STRATFORD – Crews have begun dismantling the facade of a vacant historic mansion ahead of demolition to make way for housing for the elderly.
Workers drilled into the marble trim on Tuesday to chisel out an upper story cornerstone bearing the 1844 erection date of the Sarah and Ephraim Tomlinson mansion. Much later it served as a private school.
Some of the older brickwork, wooden porch columns and a few other original exterior elements of the structure will also be removed for preservation, along with interior artifacts that have already been salvaged, according to project manager A&E Construction.
The mansion at 710 W. Laurel Road is the oldest house in Stratford, the centerpiece of the Stratford Borough seal and is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The house was last used for the Stratford Classical Christian Academy, which closed in 2015.
The developer, Integrity Community Partners (ICP) Stratford GP, LLC, is pursuing a borough-approved plan to demolish the mansion using a locally issued demolition permit a year ago. New school buildings at the rear of the 11-acre property have already been demolished.
No state or federal review is required to demolish the mansion. In its place, ICP plans to build 191 assisted living, independent living and “memory care” units of four to five stories.
The plan moved forward when the developer withdrew an application for a state wetland permit to direct runoff into an adjacent branch of Big Timber Creek. The state Department of Environmental Protection said it would not approve the plan unless the mansion was saved.
The developer said the mansion was structurally unsound, although its technical study also concluded that the house would be eligible for preservation grants that could help repair and save it. The house has been modified over the years, so part of it is not original.
“We have started to carefully remove the oldest and original historical artifacts. We have already removed some things – nails, doors, trim – from the interior in consultation with the borough historian and are storing them in a container here on the property,” said Marisa Santora, A&E Deputy Project Manager.
She said the developer will display them in a room that will be dedicated to telling the story of the mansion.
“We will have a structural engineer tell us where some of the original brickwork can be incorporated into the new building, whose facade will replicate that of the mansion,” Santora said.
Anthony Santora, father of Marisa Santora, is the former chairman of the Stratford Joint Land Use Board who left the board after the project surfaced two years ago. He is both president of A&E Construction and director of Integrity Community Partners and also the party that applied for the demolition permit.
In January, the Land Use Board unanimously approved an application for a revised site plan for the development.
Borough historian Carole Dadino said she accompanied a knowledgeable contractor on a guided tour of the building to determine what was original and in good enough condition to salvage. She also said the developer has promised to light the new cupola the night after it is erected and is still determining the history of the homes in the house to see if they need to be salvaged.
“Having said that, my heart is broken after working so hard to save the mansion for the past six years,” she added.
Earlier this year, current Land Use Board chairman Mike Mancini took to social media to defend the board against online criticism, saying the project would benefit the borough.
“To us, it’s just an old building that doesn’t benefit our city. I don’t need to know the history. I wouldn’t change my mind if George Washington slept here. If it doesn’t benefit not to the taxpayers, I see no reason to save it,” he wrote on the Save the Tomlinson Mansion Facebook page.
Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey life, history and veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and Daily Journal. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected].
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