Submitted by Ronald Weinger
Many people have passed, at 31 Horseshoe Road, Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, the 257-year-old Littell-Lord Farmstead house because it looks like only a century old derelict house
Even more people pass by the Lord Victorian House at 23 Horseshoe Road, much newer, by about 110 years, at the northwest corner of Horseshoe Road and Mountain Avenue. The house was built by Charles Wait Lord around 1870, with two story addition from later in the century. A single story shed roof was added around 1930 and a porch, later enclosed, around 1940. The main section of the house, as was common, was built on a stone foundation over a shallow crawl space. We call the house the “Grandmother House” because Charles Lord’s mother, Elizabeth Estes, lived in it for a while, but, according to Mary Lord, it was originally built as a schoolhouse and playhouse for Lord children, as the original house became too small to hold the expanded family.
Approximately 18 acres of the farmstead was bought by the Township of Berkeley Heights under a Green Acres Grant, in 1975, from 19-year-old Elizabeth Anne Wemmett, great granddaughter of Charles Lord, who purchased the property after the Civil War. The Farmstead is listed on the NJ Green Acres Program Open Space database.
The Historical Society of Berkeley Heights, formed in 1973, reached an agreement in 1977 with the Township whereby the Society would operate the farmhouse as a house museum and educational center, with the Grandmother House and outbuildings to serve as outdoor exhibits. The, Society would be responsible for interiors, collections, programs, and minor repairs. The Township would be responsible for maintenance, exteriors, and structural work. The Society, with support from many other volunteer organizations, devoted countless hours to its responsibilities, particularly with regard to the Farmhouse Museum. Members started interior work on the Grandmother House but no longer had access after the Township rented the house to tenants.
The Farmhouse Museum was configured as a “3 period” display, the 18th Century display in the original portion of the house, a Victorian era display in the portion added by Charles Lord after the Civil War, and an Edwardian era display in the portion created around 1900. Anachronistic additions, such as roof dormers and exposed plumbing were removed. Display pieces were obtained through donations and positioned. Funding was obtained through donations and from the rental of the Grandmother House.
One its last acts of the early members was the preparation of a professional “Historic Structures Report and Landscape Assessment,” copies of which were retained in the museum and by the Town Council. Over the years the museum remained open but Society membership dwindled and the recommendations were not carried out. In 2013, Dan Palladino, former Mayor of Berkeley Heights, brought new members to the Historical Society, who has since been trying to address not only the documented issues but those that arose since the Report was written. With the assistance from Eagle Scouts renovations were made to the Summer Kitchen outbuilding and the “family garden.” Forst Construction Company of Berkeley Heights replaced the damaged roof over the “lean-to kitchen” to stop the water leaks from further damaging the floor. That was partially funded by a Union County matching funds grant. A second grant is being used to repair damage to the Northeast corner of the building. Several trees were removed, potential hazards during a severe storm, and a tree grant will be requested to replace and locate them further from the buildings. Additional period artifacts have also been donated to the Museum.
The entire property was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1978 and on the National Register in 1979 and is subject to the review provisions of the New Jersey Protection of Historic Resources Act – NJSA 13:1B-15. The register listings describe the Grandmother House, with its carpenter’s lace trim, as a rare example of the Carpenter Gothic style. Experts have called it essential to the Farmstead as an historic site.
The Historical Society of Berkeley Heights is a 501c-3 organization and welcomes tax deductible donations and new members. No special skills are necessary as there are projects for people with a variety of interests. Follow us on Facebook and on the internet from a link on the Berkeley Heights Township web site.