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Freight House repairs are just the beginning

It's a little piece of history with a big story to tell. Thanks to Allamuchy Environmental Commission Historic Coordinator Steve Haydu and the support of the other commission members, the Allamuchy Freight House on Route 612 will be around to tell its tale. Built in 1906, when Allamuchy was a bustling farming community of 600 residents, the Freight House was part of a complex of buildings that included a creamery, passenger house, coal house and cattle pen. These buildings served the Lehigh and Hudson River Railway on its route from Pennsylvania to New York, transporting coal, milk, butter and other agricultural products as well as passengers.

"The Freight House is significant because it reflects the rural character and history of Warren County," Haydu said. He noted that the landmark is listed in both the National and New Jersey historic registers.

The Allamuchy stop received additional notoriety in the 1940s,when Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Allamuchy in his private railway car, the Ferdinand Magellan, to call on his close friend Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. The Rutherfurds were a prominent family in the county, whose mansion, now known as Villa Madonna, also was built in 1906.

Passenger service on the L& HR railway was discontinued in 1933 and the Allamuchy passenger house was dismantled. Shipments of goods steadily dwindled over the next couple decades. Conrail purchased L& HR Railway in the 1970s and sold it in 1985, at which time the Freight House was abandoned. The fact that the structure was built on three-foot-tall concrete pylons to facilitate loading and unloading between the train and Freight House helped to ensure its survival, Haydu said.

The process to save the historic site began in 1996 when the two acres of land with the Freight House on it were donated to the township of Allamuchy.

"We saw this as an opportunity to renovate the building," said Haydu. And now that it is owned by the township, he added, someone will be responsible for the upkeep.

Haydu started applying for grants and over the next four years, was able to procure a total of $150,000 from the Warren County Municipal and Charitable Conservancy Trust Fund. The grant money was used to stabilize the structure, replace the roof, and give the building a fresh coat of paint, the first it's had since the 1950s, he noted. To maintain the period integrity, the project was overseen by Historic Architect Mark Hewitt of Bernardsville. Haydu noted that many of the trees surrounding the structure have been cleared to increase visibility and discourage vandalism.

"It was a lot of work and a lot of fun." remarked Haydu.

He expressed gratitude to the Allamuchy Volunteer Fire Department for its assistance with securing the roof tarpaulin. He also cited Charlie Fineran, director of Open Space for Allamuchy Township and a member of the Allamuchy Environmental Commission, for his diligence in photographing the Freight House project from start to finish.

With paint donated by Benjamin Moore, contractor Steve Dimiceli took on the task of applying the yellow and green colors selected by Haydu. The recreated decorative soffits, designed for the prominent families of the area in 1906, were a special challenge to paint, according to Dimiceli. He also explained that the structure's original boards, damaged by vandalism, were flipped so that the fresh clean wood now faces the inside. The graffiti-covered wood facing the outside was covered by the paint.

Taking part in the restoration held personal significance for Dimiceli. His grandfather, Walter "Mike" Elston, was an employee of the Lehigh and Hudson Valley Railway and worked at the Allamuchy railway stop in the early 20s. In 1925 he was hired as a clerk at the Andover station and worked at several other L& HV stations until 1947 when he returned to Andover as a station agent. He retired from this position in the early 1970s.

The recent renovations are just the first phase in the plan to transform the Freight House into a Warren County landmark. The next phase, according to Haydu, involves securing funding for new doors, windows, a loading platform and landscaping.

The trail on which the original railway tracks were laid runs from Phillipsburg to New York state. Haydu said that Warren County is in the process of purchasing the right-of-way for its section of trail on which the Freight House will serve as a historic marker.

"So much history and it was almost lost," Haydu commented. With the work that has been done, he said, "This building will last another 100 years."