People Preserving Places: The Roseberry Homestead, Phillipsburg
This blog post was written by John Chadwick, a writer with Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
In an old industrial town on the Delaware River, residents are working on a project that is helping the community connect to its past.
The Roseberry Homestead, a landmark late-18th century home in Phillipsburg, had been boarded up and forgotten for decades. But thanks to the vision of longtime residents, a restoration effort is under way that promises to bring the quarried-stone Georgian manor back to its original grandeur. The effort also showcases the legacy of a Phillipsburg man and committed preservationist who served as the driving force behind the restoration, but died before he could see the fruition of his work.
Scott Curzi was a lifelong Phillipsburg resident who possessed a great love for his community and a deep interest in historic preservation. One night in the spring of 2008, Curzi and a close friend, Frank Greenagel, ventured into the Roseberry Homestead. The windows had been boarded up. The ceiling had caved in, and the floors were littered with debris. But Curzi looked around and saw possibilities. “He said right then and there: ‘I’m going to restore this,’ ’’ said Greenagel.
Receiving the permission of the Town Council as well as grants from the Warren County Municipal and Charitable Conservancy Trust Fund, Curzi pared down his law practice and set out to accomplish his preservation mission. But in the fall of 2009, he suffered a heart attack and died. “It really was a blow,” Greenagel said. “He was the energizing force. Nobody else could have cared as passionately.”
Yet Curzi’s legacy lives on. Friends and loved ones made substantial contributions in lieu of flowers to help set up a fund for preservation of the Roseberry Homestead. His family also decided that the fund, which is overseen by the Phillipsburg Area Historical Society, should be used in part to support interns from Rutgers University’s Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies program (CHAPS). “The house is so perfectly put together,” said Archer St. Clair Harvey, director of the CHAPS program in the university’s School of Arts and Sciences. “If you take a house like that, and research it carefully, it teaches you a whole lot about the period. You can look at everything – from the nails to the windows to the walls – it’s like archaeology.” The first intern is currently researching the unique stencil designs in the home.
Historians believe the house was built for John Tabor Kempe, the attorney general of New York and British loyalist who fled to Britain following the Battle of Bunker Hill. The home has sat vacant and in disrepair for decades. Some of the evidence gathered during the renovation suggests the house was constructed by a sophisticated builder using the best materials, Greenagel said. For example, the brown-cast layer of plaster contains some lime, which was rare in that period. And the white-cast plaster layer is about 3 times as thick as the standard.
The renovation is expected to be finished in several years. The manor will become a historical information center and serve as a meeting place for local groups.
Greenagel, a member of the Phillipsburg Area Historical Society, says residents who had no previous involvement with the society are showing up at the site to volunteer. And, he said, there’s a palpable new awareness of the town’s history. “It used to be that a lot of people didn’t know there was a historical society,” Greenagel said. “Now the town fathers will refer questions to us. Someone wants to put up a transmitter for cell phones, they’ll ask us: ‘Is this consistent with the historical nature of Phillipsburg?’”
This post is one in a series of preservation success stories to be featured on PreserveNJ in the coming months. Do you have a similar tale of place-saving to share? Contact PNJ to get invovled