- Project Name
- Historic Restoration of the Proprietary House
- CTS Group Architecture/Planning PA
- The Proprietary House Association
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- Year Completed
- Shared by
- David V. Abramson, AIA,
- Project Status
- Room or Space
The Proprietary House in Perth Amboy has long been recognized as one of New Jersey’s most historic houses. Constructed between 1762 and 1764, it served as the residence of Governor William Franklin from 1774 to 1776. Franklin was arrested in 1776 and taken to Connecticut. He never returned and the House served as headquarters for Lord William Howe the British general during some of the American Revolution. The House was partially reconstructed as a residence after vandalism and a fire in the mid-1780’s. The House was altered and enlarged (in height and in plan) throughout the 19th and 20th centuries serving as a residence, a hotel, a retirement home for Presbyterian ministers and an apartment house. In 1967 the State of New Jersey took ownership of the vacant and deteriorating structure and subsequently administrative and interpretive activities have been directed by The Proprietary House Association which was formed to ensure the property’s long-term preservation. The House has undergone a number of restorative campaigns since 1967 which are chronicled in the 1996 Historic Preservation Report prepared by John G. Waite Associates, Architects. The Governor’s Mansion, the north wing, serves a house-museum run by the Association while the Addition, the south wing, houses offices leased to the JMRC, a not-for-profit social services organization. The Department of Environmental Protection administers the property for the State of New Jersey.
Throughout recent years maintenance was not adequate to address the numerous challenges of the 260-year-old historic building. In particular, the injurious effects of water and weathering took their toll on exterior elements: brick, brownstone, slate, wood, cast stone and ferrous metals. The Proprietary House Association as stewards of the historic building marshalled resources and succeeded in obtaining a substantial State Department of Community Affairs grant facilitated by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez to undertake the extensive required restoration effort. The Association retained CTS Group Architecture/Planning PA to design a comprehensive exterior restoration program. All proposed restoration work was reviewed and approved by the State Historic Preservation Office. The Association retained Paragon Restoration Corporation to undertake the restoration construction of the historic Proprietary House. Architectural work commenced in 2018. Restoration construction commenced in October 2019, was affected by COVID restrictions, and concluded in Spring 2021.
The façade’s physical form revealed much about the history of changes over time. Informed by the Historic Preservation Plan (HPP), a detailed conditions assessment (some hands-on and the balance with high-powered binoculars) established a comprehensive catalogue for all features. The assessment was supplemented by a number of scientific analyses which also helped with building a chronology. A paint analysis was done on typical windows and entry doors. A mortar analysis confirmed that the Governor’s Mansion and the Addition had different colored mortar. Brick testing, for compressive strength and absorption, was critical for evaluating the adequacy of deteriorating masonry. The result of this multi-faceted investigation was a program for restoration which was discussed and approved by the Association and subsequently by the State Historic Preservation Office.
The deleterious effects of water were significant and ubiquitous. The paint cover had failed on most of the façades; the HPP notes a painted façade for most of the building’s history. Runoff from leaking and improperly sloped gutters eroded not only the paint cover but mortar and bricks as well. Gutter overflow and leaks also caused rotting of the wood cornice. The effects of water penetration and freeze-thaw damage were everywhere and included step and other brick cracking as well as displaced brick masonry. Investigation after the scaffold was erected revealed major sections of parapet walls where only sand remained at the brick joints. The lower two floors of the Mansion’s east façade were constructed with both a buff and red brick which were revealed under the eroded paint cover. Scientific testing confirmed observations that hard mortar was used over original softer (lime-based) mortar resulting in significant erosion of the white brick. Brick testing determined that the buff brick (but not the red brick) was significantly below the standards for current bricks which supports the observations of severe brick erosion. These tests also guided the restoration strategy. The Proprietary House has a brownstone base, windowsills and lintels (including splayed lintels on the primary east Mansion façade) as well as belt courses and parapet coping. There was previous replacement and patching of all features. Pre-restoration conditions varied but many features were spalled and cracked, some with structural damage. Brick chimneys had been replaced with parged CMU chimneys over the years. The concrete masonry unit joints were visible through the worn parging. Although there were no active roof leaks, except those associated with damaged gutters, there was a history of slate replacement with numerous cracked and slipped slate units. Many wood windows were inoperable, all had poor paint cover and there were numerous broken and rotted window elements: frames, muntins, sashes and sills. Finally, the Mansion’s entry steps were deteriorated and unsafe. The 3-sided steps were constructed of cast stone based on a historic sketch prior to the addition of porches during the years of hotel occupancy. Although intrusive investigation determined the general adequacy of the foundations, the cast stone was cracked and shattered. This means of egress was closed as a life-safety hazard.
The restoration program was developed based on the assessments and analyses described above and was informed by the Historic Preservation Plan. State-of-the-art strategies and processes were used for the many components. All masonry surfaces were restored. All brick joints were raked and repointed. Certification of the masons to cut (horizontal) hard mortar joints was required before work commenced. Mortar recipes based on scientific testing were used resulting in a “white” color at the Mansion and a “beige” color at the Addition. Selective bricks were replaced with matching units. Cracks were repaired and displaced brick reset with careful attention to matching bonding patterns. The north facade parapet was entirely disassembled and rebuilt with sound mortar. Brick units were numbered and restored to match the original configuration. Sound east façade buff brick was retained and patched as required to retain these unusual elements. Sound brownstone was patched with restoration mortar matching the original in color and texture. Cast stone, textured to match brownstone, replaced missing and severely eroded, damaged and non-original units. A detailed process of sampling matching colors was used as the basis for selection of replacements. Historical and material evidence described a coating over the brick façade features. After removal and preparation of the surfaces with water blasting and fiber brushing, a mineral coating (which forms a chemical bond with the masonry) was applied to all brick surfaces.
All damaged and missing wood cornice components were replaced with matching members and painted. All gutters were re-sloped for positive drainage and re-lined with copper. Damaged downspouts were replaced. Damaged slates adjacent to the gutters and throughout the roofs were replaced with existing good condition slate harvested from roof surfaces which are not visible from the street. Those locations received new matching slate. Finally, the failing and unsafe east Mansion stair was replaced. The foundations were reinforced and modified to permit more effective placement of the cast stone treads. New cast stone treads match the original brownstone base in color. New iron railings complete the entry. A contemporary barrier-free ramp had been constructed to the basement at the rear of the Addition. Its CMU foundation walls extended 3’ above grade; they obscured views of the historic building and created shadowed, un-safe spaces. The above-grade walls were removed and simple iron guard rails were constructed.
The restoration of the historic Proprietary House is an exemplary project which included the expertise and cooperation of multiple participants to achieve the intended and positive result. The Association rallied community and elected officials to support this major effort. They retained experienced architects and contractors to design and implement the work. They in turn utilized the existing Historic Preservation Plan and scientific analyses to fully inform the program. Finally, the State Department of Environmental Protection ensured successful completion through their oversight. The Proprietary House is now ready for many more decades of life as one of New Jersey’s most historic houses.