Grover Cleveland Birthplace Visitor’s Center Approved by Governor Murphy

Photo Credit: NJ DEP

By: Elise Phillips Margulis

 

Grover Cleveland, the only United States president from New Jersey, was born in Caldwell in 1837. His father, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, lived in a manse on the church’s property. 

 

The church sold the building to the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association (GCBMA), a group of people that wanted to preserve the house. The Grover Cleveland Birthplace, c. 1832, opened to the public in 1913 as a museum.

 

The Grover Cleveland’s Birthplace museum is run by The State of New Jersey working collaboratively with the GCBMA to ensure the building and grounds are well preserved.

 

The property is comprised of the birthplace house
and a carriage house, which were listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1976. The buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

 

Caryn Shinske, Press Officer of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) explains why a Visitor’s Center is needed. “The actual birthplace structure is challenging for bus tours because it lacks essential public amenities, especially accessible rest rooms. The new Visitor’s Center will have these. Similarly, the birthplace structure is too small to allow large groups to visit at one time.”

 

The new Visitor’s Center will feature assembly space and a greeting foyer for the overflow of groups. Shinske notes, “Another important feature of the Visitor’s Center will be a readily accessible gift store. This gives visitors the opportunity to buy a memento of their trip to the site, while producing income to support the stewardship of this National Landmark historic site.” 

 

An additional benefit of the new Visitor’s Center is that it will provide space for educational and community activities in its new small group conference room and large audio visual meeting.

 

Shinske reports, “State Historic site’s not-for-profit partner GCBMA has been working in close partnership with the New Jersey State Park Service and the DEP on the new Visitor’s Center project for the past 10 years, from brainstorming to fundraising (on both sides), then design and construction drawings, and now the final step of construction.”

 

Connelly & Hickey Historical Architects of Cranford has drawn up plans to convert the carriage house into a 1,943 square feet

Visitor’s Center. According to Connelly & Hickey’s proposal, “The Carriage House is currently being underutilized and can be adaptively reused to serve as a Visitor’s Center that will enhance the Grover Cleveland Birthplace site and provide much-needed additional amenities and space.”

 

Connelly & Hickey has worked with The GCBMA to develop a long-term plan for the renovation of the carriage house. 

 

The Association’s priority is to preserve the carriage house. An addition will be constructed to include everything the Association has deemed necessary for operations.

 

The plan includes “a small meeting room, a larger multi-use assembly room, a docent office, storage space, accessible lavatory facilities, and a janitorial area.”

 

Increased visitation has caused the Grover Cleveland Birthplace House to run out of space. The Association plans to use renewable, green energy to ensure a small “footprint” and low operating costs through energy efficiency. 

 

In addition to providing extra space and amenities with an energy efficient plan, the Association and Connolly & Hickey are currently working on a conversion that will match the style of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace House and will complement the architecture of the historic birthplace house. The Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation requires that additions to historic buildings maintain the esthetics of their original architecture.

 

Shinske says, “Construction of the Visitor’s Center will enable the GCBMA to draw attention to the unique characteristics and resources of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace within the context of other historic, cultural and natural resources of the Caldwell community and Essex County.” 

 

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