On March 3, historians and concerned residents in Bellmawr, New Jersey, woke up to find the Revolutionary War-era home they had been trying to save had been destroyed at dawn by a construction crew, just one day after an attorney representing a group working to save the home filed a lawsuit to prevent the house’s demolition. Now, Gov. Chris Christie’s office is asking questions about the destruction of this historic landmark.
The Hugg-Harrison-Glover home dates back to 1744 and has housed three historic New Jersey families. The home had been owned by the Diocese of Camden during the 20th century until it was seized using eminent domain laws by the state’s Department of Transportation.
DOT plans to use the site to help complete its $900 million Direct Connection roadway project, which will work to improve the interchange of routes 76, 295 and 42. The Hugg-Harrison-Glover House is situated in an important location the DOT says it needs to develop to complete the highway expansion.
According to a report by Philly.com, Bellmawr only issued a permit to tear down a nearby garage, not the historic home.
Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek, who has fought against destruction of the site, said “he can’t believe” that the state went through with the demolition.
“I talked to the [state transportation] commissioner’s office this morning, and they told me it was their property and they could do whatever they wanted with it,” Filipek told Philly.com.
Filipek reports Christie’s office has asked the mayor to give an account of what occurred at the site, but it’s not clear whether Christie will launch a full-scale investigation into any potential wrongdoing on the part of the state.
Historians and concerned citizens in the region had worked for more than a year to stop the destruction of the home, but the DOT and State Historic Preservation Office has claimed the house does not qualify for “historic preservation” status.
The dispute over the home centers around its link to the Revolutionary War. William Harrison Jr., a passionate Patriot, mortgaged the home and a grist mill he owned to raise funds to help pay for a militia in Gloucester Town, N.J. Harrison, who was captain of the local militia, even waged war on the property in 1777, when he and his militiamen, under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette, battled British-backed Hessian soldiers at the Battle of Gloucester.
One of Harrison’s other homes was destroyed by the British army because of Harrison’s role in the Battle of Gloucester, and Harrison would eventually go broke and lose the home.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities at Rutgers University at Camden said the home was “a vital link to the colonial and rural past in a region that has been overwhelmed by modern development and urban sprawl,” and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said, “The demolition of the Hugg-Harrison-Glover House is an injustice for all those in the community working to save this landmark and a loss for South Jersey history,” according to a report by NJ.com.
Despite its historic connections and support from historians across the state, state officials have maintained the site did not qualify as a historic site, citing multiple changes that have been made to the house throughout its history, and they maintain they had the legal right to destroy the property.