Restoration & Preservation since 1970
When the State of New Jersey accepted the bequest of The Hermitage, the house and grounds were suffering from many years of neglect. Deterioration of the roofs, chimneys, and chimney flashings had allowed so much water to enter the structure that much of the interior plaster was destroyed. In addition, animals and birds had damaged the upper areas of the house. The porches were badly decayed and had lost most of their ornamental woodwork. Mortar had eroded from the exterior walls. Trees and bushes around the house were markedly overgrown.
Despite private efforts to protect the house, vandalism and looting of its furnishings took place between 1970 and 1972. The State’s initial goal was to prevent further damage by installing a fence around The Hermitage and by covering the roof with asphalt-impregnated building paper and boarding up the first-floor windows with plywood. Clean-up and site clearing began in 1971. In 1973, a security trailer was moved to the grounds, and an on-site caretaker was employed.
The private, nonprofit Friends of the Hermitage, Inc., was incorporated in 1972. In agreement with the State of New Jersey, the organization is responsible all operations of the park and its historic buildings. This public–private partnership continues.
By June 1972, the Division of Parks and Forestry had prepared a master plan for the restoration of The Hermitage and its five acres of grounds. The State’s Division of Building and Construction reinforced parts of the cellar, repointed some of the exterior masonry, and installed new lintels in 1973. More extensive work began in late 1975. The chimneys were reconstructed; the roofing on the main house was replaced on the main house, the smokehouse, and the summer kitchen wing. More stonework was repointed, and carpentry repair was done on windows, doors, and trim. Missing and broken glass was replaced, and the windows were caulked and cleaned. The building exteriors were repainted, and interior plaster was removed. Exterior lighting was installed.
Also in 1975, John Rosencrantz’s Queen Anne-style Victorian house was moved to the Hermitage property. After John’s death in 1914, the house passed through several owners. The last of them, a real-estate developer, had planned to demolish it to make way for a new subdivision but offered it to the Friends of the Hermitage as a gift. The Friends paid to move the 300-ton structure to its present location within the State Park, just south of The Hermitage. An extensive wing was added in 2000, and the structure is now the Hermitage Education & Conference Center containing administrative offices, exhibition and collections storage space, an educational classroom, and a 70 square foot meeting and banquet room.
In 1976, The Hermitage’s wooden porches were rebuilt; the foundations were water-proofed; and the interior walls were plastered. An oil tank and an early security system were installed, and water lines were run from the John Rosencrantz house to The Hermitage. A mortar analysis was done in 1979.
The restoration of The Hermitage is ongoing. It has been paid for by appropriations by the State of New Jersey and fundraising by the Friends of the Hermitage. Landscape improvements in the 1990s included the reconstruction of the picturesque well house on the front lawn and of the north gate; repairs to the stone wall along Franklin Turnpike; and improvements to exterior lighting. The installation of outdoor signs that use early photographs to show how the house and grounds were used in the 1890s add to visitors’ understanding of the site. While maintenance of the historic house is continuously under way; the restoration of The Hermitage is largely complete; and the Friends focus on enhancing the interpretation of the house, improving the management and care of the Hermitage collections, and building audiences through innovative educational programming
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