Dangerous homes ruining historic park

Dangerous homes ruining historic park

26 Temmuz 2018 - 02:00

The last exit in New Jersey on Route 80 leads into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area, on Old Mine Road, which runs mostly along the river for the 40-mile length of the park.

The first half-mile is a winding ribbon of freshly paved and painted road as it climbs the shale and quartzite rock cliffs, carved by the river over 500 million years.

On one side of the road, the forest climbs the mountain. On the other, trees cling to the sharp decline until it levels to river delta and banks. The park is 70,000 acres -- about 40,000 acres lie on the New Jersey side. The recreation area anchors about 80,000 acres of contiguous wild through northwest New Jersey, spilling into Worthington and Stokes State Forests and High Point State Park.


 The side porch of the Delaware View House overlooking Old Mine Road rotted floorboards and roofs, and large gaps for animals to crawl in. Note the junked toilet at the bottom of the photo.

Mark Di Ionno | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Pristine is the word that comes to mind – until you see the wrecks.

They insult the senses. Graffiti marred, windows busted out, collapsing wrecks of historic homes and barns along the road.

This takes some explaining. In 1955, Hurricane Diane dumped enough rain on the region to create killer floods along the Delaware. The idea to build a dam and create a 37-mile lake and recreation area passed through Congress, and the federal government began using eminent domain to buy properties. Under the Tocks Island Dam Project, thousands of structures – houses, barns, chicken coops, hotels and camps – became property of the federal government as people were removed from their homes and communities were dissolved. The dam was never built, and the river runs unabated, as it has for half-a-billion years.


These old red barns on Old Mine Road could be a picture postcard from the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area, but they are in need of stabilizing repairs. 

Mark Di Ionno | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com


Today, 342 historic structures remain, according to Kathleen Sandt, the public affairs officer for the park. Two hundred are on the Jersey side. Not all are wrecks. Forty have been leased to the Peters Valley School of Craft, a nonprofit art colony in the northern end of the park.

Sandt said that when Congress appropriated money for the current recreation area 53 years ago, there was no funding for maintenance of historic buildings, and very little since.

“The cost of restoration is very high, and the tear-down costs may be high, too,” she said. “Some of our vacant building have asbestos or lead.”


A 19th Century riverside mansion in sight of popular Turtle Beach is fenced off with chicken wire. But that hasn't stopped vandals from destroying the interior. The roof is gaping and the gutters are down, making the water damage extensive.

Mark Di Ionno/NJ Advance Media

While some buildings were converted into park offices, ranger housing or leased to appropriate nonprofits, others have just continued to deteriorate. In historic preservation circles, it’s called “demolition by neglect.” In legal circles, the wrecks are called “attractive nuisances.” They are posted with warning signs, and some are surrounded by chicken wire fences to keep vandals out – or at least pass the liability on to the trespassers if they get hurt.


A barn near Turtle Beach has the windows broken out and has been tagged with graffiti.

Mark Di Ionno | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Bob Canace is president of the Ridge and Valley Conservancy, which has preserved lands in the Blairstown-Hardwick area. He was hydrogeologist who fought the Tocks Island Dam Project.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “But I saw it coming. The federal and state government don’t do a good job of historic preservation; there is never a funding source, though there should be.”



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