My hometown of Little Silver bought the Parker Homestead some years ago, just a few doors down from my house. The homestead consists of a house and several barns. Preserving the historic site, which dates back to the 17th Century, was a pet project of our late Mayor, Suzanne Castleman. She and her husband Don were great people, Miss Karen and I miss them very much.
However noble the cause, I think we went about it the wrong way. Buildings are living, breathing things. Like the human body, buildings are best maintained by constant activity. What we have now in the Parker Homestead is a musty money pit: the Borough will have to seek grants in perpetuity just to keep the place from from collapsing on itself.
I suggest that there is a better way. Instead of trying to create a museum that requires a constant injection of funds, perhaps we should decide what we really want to preserve and let the market take care of the rest.
For example, preserving the interior of the Parker Homestead house is probably unnecessary. There are already a number of excellent examples of the architecture of the period in Monmouth County and there is an entire preserved farm called the Longstreet Farm in Holmdel Park, complete with several homes, outbuildings, farm animals and a blacksmith.
So let’s say that it is most important to us to preserve the exterior of the Parker Home. Here is what I would do: draft a detailed historic easement describing how the building’s exterior is to be maintained and make it a permanent deed restriction. Then sell the property to a private owner, who can update the building any way they chose providing they live up to the requirements of the easement.
Concerned that the buyer won’t adhere to the easement requirements? Then sell the property based on a long-term low-cost lease with guaranteed renewals that gives the municipality the right to evict the tenants in the event the easement is breached. I would suggest that this issue in minor, because the likely buyers are preservation enthusiasts.
It is a win-win scenario: the town keeps its history and keeps a property on the tax rolls and the buyer gets a good deal on a historic home.
By prioritizing our goals, I think we will be able to more effectively preserve historic properties. If we choose not to make these decisions, we may lose many of these properties forever.
What successful historic preservation projects have you seen?