Archive for the ‘Essex’ Category

Kip’s Castle

Note: This blog entry was written in 2005 and, obviously, some things have changed. This article is presently being updated to include the changes.

Frederick Kip was a textile magnate who moved to the United States from Europe in 1902. The story, as it is commonly told, is that Kip’s castle was transported stone by stone from Europe to Montclair, NJ and reassembled next to the Klasztor Salvatorian Fathers Monastery. The 9,000 SF Norman Castle style mansion has 30 completely recreated rooms including the original stained glass windows, wood banisters, old-English quarter-sawn oak paneling, turrets, arches and deep set windows set on every wall – even a small chapel complete with mahogany mantelpiece. Large iron gates complete with giant stone pillars on either side frame the driveway entrance. The driveway itself is a long, winding switchback road that snakes up the hill in 3 lengths, the side of which is lit by lamp poles spaced every 50-100 feet.

I received an email from a relative of Kip which disputes the story I mentioned above, about how Kip’s Castle was built and its origins. Regardless of its origin, the castle in its heyday was large and ornate, but most of the internal beauty did not survive thanks to the actions of the second owners. In 1980 the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh came to America from India, allegedly seeking medical treatment. In reality he was fleeing tax evasion and other criminal charges. The Bhagwan, a self appointed spiritual guru since the early 1970s, taught an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, individual devotion, and most notoriously, sex. His followers, many of them well-educated, middle class citizens, surrendered all their worldly goods to him, some even changing their names. By the time the Bhagwan came to the US, he had amassed over 400 centers world-wide with over 200,000 followers.

To announce his arrival in the US, the Bhagwan placed ads in Time magazine proclaiming spirituality through sexual freedom. He also purchased the castle after being influenced by his personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, who had attended Montclair State University. Residents of Montclair and the surrounding towns were not overly pleased with this development as hundreds, even thousands, of red-and-orange robed followers of the Bhagwan flooded into the area, renting or buying almost every available housing space just to be near their spiritual leader. “We are very concerned about our property values, our children and about this becoming an international HQ for a free-sex cult,” said one Montclair resident in a newspaper interview.

The Bhagwan promptly covered the old stone walls of the castle with sheet rock, the wood floors with linoleum, and the stained glass windows were smashed to allegedly prevent the followers from being influenced by “materialism”. But Montclair residents had no need to worry for long – the Bhagwan as it turns out, had bigger plans. The following year, he purchased a 65,000 acre ranch in Oregon and moved himself and his followers out of NJ.

The Bhagwhan called the Oregon property Rancho Rajneesh. The 100 square mile commune, eventually known as Rajneeshpurum had its own airport, restaurants, and police force. The Bhagwan would visit small local towns each day, slowly converting the town into part of his commune. The process was quite simple, and reminiscent of tactics used in European invasions. If you inject your own culture into another, eventually your culture drives out the original culture. When the Ranjeesh followers would finally outnumber the local residents, they would elect other members of the group to be mayor, council members and other political office. Before long, the nearby town of Antelope, Oregon was absorbed into the compound. (Looks like Montclair really dodged a bullet on that one!)

The Bhagwan’s success would not last, however. His second in command fled the country with a large amount of the Bhagwan’s money after she was accused of arson and attempted murder. She was arrested in West Germany and extradited back to the US. By now the Bhagwan had attracted the attention of several government agencies including the Attorney General’s Office as well as Immigration. He was arrested and charged with immigration violations, pled guilty to 2 counts and was fined 400,000 and forced to serve his suspended sentence outside the US. Much like that garbage boat which tried to enter country after country without success before being sent home, he finally was able to return to his native India where he died of heart failure a few years later. The city of Rajneesh, Oregon reverted to its original name Antelope, after the state determined that the conversion of the town violated separation of church and state.

Back in Montclair, in 1984, Kip’s Castle was bought by the law offices of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale (purchase price: $850,000). Nearly twenty years later, the lawyers are planning to move, and there is a very real chance that Kip’s Castle may be knocked down to create condos and townhouses. The asking price for Kip’s Castle, the carriage house and the 15 acres of property is $4.8 million, but it is believed that the proposed development is worth upwards of $30 million.

The future of the Castle is bleak, which is why the Preservation NJ website, which focuses on preserving historic buildings and properties that are threatened by neglect or development, considered it one of the most threatened properties in Essex County. It will take a great amount of money and willpower to buy the property and resist the urge to develop it in the manner which has been proposed. Clearly, there is big money to be made. It remains to be seen whether money or history will prevail.

I was really impressed with the castle. Inside & out you can tell it was made with high quality material and built with old fashioned quality hand construction. Sure, the inside now has standard plaster walls and modern lighting, but it’s not hard to imagine what this building must have been like at the turn of the 20th century. What will become of the property is still an unknown, but I will always remember my visit to Kip’s Castle. There simply is nothing else like it in North Jersey that I know of. The office manager was extremely nice and showed me just about the entire building, pointing out interesting features such as the expensive Dutch tile (called Delft) used to cover the walls of the bathroom, and the curved glass windows in the waiting area. I must say a big thank you to the law office of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale for granting me a brief visit to the property.

More pictures of Kip’s Castle can be found here

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that’s jersey for ya: always contradictory

$800k grant will help reforest South Mountain Reservation

“It looks like a healthy canopy, but it’s in fact a dying forest.”

Sometimes nature needs a little help.

Endowed with $800,000 in state and Essex County grants, the South Mountain Conservancy’s members, local residents and oth ers have embarked on a plan they hope will help reforest nearly all 2,000 acres of the South Mountain Reservation. Battered by what advocates call an overpopulation of deer and the subsequent loss of native flora, large swaths of the reservation resemble what one conservancy member calls a moonscape. The group intends to change that, even if it takes the better part of a decade, or even longer. “We’re on a mission to restore the forest,” Dennis Percher, the chairman of the conservancy’s board of trustees said yesterday, following the project’s announcement by Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.

Except for brambles of invasive plants, such as Japanese barberry, and a thick canopy of leaves, the forest floor is dangerously undergrown, said Percher. “You should not see through the forest like this,” Percher said while looking southeast into Maplewood Township, 200 feet or so below the park. “It looks like a healthy canopy, but it’s in fact a dying forest.”

Percher said he wants to make the forest “scary” again, to the point where if one walking off a trail just might get lost among the park’s oak, beech, hickory and maple stands. A census of living things last summer counted far fewer birds, amphibians and even insects than once thrived among the reservation’s hills, ponds, fields, streams and woods. That dearth of life has wreaked havoc with the biological chain, park advocates say.

And that’s where the $800,000 — half from the state’s Green Acres Fund and half from the county’s Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund — and hundreds of hours of volunteer and paid-for sweat equity comes in. The conservancy, with the help of community and corporate groups and landscape architects, will eventually plant hundreds of native species in 43 fenced-in sites, ranging from one to 14 acres, that altogether make up about 1 percent of the reservation.”But that will be the seed source for the other 99 percent,” said Percher, a trustee since 2003.

Biologists estimate it will take at least 10 years for the native species to take root throughout the reservation. Eventually, though, the forest will serve as an open invitation to frogs, turtles, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, butterflies, mi gratory birds and countless other critters, said conservancy trustee Tricia Zimic.”What I’ve noticed over a series of years is that every spring it was way too quiet,” said Zimic, a Maplewood artist who has walked daily in the reservation, which she calls her backyard, for seven years. “It looked liked a moonscape. I was wondering where everything was. Where are the plants? Where are the animals? Why doesn’t it look like the forest I grew up with?”

Inside a roughly 40,000-square-foot site enclosed by Cyclone fencing, adjacent to the dog park off Crest Drive, Zimic’s work is about to bloom. In what the conservancy calls a wildflower and butterfly meadow, a number of species of flowers and plants have taken root, courtesy of about 600 hours of volunteer work. “You come back in two months, and a lot of this will have greened out,” Percher said, calling it a harbinger of what’s to come on a much larger scale.

The project is not without controversy, however. Trained and licensed sharpshooters have killed nearly 300 deer over the last two winters, much to the displeasure of some community members, who say the deforestation is due as much to global warming and herbicide use as to hungry deer. Despite the kills, the deer population is still three to four times what a healthy forest this size can tolerate, Percher said.

DiVincenzo acknowledged the kills are controversial. But he stood by the decision to license and bring up to 10 sharpshooters into the park over about eight days in January and February of this year and last. He indicated the deer hunt in the reservation will continue next year, although perhaps for fewer days. “Our forest has been destroyed … because of all the deer in here,” he said in the park yesterday. “There’s no question we did the right thing.” He said the park project is likely the largest of its kind in the nation. “This is a beautiful reservation,” he said. “I want to bring it back.”

concrete bunker


got this picture from a viewer. here’s the details…

On my brother inlaws property in Cedar Grove the is an old Concrete Bunker buried into side of a mountain. Keep up the great work on the site

abandoned structure in Essex County



The graves beneath the PAC

Located centrally to the entrance is a memorial to the 1,400 people buried in the graveyard of the Trinity Lutheran Church. When the PAC center was built the graveyard stood in the way. The church was very very old, apparently built around 1740. I don’t know if the graveyard was moved, or if they built on top of it. I am told that the Newark Historical Society has more info. If anyone has any information, please contact me, I’d love to know more.


The Slave Grave at the HS

MLK HS in Passaic needed more space and 2003 an 8 million construction project began. Workers dug up human bones, halting construction. construction began on a project to build 23 pre-K classrooms. The site has been surmised to be home to a slave cemetery for years, most recently in 1992 when city historian Mark Auerbach uncovered evidence indicating as such. County Historian Edward Smyk says not so fast. “it’s not unusual for bodies, in an area that is so heavily populated, to be excavated. When people died, particularly slaves or people who didn’t have prominence, they were just buried in a plot that the landowner had and then were forgotten.”

An archaeologist from the NJ State Museum examined the site and found more bones. The school superintendent said he would not stop construction. He was investigating because the school asked him to, and he would only do what he was asked and no more. The land on which the school sits was once owned by Hartmann Vreeland, one of the earliest settlers of the Passaic area, and like many of the settlers he owned slaves. William Scott, author of “Passaic & It’s Environs” wrote of a slave burial ground between Madison St & Bartlett Place. The Vreeland family members were buried in plots in the Low Dutch Protestant Reformed Church of Acquackanonk on River Dr. It is believed his slaves were buried here on the property.

Official hope to put up a plaque or memorial in memory of the dead.


Singing Sam

Singing Sam Stevens is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside. I don’t really know much more then that, and the fact that this is one of the most ornate graves I’ve ever seen.





Where are the bodies?

Sometime in the 1970’s a small cemetery with about 50 people buried in it became a frequent hangout for unsavory characters. Vandals knocked over the headstones, there was graffitti, trash and filth and the place wasn’t maintained. There were weeds and bushes out of control. The park dept decided to convert it to a park and after petitioning the courts, got permission to bulldoze the place. the headstones were laid flat and fill was brought in to raise the level of the park. We wouldn’t want a dog walker to dig up a bone now would we? A memorial to the deceased was erected in place of the headstones that were buried, and it is all that remains of the old cemetery which dated back over 100 years…







$117K can still buy you a house in Montclair

It is a fixer upper of course…

The tiny, circa-1890 frame house on the narrowest of lots — just 18 feet wide — is as modest as a single-family home can get so close to Montclair’s stately Estate section, where a handsome six-bedroom colonial with “old world craftsmanship” is listed at $1.49 million. The mini-house with its small red deck is also less than a mile from the town’s most expensive real-estate listing, the $7.75 million, 30-room mansion that was once home to former Giants star Michael Strahan. But this little old house on Cross Street is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is, in fact, at just $117,500, believed to be the lowest-priced listing in town.

“I’ve been in business 20 years, and I’ve never had one that cheap. … It needs, hmmm, basically decor,” said Lenore “Lee” Robinson, the listing agent with RE/MAX Village Square. While it has a lot of traffic from potential buyers, it is still on the market, a sign of the real-estate slump. Its price has been slashed from its summer listing of $175,000. “I would have thought it would have sold right away,” she said. “I just think people are so afraid.” Last month, just eight houses went under contract in Montclair, compared with 25 in December 2007 and 21 in the same month a year earlier, said Linda Grotenstein of Coldwell Banker’s Upper Montclair office. About 85 single-family homes are on the market in Montclair — once a hotbed for multiple bids during the market’s more heady days. The number of listings swells to about 150 when condos are counted.

Still, Adriana O’Toole, a Montclair agent who serves with the West Essex Board of Realtors, said that’s about right for this time of year. And regardless, buyers, she said, are taking their time. “They’re very discerning,” she said. So discerning that the 16 single-family homes now under contract have been on the market an average 115 days, slightly ahead of the Essex County average of 107 days. The least expensive house offers a red deck off the first-floor living room and a single second-floor bedroom, with sliding-glass doors. “It looks like a little chalet,” Robinson said in real estate agent speak. “The Hobbit house” is how one interested party described it, Robinson said.

There have been open houses. Prospective buyers walked through the first-floor 9-by-13 living room and the kitchen. They ascended the staircase to the sole shower-only bathroom and single bedroom. They went around back to a stockade-fence enclosed yard, just a few feet deep, to enter the full basement. Just a week ago, RE/MAX agent Roy Castor showed the house to yet another prospective buyer. “He really liked the house. It’s like the perfect size for a single person.”

Little is known about the house’s history. It isn’t included in Montclair’s otherwise exhaustive 1981 historic preservation survey, and it hardly could qualify as a carriage house once capable of holding horses and wagon. But a larger house, just a couple doors away on Cross Street, is described as a place built for “servants of wealthy landowners on nearby Union and Gates avenues.” Ceil Adkins, who remodeled her larger Cross Street home down the block, said some homeowners on the street have connections going back generations. One of her elderly neighbors, she said, told her that her grandparents once lived in what is now being called a chalet, not far from the 2.25-acre Porter Park.

“It’s a very rare block. There is no other block like Cross Street. This is the only street for the servants that is right in the heart of the Porter Park area,” she said. “We’re surrounded by all these big beautiful mansions.” It’s something Robinson can relate to. Her 1897 St. Luke’s Place home, she said, once belonged to a coachman, a man who handled the bridles and such for a gentleman’s or lady’s transportation. One of those nearby mansions near Cross Street was once the home of James J. Fielder, who served as New Jersey’s governor after Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913.

The little house’s listing does describe the place as a “fixer-upper,” something potential buyers seem to shy away from nowadays, said Roberta Baldwin, an agent at RE/MAX Village Square in Montclair. But just around the corner, on Orange Road, a 4-bedroom 1880 colonial being marketed at $650,000 “needs TLC,” according to the listing. Besides, someone might like the little “chalet” just the way it is.”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Baldwin said. “A little love nest?”