Building history in Monroe

Fully-functioning 19th-century village planned to be built at the Dey farm site.

By: Leon Tovey
   MONROE — No one is living in the two old farmhouses at the intersection of Old Church and Federal roads, but the Historic Preservation Commission hopes to turn the places themselves into pieces of living history.
   "We’re an embryo," commission Chairman John Katerba said Tuesday, standing at the front door of the England House, the 200-year-old, two-story farmhouse that the commission moved to the site from nearby England Road in May 2004.
   The Historic Preservation Commission has spent the last four years planning and building the beginnings of what members hope will one day be a fully functioning example of 19th-century farm life at the Dey Farm site. The site currently is home to four buildings dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, among them the original Dey family farmhouse and barn and the transplanted England House, which was built in stages between 1760 and 1810.
   Walking through the old house, talking about the historical possibilities, he added: "We’re still growing."
   And recent activity by developers and the Township Council have helped to spur that growth, he said.
   In November, the council voted to permanently close the portion of Old Church Road that runs between the two houses at the site. Township Engineer Ernie Feist said the closure was originally planned last year as part of the approval process for the Stonebridge at Greenbriar planned retirement community currently being built just north of the site by U.S. Homes.
   Mr. Feist said he suggested a few small adjustments to the developer’s plan and the decision was made to end Old Church Road at the edge of the Dey Farm.
   Then on Dec. 5, the Township Council voted to accept 6 acres on the east side of Old Church Road from Dynasty Associates and dedicated the land to Historic Preservation Commission. The land came to the township as part of a density-transfer agreement with the owner of Dynasty Estates, Bob McDade, that allowed him to add an additional two units to the 162-unit Dynasty Estates subdivision on Avenue K, Mr. Feist said.
   And Mr. Katerba said that wasn’t the commission’s first encounter with Mr. McDade, who is also the developer of Southfield Estates, a 130-unit subdivision just to the south of the Dey Farm site.
   It was Mr. McDade who paid to have the England House moved from its original location to the Dey Farm, he said. And it was Mr. McDade who paid for construction of a new foundation for the house.
   "He’s been good to us," Mr. Katerba said. "He even gave us some old brick for the outside of the foundation — so it would have the right look — and a little leftover for the chimney."
   Mr. Katerba, who also works for the Monroe Township Municipal Utilities Authority, said he sees development as a two-edged sword; he acknowledged that developers, by their very nature, are a threat to the rural history of the township that he wants to protect.
   But at the same time, he said, developers have helped move the progress of the project along. Most of the 40 acres that now comprise the site came from developers; in addition to the 6 acres, Mr. McDade gave the commission a large plot of land on the west side of the road, just south of the Dey house, and U.S. Homes gave the commission several acres along the north side of the site.
   "We’re a mom and pop operation," Mr. Katerba said. "We’ve managed to get a lot done, but it’s been a group effort: the developers, the council, the commission, everyone."