.
Abel Nicholson was a prosperous farmer, whose father had been among the earliest Quaker settlers along Lower Alloways Creek starting in the late 17th century. The house is described in the NHL listing as “an outstanding example of a Delaware Valley, brick, patterned-end house whose integrity allows it to stand alone as the only known, pristine survivor of an Anglo-American building tradition that existed for three-quarters of a century. When constructed, it was at a scale and with a level of detail that made it a mansion in relation to other dwellings of the period in the area; the crowning touch was the diaper pattern on the east end, culminating in the construction date…. The 18(39) addition, with a comparable level of architectural integrity, enhances the significance of the property.”
The interior, especailly of the 1722 portion, retains much of its original character and fabric; there are only two coats of paint on the walls! Contained in the parlor is a writing closet adjacent to the fireplace, with a “desk” surface, bookshelves, windows to admit light, and ventilation grill. Other unchanged elements from the period are interior partitions of beaded-board, a centrally placed stair tower, and second floor closet with bench.
The Nicholson study house will serve as an important study tool for architects, historians and scholars. Kudos to the Salem Old House Foundation for its committed stewardship to an important New Jersey – indeed, American – landmark. For more information, contact the Foundation: (856) 935-6462 or PO Box 454, Salem, NJ 08079.