Endangered Historic Houses – Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey

My friend, Robert Williams, the Verona NJ town historian, took me on a tour of these National Park Service houses, located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Built between the 18th and 19th century, many of these sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and were in live-in condition a couple of years ago when the Park took ownership. We saw doors wide open or missing, window glass smashed and some of these historically important houses sadly vandalized and trashed.

“The Shoemaker-Houck Farm was one of the premier structures in the Park,” Bob told me. “The front portion of the house was built in 1822 while the rear portion was built in the eighteenth century. Look what has happened to this house in only one year’s time!” We saw that the back door was wide open. “This is a National Register Building that was in excellent condition. How could this have happened?” Bob asked sadly.

Bob explains the history of each house we visit and recounts how the Smith-Lennington House had been in the same family since it was built. “The Smiths built the initial house in 1820 and then remodeled and added to it in 1902. When the Park Service took title of this a few years ago, it was completely intact and in live-in condition. Shortly after their stewardship began, someone took the columns off the porch and it was down-hill from there.”

In case you are interested in expressing your concerns, here are excerpts from the letter sent to Senator Lautenberg from Robert Williams on 1/10/2012:
Hon. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
324 Hart Building
Washington, DC 20510-0001

Re: Demolition/Condition of Historical Sites at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

  •  “Currently, there are scores of historical buildings surviving in the Park in various stages of decay with little to no protection whatsoever. Many of these buildings and their respective sites are already listed on or eligible for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places.”
  • “These elements are key to understanding the rural development of northwestern New Jersey and the significant role that area played in American history.”
  • “I think the Park Service fails to see that these buildings are assets that belong to and were paid for by the taxpayer.”
  • “It is clear that the National Park Service has a legislative responsibility to care and maintain the cultural/historical resources that belong to the people.”

6 Comments on “Endangered Historic Houses – Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey

  1. Your photos are beautiful and heart breaking! Sometime in the late 70’s? Jackie and I went on a trip down the Jersey Shore. We stopped at a retired Navel base where they had restored the Naval Officers houses and leased? the houses to non-profit organizations. They were in beautiful condition and were used for the good of the community. The last time I was in Brooklyn it looked like no one was taking care of the officers houses at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Looks like it’s to late for those houses but maybe this waste should be dealt with on a national level.

    • I photographed ‘Admirals Row’ as a HABS projects when the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp (BNYDC) had let those beautiful turn-of-the-century row house’s fall to ruin. They had to be documented before being demolished- http://www.trixrosenphotography.com/Preservation/NavyYard/navy.html
      The neigborhood protested (I gave many of my 35mm personal images that I had shot inside the houses for them to use in their campaign) and to this day the houses have not been demolished. However they are probably beyond preservation. So very sad.

  2. Wonderful documentation of these neglected houses. What a shame.

  3. So powerful! Haunting photography — and how ironic that these are part of the national historic register…. Thank you for documenting this important issue.

  4. Beautiful. Haunting. Sad. How could the national historic register let these houses fall into such disrepair?

  5. Deadline May 15th

    The National Park Service (NPS) is undertaking a listening session process as an initial step in the development of a visitor use management plan (the plan) for the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area {DEWA} and Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River (the park). The purpose of the plan is to maximize the ability of the National Park Service to encourage access and protect the park’s natural and cultural resources.


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