Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Moving Right Along: The Levi Cory House

Moving Right Along: The Levi Cory House
Written by Connie McNamara

In an era of razing smaller, older residences and erecting mini-mansions on the cleared land, it is rare indeed to hear of someone trying to save a house from the chopping block. It’s happening in Mountainside where a prime piece of property has been sold to a developer whose intention is to build a commercial structure on the site. Occupying the land until recently was the Levi Cory House, one of the oldest houses in the Borough of Mountainside.

The Levi Cory House after moving to its new location
across from the Mountainside Public Library.
Standing on that property at 2 New Providence Road was what many felt was a piece of Mountainside history. When the sale of the land was finalized on April 11, 2013, the Mountainside Historic Preservation Committee began a campaign to prevent the house from demolition and to find a new location for its placement.

According to Scott Daniels, chairman of the Mountainside Historic Restoration Committee, Richard Scott, the seller of the property, wanted to save the house and agreed to work with the historic committee to do so. “People seem to be losing interest in history, and our group of preservationists would like to forestall its demise and recognize its importance to the present,” says Daniels. He picked up the baton and worked on the steps needed to keep the house intact and in Mountainside; then the committee joined him in the venture. “Everyone had his or her own talents, and we made use of all of them,” he adds.

Built in 1818 by Jonathan Woodruff, the original house remained in the Woodruff family, prominent “West Fielders,” until mid-century. Levi Cory, also a resident of the West Fields of Elizabethtown, purchased the home in 1884. The Levi Cory House has been part of the development of both Westfield and Mountainside and stood on the corner of Mountain Avenue and New Providence Road in the crossroads of Mountainside’s three-block business district for nearly two centuries.

The Levi Cory House, circa late 1800s.
In addition to the structural and stylistic ramifications of the house itself, a second historical significance provided an impetus for Mountainside’s historic committee to raise awareness as well as money to preserve a part of the area’s heritage. The Levi Cory House was the first home of Children’s Specialized Hospital, the largest comprehensive pediatric rehabilitation facility in the nation. In 1891 twenty-four women from various churches in Westfield decided that underprivileged children needed a respite from the heat and crowded conditions of city life. They rented the Levi Cory House for six months at $12.50 per month, and further fundraising enabled eight young urban children to spend time during the summer of 1892 in the country. The house, then known as The Children’s Country Home, was used for four summers for this purpose until the institution needed to expand and moved to its present location closer to Route 22. Renamed Children’s Specialized Hospital in 1962, its roots are in the Levi Cory House.

After two aborted attempts (the first due to an unforeseen conflict in the mover’s schedule, the second because of structural weaknesses in the building itself that needed to be corrected) the house was moved on November 2, 2013, to borough-owned land on Constitution Plaza near the library and fire department. This land is also home to The Deacon Andrew Hetfield House, another early Mountainside structure. The park-like setting off Route 22 will serve as a post-colonial village.

“The prime focus these last few months was getting the house moved,” continues Daniels. The actual transporting of the house took only part of one day and cost $25,000, but there were numerous details that had to be attended to.

The house on cribbing, awaiting a new foundation.
Utility lines had to be raised in order for the house to be moved along New Providence Road, across Route 22 on to borough property on the northeast corner of the intersection. PSE&G, Comcast and Verizon were involved. This phase cost close to $65,000.

The journey across Route 22 was scheduled to take only ten minutes; traffic approaching and leaving Mountainside on the state highway needed to be re-routed around the intersection for that period. However, a last-minute glitch arose, and the house stood still for about an hour south of the highway. Verizon found that there was not enough slack in the cables to lift them high enough for the house to pass under. According to historic committee member Carol Goggi, the problem was resolved when “two Verizon trucks with cherry pickers were situated on each corner. A worker in each cherry picker lifted the cables with special poles while the house passed underneath with merely inches to spare. It was a sight to behold!”

The house itself was donated to the borough by Richard Scott, the seller of the New Providence Road property. The purchasers, John and Don Sisto of Dallas Contracting, collaborated with the historic committee to assure that the preparatory work, such as excavating around the house to give the house mover access, disconnecting and capping the utilities and removing the chimneys down to the roof line, were all accomplished by moving day.

Volunteers and members of the Mountainside Restoration Committee clean out the
Levi Cory House after Patterson Interiors moved out. The items were sold to raise funding.
The cost of the entire project fell on the fifteen-member Mountainside Restoration Committee. Fundraising began with a June weekend sale of the contents of the house, formerly home to Patterson Interiors. Fabrics of various types were sold for nearly a pittance in order to clear out the house and to begin a kitty for future more substantial money-makers.

Then came a kick-off dinner-dance in June and a golf outing and dinner at Echo Lake Country Club in July.  Both were planned and hosted by the Mountainside Historic Restoration Committee. Individuals, local businesses and corporations threw their support and financial backing into the mix.

With the assistance of many hands, hearts and wallets in the process, the committee is beginning to realize its ambitious goal:  preserving the Levi Cory House for posterity. Further installments will remind us of what life was life in the area during the early years of the home’s existence and just what a small group of contemporary, dedicated residents can accomplish in a short period of time to provide a history lesson for future citizens.

Additional photos of the Levi Cory House on Pinterest

About the Author
A lifelong resident of New Jersey, Connie McNamara has lived in Mountainside since 1974. She graduated from Douglass College and earned an MA in English from Seton Hall University. She taught high school English for more than thirty years, during which time she served as advisor to the school newspaper, which won numerous awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. A stint at Newsweek magazine interrupted her career in the educational arena. Later, as assistant editor at New Jersey Savvy Living, she renewed her calling to the communications field. Since then, she has been a freelance writer. Connie is the author of A History of Mountainside: It Was Only Yesterday, published in 2010 by The History Press.

For More Information
Moutainside Restoration Committee, Inc.

Do you enjoy the articles and features that The History Girl produces each week? 
If so, consider a donation to keep the movement going!


Post a Comment

Thanks for the comments!