work schedule – week of June 29

Posted in work plan / schedule on June 30th, 2009 by flg

Ed Saultz brought his father in to measure the fireplace in the living room; he’s going to build a replacement that closely matches the ones in the parlor. We’re drawing on a wide range of talents in our bootstrapping start on restoration of the building. Ed also spent several hours cleaning up the parlors. On Wednesday we expect a visit from an environmental engineer to check out the mold in the kitchen ceiling and any other potential hazards. We need this for our application for a grant from Warren County. We intend to continue our efforts to clean up the exterior of the building and should have that in pretty good shape by the end of the week. We’ll also clean out the kitchen in preparation for making it fit for tours in late July.

Last Sunday we hosted a Meet-up Group interested in Historical Architecture. Michael Margulies, our architect, is the organizer of that group. At least 16 people were there, almost all deeply involved in restoration efforts in Warren and Hunterdon counties. People were fascinated by the Roseberry house, especially the wall paintings and the associated history. Most have never even heard of the building before. It’s an interested group of people really knowledgeable about 18th century buildings and the history of the region. Here’s the URL if you’d like to learn more:

the kids from North Carolina were here

Posted in Uncategorized, volunteers & sponsors on June 24th, 2009 by flg

and you can really see their impact! They’ve scraped, and painted and shoveled and swept—and the place is showing the result of their efforts. We now have doors on, and we expect by Friday, when they leave, that we’ll have our temporary windows in place. We may even have one room painted. All the door and window frames have a coat of primer on them, and it changes the appearance of the house quite dramatically. There’s still too much clutter for visitors yet, but we’re not far from that point.

scraping the ceiling in the livingroom

scraping the ceiling in the livingroom

I probably should not call them “kids,” but anyone 50 years younger than me is definitely a kid. Maybe even 30 years younger.

Zack measured the beam for the lintel very carefully

Zack measured the beam for the lintel very carefully

We are delighted, too, that chaperones Brett and Mike accompanied them—they are so much more than chaperones, as both are accomplished at hanging doors and building staircase railings. They know their Revolutionary War history, too.

an impromptu concert during the lunch break

an impromptu concert during the lunch break

Ed is a regular, of course, but we hope Terry will be back often. It was a delightful concert!

site visit by historic preservation specialist

Posted in Uncategorized on June 18th, 2009 by flg

Last Monday Chris Frey, an historic preservation specialist, visited the house and he briefly examined several rooms; today I received a preliminary report. He describes several remarkable aspects of the building, but his initial description of the wall painting in the parlor is worth quoting:

We had initially been asked to provide an analysis of finishes for selected historic elements in one room adjacent to the center hall; in-situ assessment determined that woodwork in this room is not original. Historic woodwork was noted elsewhere throughout the first floor. The presence of potentially significant and rare freehand decorative work was noted in several first floor spaces. These finishes, executed in a series of different floral/greenery patterns, are potentially one of the most significant character-defining features of this building. The decorative work has been painted over multiple times.
Short-term recommendations: Given that the floral patterns are incredibly unique, and constitute one of the most significant features within this building, we would recommend that an exceptionally conservative approach be taken wherever they are present. In the short term, under no circumstances should surfaces where these finishes are present be scraped, prepared for new finishes or repainted at this juncture

I’ve appended a couple of pictures of two of the areas.

work schedule – week of June 22

Posted in work plan / schedule on June 17th, 2009 by flg

We expect to have a dozen high school students from North Carolina helping us out with cleaning up the exterior, installing plexiglass in the windows (a temporary measure), and giving the floors a real cleaning. We may even be able to put a coat of primer on the exterior woodwork. C’mon over and say hello to the kids as they help make the place presentable for Ole Towne festival in July.

We had archaeologist Jim Lee in last week to look at the place and give us an opinion as to what areas in and around the house merit a test dig. Then early this week Chris Frey, an historic preservation consultant with the Keystone Preservation Group, was in to take paint and mortar samples. Chris was really intrigued by the wall paintings in the parlor, the hallway and the new “kitchen,” saying they deserve careful study and preservation.

Tour of the Vannatta homestead

Posted in work plan / schedule on June 11th, 2009 by flg

A guided tour of the Vannatta farmhouse is scheduled for this Saturday, June 13 at 4 pm. The building has many similarities with the Roseberry house, so it should be interesting to see what’s been done. Mike Margulies, our architect, will guide the tour, but members of their board will also be present. The Vannatta house is located on Route 519, in Harmony. All are welcome. There’s a link to its website on the right.

Who built the Roseberry house?

Posted in some more history on June 2nd, 2009 by flg

There are many inconsistencies and factual errors entered into the history of Phillipsburg since George Wycoff Cummins published his History of Warren County in 1911, a couple of which made it into the application for the National Register of Historic Places which was granted in 1972. One fact is clear, however—John Roseberry did not build the house that bears his name.

The National Register application notes that John Roseberry, Sr. purchased the land on August 14, 1787 at a sheriff’s sale. Cummins says Roseberry settled in the Phillipsburg area about 1740, and that he owned some 1,500 acres. Cummins notes that in 1772 the Coxe heirs sold 200 acres to John Roseberry and 228 acres to his brother Michael Roseberry. (I cannot confirm any of those assertions.) John Roseberry’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Anderson, who inherited the property from her father (Joseph Roseberry) several times remarked that her family did not erect the house; that they purchased the property with the house already on it. Other evidence suggests the building was erected before 1780, perhaps as early as 1750. The published record, as well as a survey done in 1948 shows a break in the chain of ownership between 1715 when Col. Daniel Coxe of Trenton held title to 1,250 acres of land in the immediate area, and the sheriff’s sale of 1787. Who, then, built the house?

The building is a very large Georgian house built of rough-faced quarried limestone. Its proportions are exceptional, indicating an experienced master builder, perhaps even an architect was involved in its design. Such a stylish residence would not have been out of place in Elizabeth or Morristown in the 1760s, but in Phillipsburg it would certainly have been considered a mansion. One of the several curious aspects of the question is that we have found no references to it in contemporary accounts.

Among the inferences we can draw are that the house was erected by someone with money—not a simple local farmer growing wheat and corn for the market. Another inference that seems reasonable is that the individual was a person of some culture who was part of a social and political stratum that knew and expected a residence to exhibit a certain level of taste and refinement, even if erected in the country. That would seem to rule out most, but not all, the local families. (The Phillips and Feit families, for example, owned substantial acreage and both came with pedigrees that suggests the possibility of social contact with the elite of the region.) A third inference that suggests itself—one corroborated by the public record—is that the sheriff’s sale was of land that had been confiscated from loyalists during the Revolution. Daniel Coxe III was one of those loyalists whose land was taken and sold, and so was his brother-in-law, John Tabor Kempe.

Kempe was Attorney General for New York from 1759 to 1776. In the unrest in New York following the battle at Bunker Hill, he fled with other crown officials to the safety of a British ship in the harbor. Kempe married Grace Coxe, granddaughter of Col. Daniel Coxe in 1766. She inherited at least two parcels of lands totaling several hundred acres in and near Phillipsburg, and shortly after her marriage, those parcels were transferred to Kempe. These properties were confiscated in 1778, and sold at a sheriff’s sale in 1787 or 1789. Together with his property in New York and Vermont, and some claims to land in the Carolinas, he was regarded as one of the wealthiest men in New York. He corresponded with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, and his clients included numerous members of the most illustrious families of New Jersey.

Who built the Roseberry homestead—John Tabor Kempe is the most likely candidate. There are still a number of ambiguities to be resolved, and even if we solve the land ownership question in his favor (which is likely) there is still the matter of construction of the house, and its occupants between 1776 and 1787. On those issues, we are not much closer to an answer. If Kempe had it built, it would date between 1766 ,when he married Grace Coxe, and 1775, when political unrest would have made it imprudent in the highest degree for a loyalist to invest in a potentially hostile country.

I am hoping the records of the trial or the sheriff’s sale will provide an answer to the question, and perhaps we shall find something in his papers at the New York Historical Society—he was reputed to be meticulous in his note-taking and record-keeping. If we can determine that he was, indeed, the builder, then we have a connection between the Roseberry homestead and a very significant figure, albeit a loyalist, at the time of the Revolution. Not incidentally, Grace Coxe was captured by patriots and exchanged for the wife of Francis Lewis, a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And there is one more connection of interest—when his widow sued to recover the property in 1808, the opinion of the U. S. Supreme Court denying her claim was written by John Marshall.

So the Roseberry homestead may have a great deal more significance than simply being the oldest building in Phillipsburg; it might well be emblematic of the region’s significant loyalist sentiment in the early days of the Revolution.

If you are interested in more information about this question, here’s a three-page PDF file who-built-the-roseberry-house that explores the chronology of purchases and the reasoning supporting our belief in Kempe’s responsibility for the house.

Can you contribute?

Posted in volunteers & sponsors on June 1st, 2009 by flg

The clean-up is proceeding, along with a limited amount of stabilization. We’ve shored up the floor joists in the kitchen and pulled down some of the falling ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms. Now we’re doing a few repairs to the ceilings in the main hall and the living room. We’d like to put plywood over the weak flooring in the kitchen and put some thick plastic in a few of the windows, but that costs money, which is in short supply. The Sherwin-Williams store on Memorial Drive has contributed five gallons of the very best paint. Very much appreciated. We can’t use it yet, as we’re waiting for an expert paint analysis to be taken. Then we’ll paint the ceilings that have been repaired and probably put a coat of paint on the living room walls.

If you can contribute, it really would be appreciated. We are now a registered non-profit organization, so all contributions are tax deductible. Send your check to the Phillipsburg Area Historical Society – Roseberry Fund – at the Town Hall, 375 Corliss Avenue, Phillipsburg, NJ 08865. We’ll put the money to good work!