A small but scrappy band of history lovers is fighting to save a Bellmawr landmark that endured the American Revolution but may not survive the reconstruction of I-295 and Route 42.
The Hugg-Harrison-Glover House, built in 1764 on farmland that has long been part of St. Mary's Cemetery, could be torn down this year in the second phase of the epic, $900 million "Direct Connection" project.
The "Save the Hugg House!" group hopes to rally public support for moving the structure - now perched on a precipice above the work zone - about 100 feet to safety.
Doing so would cost $275,000; it would take an additional $175,000 to preserve the structure for public use, advocates say.
It's not clear whether the state Department of Transportation, which acquired the building through eminent domain and intends to raze it, would agree to this new suggestion, much less pay for it.
Although a DOT consultant said last April that moving the house would be feasible, the department apparently has concluded otherwise.
"As part of NJDOT's assessment . . . the department considered the possibility of relocating the house. While structurally achievable, moving the structure to another site was determined not to be feasible due to logistical complexities, such as the removal of trees, relocating overhead utility wires, and the significant cost that would be involved," Steve Schapiro, communications director, told me Monday via email.
However, fans of the house (on Facebook: Save the Historic Hugg House) believe they have history on their side.
"The owner of this little house was a Revolutionary War hero," Chris Perks, president of the Camden County Historical Society, told about a dozen people at a strategy meeting Sunday.
"William Harrison was captain of the Gloucestertown militia and fought twice against the British at this [site]," Perks said.
"Capt. Harrison cleaned the muskets at this house. He received the pay from the Continental Congress and distributed it to the soldiers at this house."
And if that weren't enough, the Marquis de Lafayette himself fought British and Hessian soldiers during a 1777 skirmish on Harrison's land, said Garry Wheeler Stone, a retired archaeological historian.
"Does Harrison rise to the stature of a Lafayette, or George Washington? No," said Stone, who's researching Revolutionary War events in Camden and Gloucester Counties. "But he was heroic."
Stone and historic preservation architect Margaret Westfield, who also attended Sunday's meeting, insisted that a state review a dozen years ago questioning the historical significance of the house was seriously flawed. Essential facts were omitted or ignored, Westfield said.
"Garry's research shows that Washington's promotion of Lafayette was based on what occurred during the skirmish there [on Harrison's farm]," she noted, adding, "Why demolish a house with such significance when it can be moved?
"It's just a matter of money. And the cost would be such a tiny part of the overall project."
The construction has opened up dramatic views of the house from the surrounding tangle of highways; fresh visibility seems to have awakened public interest as well.
"The house had been tucked away in the cemetery and covered with trees and bushes, but once [it] was exposed, it became obvious that this is a house worth saving," said the Rev. Vincent Kovlak, longtime pastor of the Bellmawr Baptist Church.
Kovlak has gathered a total of about 1,300 signatures on written as well as online petitions ("Save the historic Hugg-Harrison-Glover house!" at change.org) to prevent demolition.
"If I'd known [the significance], I would have fought for it way back," said Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek, who supported a save-the-house resolution the Borough Council passed unanimously Thursday.
"If they can move it," Filipek added, "I can't believe they would tear it down."
Neither can I.