By: Christine Glassner, Mendham Borough Mayor
Morris County is rich with early American history. And there is no better example than in the center of our own Mendham Borough. At the intersection of Route 24 / Main Street and Hilltop Road and Mountain Avenue are four original buildings from early in the Borough’s development. Although we have many important original structures in town, one that we especially cherish is the Phoenix House, which has served as our Municipal Offices since 1938 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This Federal-style architectural gem was built in the early 1800’s, but there are conflicting dates as to what year that occurred. The only known deed is from 1823, which shows that the building was purchased in 1820 by William Phoenix. Although there is no record of who built the main building, it was in 1838 when a locally renowned architect, Aaron B. Hudson, added the front porch and balcony. Hudson was also responsible for designing many of the original buildings in town. Prior to becoming town hall for the Borough, the Phoenix House was previously used as an Inn, a hotel, and a school and boarding house for girls.
Over the decades, the Phoenix House has experienced a series of modifications. Sometime in the 1900’s a load bearing wall was taken down separating the front parlor from the dining room. Although it was replaced with an attractive column, the years have taken their toll and the result has been a sagging attic causing stress on the lower floors. Work was performed in 2001 and 2002 to correct this problem, but as with any old building, more work is needed.
Over the decades, the Phoenix House has benefited from grants from both the County and State Historic Preservation Funds. These monies have gone towards preservation plans, design and construction documents, painting, mechanical improvements, and preservation construction. A grant of $279,000 was approved in July of last year by the Morris County Commissioners from the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Additionally, in September of last year the New Jersey Historic Trust awarded a Level II Capital Preservation Grant in the amount of $348,000. Without the awards of these historic preservation funds, it would be a difficult task for Morris County municipalities to maintain our historic heritage through these buildings and sites.
The planning for this important work is set to begin this year, and construction dates will be announced in the months to come. Once the structure is shored up, the next phase will be improving the outside of the building. Carpentry work will make the pillars look like new. Scraping and a fresh coat of paint will help the exterior maintain its charm.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit this wonderful example of our Borough’s past, put it on your schedule to stop by this spring. Spring is the best time to visit and tour the Phoenix House Garden, one of the most impressive in all of Morris County, thanks to the Mendham Garden Club. We look forward to seeing you!