15 Sep 2014
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Proposed Museum Remains Work in Progress

The Bergen County Historical Society has proposed constructing a museum at New Bridge Landing. To date the Society has raised $130,000 through private donations towards the museum project

Proposed Museum Remains Work in Progress

While the fight over state funding continues between the Bergen County Historical Society and the Department of Environmental Protection, preliminary plans to construct a $350,000 museum at New Bridge Landing (NBL) remains a work in progress.

To date the Society has raised $130,000 towards the construction of an 18th century Dutch barn replica that would house the Society's many artifacts which haven been placed in storage since the April 2007 Nor'easter.

"Fundraising is going well," NBL Park Commission secretary Kevin Wright said. "We've raised $130,000 to date, almost entirely from small donations. We obviously are looking to elevate the building on pilings or columns of some type and to site it on the Society's lands, so we're exploring possible prefabricated "agricultural" buildings that might be customized to suit our needs and the location. All just preliminary at this point, but we are beginning to think about site plans."

The plans for the museum date back to the 1940s, with the possible location just off to the left of the Campbell-Christie House. The museum design is intended to resemble the former DeClerk Barn in Closter and serve as a “visually complement the landmark stone houses" on site.

New Bridge Landing is a historic site in portions of  New MilfordRiver Edge, Hackensack and  Teaneck and includes the Von Steuben House, the Campbell-Christie House and  Demarest House Museum, both of New Milford, the Westervelt-Thomas Barn from Washington Township, and a constructed working out-kitchen.

"It will likely be somewhere in the vicinity of the Campbell-Christie House," Wright said. "The original idea was to use the Campbell-Christie House as the centerpiece of the museum as it was envisioned in 1944, and the lease includes a provision for adding museum wings. I suppose that possibility still exists, although we would like to maintain the historic integrity of the house as a restored tavern with a reconstructed missing kitchen wing."

Wright added that the final location of the museum will be finalized after the Commission's fundraising is completed and can hire a professional architect.

The Society has a 50-year lease with Bergen County to cover utilities and maintenance of the Campbell-Christie House. New Bridge Landing encompasses 9-acres extends from the corner of Main Street and Hackensack Avenue where the former BAPCO auto parts junkyard to the backyard of the Steuben House. 

The junkyard was removed in 2000 when the Commission secured a $1.1 million Federal grant to buy and clean the junkyard. A one-acre area around the Steuben House is owned by the state but is supervised by the Park Commission.

According to Wright, the former junkyard will remain an open field although a public restroom disguised as a nondescript "agricultural building" could be constructed and make use of the current utility connections.

"Above all else, we should try and avoid overbuilding that would result in high overhead for staff and maintenance," Wright said. "We have struggled long and hard to maintain the historic integrity of the core battleground from modern intrusions, especially extravagant and expensive "governmental" projects, incompatible with the significance of one of New Jersey's most historically and architecturally significant places.

"Unfortunately, despite recent reassurances, I hesitate to believe that any bad idea in government ever truly dies, especially if someone can make money on it," Wright continued. "That is why we will build our museum on the Society's own land with money raised through donations."

The New Bridge Landing Park Commission has been involved in a funding fight with the state DEP since  legislation was approved in 2009 to transfer administration of the Steuben House and surrounding parkland from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission once a master plan was completed. The master plan was adopted in September 2010.

The state funding is still no where to be seen, even though the Commission for the reopening of the Steuben House for school groups and the public in general.

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