Newton votes against preservation status for Horton House

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By Joe Weston

— Newton’s Town Council voted 3-2 amidst lively debate April 28 to deny a request from the Sussex County Historic Society to provide Newton’s Horton House with historic preservation status, which would have protected it from being razed.

The crux of the issue was the high cost of renovating the 156-year old structure to its original condition, according to Tom Russo, town manager.

“According to engineers surveying the condition of the building, the estimated cost to renovate it would be between $3 and $5 million,” Russo said.

The Horton House sits on land owned by Sussex County Community College and was once utilized by the college. The college would be forced to spend a lot of money on the building just to keep it from being an unsafe structure if the council ruled in favor of the preservation status, according to Russo.

Engineers were fearful the second and third floors might collapse, according to Russo.

“The building is dilapidated with 25 percent of the ceilings collapsed, the tiling cracked, holes in the wall, windows cracked, no heating system, dry rot throughout, basement walls cracked, and debris strewn throughout the interior,” Russo said.

Dr. Paul Mazur, President of the Sussex County Community College, wants the building demolished, Russo said.

“The college is already in financial difficulty with a $1.2 million shortfall, and it asserts it doesn’t have the funds to improve the Horton House,” Russo said.

Deputy Mayor E. Kevin Elvidge and Councilwoman Sandra Lee Diglio voted in favor of the Historical Society’s request to preserve the building while Mayor Joseph Ricciardo, Councilwoman Kristen Becker, and Councilman Daniel G. Flynn voted against protecting the building with historical designation.

“We usually all agree,” Flynn said, when speaking of the split decision.

Wayne McCabe, who represented the Sussex County Historical Society, said he believes private funds could be raised to renovate the building.

“In a perfect world, the building would be preserved and not changed into a parking lot,” Flynn said. “If the town council designated it for historic preservation, then the building would sit there for decades as the historical society would not be able to raise $3.2 million to bring it back to its original condition.”

Flynn said that him, Ricciardo and Becker, who voted against the historic preservation designation, felt it was not the council’s place to tell the college what to do with the building.

“The Sussex County Community College would be stuck with the building,” Flynn said. “Although I know the building has great historical significance, I would not ask the future generations of college students to pay for this.”

The Horton House website provides insight regarding its Gothic stone architecture the Historical Society wanted to preserve, it states:

“The Horton Mansion exemplifies the development of the picturesque movement in American suburban architecture before the Civil War … On the Horton Mansion; the Pointed Arch is used in all principal openings, except the central bay of the facade. Other characteristic features of Rural Gothic architecture include ornamental, clustered chimney pots, a tracery window centered in the facade, decorative window heads, mullions, and label hood molds or dripstones of cut freestone. The Horton Mansion’s absence of exterior shutters is also notable, since these were considered inappropriate to Gothic style. It's situation and surroundings conform in all aspects to the principles of the Picturesque movement; it was sited beside Horton Lake on a bluff overlooking the Kittatinny Valley for scenic vantage, set amidst “naturalized” landscaping on a model working farm.”

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