In a river town founded by Quakers more than 300 years ago, it was one of the first houses of worship. The Bordentown Friends Meetinghouse has stood since 1740, when the streets around it bustled with colonial trade.
But after heavy use by Quakers, a bank, and, most recently, the Bordentown Historical Society, the two-story brick building on Farnsworth Avenue needs some nips and tucks.
Now, it's going to get them.
The site was approved by the New Jersey Historic Trust for a $50,000 capital preservation grant, available through the New Jersey Cultural Trust in fiscal 2013, state officials announced this month.
The grant will pay to stabilize the building, repair wall cracks and crumbling masonry, and address interior dampness, officials said.
Millions of dollars are provided each year through the Garden State Preservation Trust, New Jersey Cultural Trust, New Jersey Historic Trust, and New Jersey Historical Commission to scores of state sites and programs such as Bordentown's.
Aid requests often far outpace the available money, especially in tough economic times. The Historic Trust has $1.2 million available for fiscal 2014 and has received 68 requests totaling more than $3.2 million, officials said.
Applications for fiscal 2013 funding still are being considered, though some grants have been approved. Among them is $15,000 from the Historical Commission for the Alice Paul Institute, a Mount Laurel organization that preserves the legacy of the women's rights and suffrage movements in the state. The funding will pay to upgrade the New Jersey Women's History website.
An additional $3,000 was approved for the Ocean County Historical Society, and $3,000 went to the Center for Community Arts in Cape May County. They were among 22 organizations, museums, sites, archives, and libraries in 14 counties to receive a total of $231,450 from the historical commission "to cover expenses related to New Jersey history" in fiscal 2013, the state said this month.
"Not only does [the financial support] help enrich the lives of our residents by preserving the historical record and advancing awareness of New Jersey's past, but it recognizes the impact these organizations have on economic growth and job creation," said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who serves concurrently as secretary of state, overseeing historical and cultural programs. "This is especially critical as we begin rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy."
In Bordentown, the funding will give the meetinghouse a new lease on life.
The meetinghouse "contributes to the historic fabric of the town and keeps its history alive," said Dorothy Guzzo, executive director of the New Jersey Historic Trust. "We don't have a lot of that architecture left."
Founded in 1682 by a Quaker, Thomas Farnsworth, Bordentown has had several notable citizens, including Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Continental Congress; Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross; Thomas Paine, author of the pro-revolutionary pamphlet "Common Sense"; and Joseph Bonaparte, exiled king of Spain and Naples, and elder brother of Napoleon.
The Friends Meetinghouse was built as a story-and-a-half structure on land deeded by Joseph Borden, who purchased substantial tracts and gave the community its original name, Borden's Towne. A second story was added later.
"We have to preserve this history," said Patti DeSantis, president of the Bordentown Historical Society. "We can't let it dissolve into nothing."
By 1878, the meetinghouse was no longer used for Quaker services, and by the 20th century, it was relocated to the rear of its lot to make way for a bank connected to it by a breezeway. The first floor of the historic building was used for offices and the second floor for an apartment.
In 1999, Summit Bank donated the site to the Bordentown Historical Society as its permanent home. The building has been used for community events and as exhibit space.
It is a "significant part of the history of Burlington County and serves as an important reminder of the noteworthy contributions Quakers have made to our society over the past hundreds of years," said State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington).
"It is vitally essential that we work together to preserve and protect New Jersey's cultural history, even in fiscally challenging times," she said.
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