Historic Preservation

Overview of Historic Preservation

Historic preservation has gained the interest of both the public and private sectors for its cultural and tangible benefits. Historic buildings and properties are preserved to protect important historic events and architecture. This cultural benefit is important for historical documentation, visual and aesthetic character, and for its contribution to future generations. For these reasons, historic preservation spurs a degree of civic pride and appreciation of local history.

Historic preservation also offers tangible benefits. The most obvious is the mere existence of the old structures - and the sense of permanence and community. Recently, it has become apparent that the rehabilitation of a historic structure often increases not only the value of the property, but the value of neighboring properties as well. As entire neighborhoods and downtowns have become involved in historic preservation efforts, their visually appealing landscape has spurred local tourism. Referred to as "heritage tourism", this new economic strategy is a welcome relief for Main Street America whose demise began as early as the 1970s.

Recent studies throughout the nation are revealing that historic preservation is an economic asset not only for suffering downtown areas, but for all communities. In 1997, a Rutgers University study, authorized by the Governor's Task Force on History, reported that historic preservation - the rehabilitation of historic structures, objects and properties - has far reaching economic benefits to local communities and the State of New Jersey. It produces jobs, fosters heritage tourism, spurs reinvestment, increases tax revenue, and provides business income.

Hunterdon Historic Structures

Farmhouses and Farm Buildings

Through its land acquisition program, the Hunterdon County Parks System has acquired several farms with farmhouses, barns and other outbuildings. The farmhouses and farm buildings may be historically significant individually or as they contribute to the traditional farm setting. While most of the farmhouses have undergone significant modern renovations, many of the barns have retained their historic integrity. Wooden barns in Hunterdon County - as well as most other suburbanizing areas - are becoming scarce. With today's agriculture, the old wooden barn is being replaced by modern metal structures that are resistant to fire and are large enough to accommodate a variety of equipment and products. Barns are of historic interest because they are a mark of individuality and hand craftsmanship. They were constructed of local materials and designed specifically for the farmer's needs - reflecting the topography of the land, the climate, the economic conditions and the actual use of the land. As farming has changed over the last 100 years - so has the appreciation for these old structures and their place in the County's agrarian history.


Hunterdon County has a wealth of historic bridges, presumably due to the number of stream crossings, the success of agriculture, and the materials available to construct the bridges. Over several dozen metal truss bridges, mostly from the 19th century, have been determined by the NJ Historic Preservation Office to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, there are over 100 extant stone arch bridges in the County, the largest concentration of stone arch bridges in the entire country - according to a bridge preservation consultant. Many of these stone arch bridges have been deemed either eligible or potentially eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. See more on historic bridges of Hunterdon County.

Public Buildings

Flemington has been the County seat since 1790. Still owned and maintained by the County are several important historic structures, including the Hunterdon County Courthouse and Jail, the Choir School, the Southard Building, the Hall of Records, and the Democrat building. These buildings are all located in the downtown section of Flemington which is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and are located within a locally designed historic district. Other County owned buildings are located in Raritan Township and on various parkland throughout the County.

Municipal Historic Preservation Plans

In addition to these State and Federal programs, municipalities in New Jersey were given express authority to regulate private encroachments on designated historic properties. In 1985, the NJ Municipal Land Use Law affirmed the ability of local governments to zone for the protection of historic resources. The MLUL amendments in 1992 outlined a specific planning process regarding the creation of local historic districts and the review of development activity within the districts. With the passage of such important national and state legislation, the concept of historic preservation is deemed to be a legitimate and desirable public program.

Hunterdon County Historic Preservation Projects

The Hunterdon County Planning Board maintains a small library of historic preservation materials, ordinances and lists of registered districts and structures. In addition to its function as a central repository of information, the HCPB is also involved from time to time in other historic preservation projects.

In 1998, the Board administered the Hunterdon County Stone Arch Bridge Inventory, co-sponsored by the County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the County Roads, Bridges and Engineering Department. The Inventory began as a small staff project to research and protect the historic stone arch bridges in the County. After more than 100 bridges were identified, the County found it necessary to consult a stone arch bridge expert to help complete the project. The final inventory and report, prepared by Dr. Thomas Boothby of Penn State University, revealed a variety of bridge styles and features and recommended that the County pursue a preservation plan that protects the best examples of each type and style of bridge. The report further asserted that Hunterdon County has the largest concentration of stone arch bridges remaining in the country. The Inventory won an Award from the New Jersey Planning Officials for Outstanding Planning Publication. Copies are available from the County Planning Board office.

Within the next year, the Board hopes to digitize the boundaries of all registered properties for planning purposes. As of mid-2000, there are 35 districts and 29 individual structures listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Tax maps and USGS maps are available of these properties. Digitizing the districts and structures on a parcel map will allow the County and municipalities to use the data as an overlay map for various planning purposes. For the County, it is important to be able to see the proximity of proposed road and bridge projects to these registered properties. Municipalities are also likely to use the digitized information for similar purposes.

The Hunterdon County Planning Board is expected to become more involved in historic preservation projects as the newly adopted Open Space Preservation Trust gets underway. The Trust is a dedicated County tax of $.03/$100 assessed valuation to fund open space, farmland preservation and historic preservation projects. This is the first time Hunterdon County has ever had a stable source of funding for historic preservation projects. Recommendations for eligible projects will be presented by the Cultural and Heritage Commission in consultant with the County Planning Board and other Departments. The County Board of Chosen Freeholders will approve the final list of projects to be funded.

State & National Registers of Historic Places

Historic preservation may be defined as the planned effort to help protect structures, objects and properties of historic importance. In 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act was signed into law and fostered new and renewed interested in historic preservation. The 1966 Act created the National Register of Historic Places, which offered the protection of privately, owned historic buildings and properties from federal government actions. It created National Register criteria to evaluate buildings for inclusion on the Register and established a review process for public projects that involved the encroachment or razing of registered properties.

It also permitted States to setup a similar process that protected registered properties from municipal, county and state encroachments. New Jersey created its State Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Public & Private Historic Organizations

Historic preservation is most successful when it is a collaborative effort of public and private organizations. The most effective program includes:

  • The protection of historic structures and objects from public and private encroachments
  • The study of historic events and structures, information sharing, and public outreach programs
  • The restoration, rehabilitation and/or renovation of historic structures and objects

The following organizations are major players involved in historic preservation in Hunterdon County (this is not an exhaustive list):

Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission

The Cultural and Heritage Commission is appointed by the County Board of Chosen Freeholders and is responsible for promoting local cultural and historic programs. The Commission offers small grants to municipalities and non-profit organizations for cultural and historic preservation projects. The Chairman of the Commission is the designated County Historian.

Municipal Historic Preservation Commissions

Municipal historic commissions are created pursuant to enabling legislation in the Municipal Land Use Law. Commissions are responsible for reviewing development activity within a designated historic district. Permitted activities within these designated sites or districts vary and are restricted in accordance with the ordinance. Typically, local ordinances require that new development be compatible with historic structures by incorporating specific architectural and design elements into the new construction. The removal or destruction of historic structural elements of a building may also be restricted. There are several municipal historic commissions in Hunterdon County that operate pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law.

Municipal Historian

A municipality may appoint a person(s) to be the Local Historian, pursuant to the Local Historians Enabling Act of 1979. This volunteer position is responsible for acquiring and documenting information regarding local history. The Local Historian works cooperatively with other historic organizations and assists in the preparation of grant in aid applications. There are approximately 17 designated municipal historians in Hunterdon County and one County Historian.

Historical Societies & Museum Associations

Historical societies and museum associations are non-profit organizations that have historic preservation work programs tailored to the needs of their community or museum. As a non-profit organization, they may apply for grants for historic preservation projects. They typically sponsor fund-raising activities to promote preservation projects and host seminars and presentations for the general public. The Hunterdon County Historical Society has a large membership and is located in the 19th century Greek Revival Doric House. The Society hosts regular activities, publishes a quarterly newsletter and has a library open to the public on a weekly basis for genealogical and local history research. Other historical organizations include the Hunterdon County Museum Association in the Town of Clinton.

Hunterdon County Planning Board

The Hunterdon County Planning Board is a repository for local historic preservation ordinances and maintains a current inventory of districts and structures listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The Board has a small library of historic preservation material that may be circulated upon request. The Board also assists the County Board of Freeholders in the preparation of state and federal grants for historic preservation projects.

New Jersey Historic Preservation Office

The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office is in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry. The Office reviews development activity that encroaches on State and Nationally Registered properties and reviews nominations for new registered properties. It reports its findings to the NJ Historic Sites Council and the NJ State Review Board for Historic Sites, respectively. In New Jersey, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), is the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The SHPO gives final authorization for new State registered districts or structures and project authorization for encroachments upon New Jersey registered properties.

New Jersey Historical Commission

The New Jersey Historical Commission promotes historic research and education projects through information sharing and grant programs. Commission members are appointed by the Governor. Four different grants programs are offered ranging from mini-grants (< $3,000) to larger research, general operating support and special project grants. The larger grants typically do not exceed $20,000.

New Jersey Historic Trusts

The New Jersey Historic Trust was created in 1967 as a non-profit historic preservation organization created by State law. Trustees are appointed by the Governor. The Trust provides support and protection of historic New Jersey resources through several programs. The recently passed Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund guarantees historic preservation grants for a period of ten years, or until the year 2010. These grants fund capital preservation projects (construction, or "bricks and mortar" projects), similar to the previous Historic Preservation Bond Program. This grant also funds site management projects which includes operating costs and feasibility studies. The NJ Historic Trust Fund offers a revolving loan fund that requires matching funds and an easement program that ensures the permanent protection of private properties through deed restrictions.