EDISON – Middlesex County will receive more than $1.6 million in grant funding from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program to help purchase the Metuchen Meeting House Battlefield.
The Battlefield, which consists of 13.12 acres in Edison, is the only site in New Jersey to receive the grant; the only Revolutionary War landmark this year to secure funding; and was the recipient of the highest grant amount awarded nationwide, the county said in a statement.
“Our historic landmarks and sites are a source of great pride in Middlesex County,” Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios said in the statement. “We are honored to receive this important grant to preserve and protect the Metuchen Meeting House Battlefield for future generations of residents and visitors to immerse in the American Revolution, right here in our community.”
Grants totaling $2,887,423 will be issued to Kentucky, New Jersey and Virginia to protect 221 acres of Civil War battlefields and 13 acres of Revolutionary War battlefields, according to the National Park Service.
“Our vision and passion to commemorate our deep roots in the Revolutionary War in Middlesex County drives us to continually seek funding to preserve our most sacred sites,” Richard Lear, director of Parks & Recreation at Middlesex County Department of Infrastructure Management, said in the statement. “This competitive pitch was hard won by the many members of our department and the Board of Chosen Freeholders; it signifies a major accomplishment for not only our county but the entire state of New Jersey.”
Lear said the county closed on the property in March. The county paid the appraised value of the property, $3,165,000, he said.
The property was purchased from the Ferrante family, who owned the property since 1975, Lear said.
The family, who initially approached the county about the property, “wanted to see that property preserved as open space rather than have it purchased by a developer, cut up into a little lots, and have houses built on it,” he said.
There are potentially 11 buildable lots on the property, which will now be preserved and enjoyed by generations to come, Lear added.
The family had a long appreciation for the property – the scenic value, as well as the historic value, he said.
“When they first approached us, we did a little bit of research and we also understood the historic significance of that area as well,” he said.
What made the property even more desirable, Lear said, is that it is adjacent to the Edith Stevens Memorial Wildlife Preserve, which is owned and managed by Edison Township.
“Any time you can add to existing open space or parkland, it rates that property even higher because it expands that public property,” he said.
The grant money will be used to replenish the county's open space trust fund, which was used to purchase the property, Lear said.
“Any time we can find a funding partner to help us defray the cost of an open space property it helps county residents, it helps the county's open space fund to go further and brings some federal tax dollars back to New Jersey,” he said.
A management plan for the site is still in the works.
“It's something we'll be looking at with our partner Edison Township,” he said. “The property can only be used for recreation or conservation.”
Edison will hold title to the property and will manage it.
“We do that quite often when we work with our municipalities for open space acquisitions,” Lear said. “The county always holds a conservation restriction – meaning it keeps us in the loop about the management of the property, requires the municipality to work with us and allows us to review plans of what they want to do.”
The property includes the former Ferrante family house, scenic vistas and a bit of woodlands, he said.
“Here was a battle that was fought during the Revolutionary War that people probably don't know a whole lot about,” Lear said. “This gives us an opportunity to bring that to light.”
Lear said he believes that this type of acquisition is why the county created and voters approved the open space trust fund – to be able to find these important properties, whether they're historic, ecological or cultural properties, and save them from development for the enjoyment of everybody.
“I applaud the tremendous efforts made by the county to vie for this award, this is a proud moment for all of us who live here and a huge win for American history,” Freeholder and chair of Infrastructure Management Charles Tomaro said in the statement. “Without this vital funding, we risk losing part of history forever and an important facet of our County’s identity. By protecting our historic sites, we honor our forefathers and the sacrifice they’ve made for the freedom we celebrate today.”
The Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant program, administered by the American Battlefield Protection Program, provides up to 50% in matching funds for state and local governments to acquire and preserve threatened Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War battlefield land through the purchase of land in fee simple and permanent, protective interests in land, according to the National Park Service.
Eligible battlefields are listed in the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s 1993 “Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields” and the 2007 “Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States.”
The Metuchen Meeting House Battlefield is the site of the Battle of Short Hills. On June 26, 1777, Crown forces led by Sir William Howe advanced westward, where they were met by Continental forces under Gen. George Washington. American soldiers positioned themselves on a series of hills adjacent to the roadway, including these lands that will be incorporated into the adjacent Short Hills Battlefield Historic District listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.
Susan Loyer covers Middlesex County and more for MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to her work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.