SCOTCH PLAINS — The small clapboard house next to the Alan Augustine Village Green and across from the Stage House Inn has been there since the 1760s. Inside are four small, low-ceilinged rooms featuring colonial and early-19th-century furnishings, including tables, chairs, an old-fashioned oven, period décor and mannequins costumed in clothing from 250 years ago. The house itself is constructed with wooden pegs instead of nails, plaster composed of crushed oyster shells strengthened with animal hair and walls filled with brick. The grounds also include an arbor and a formal garden, marking the property as a quiet oasis in an otherwise busy downtown area.
During the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777, a cannonball fired by a Colonial soldier at British troops marching on Park Avenue instead landed in the side of the house, giving it its nickname that has endured for two-plus centuries.
Yet more than 260 years since it was built, the Osborn Cannonball House at 1840 Front Street still does not have a designation as an historic place on state or federal registries, and the Historical Society of Scotch Plains and Fanwood, which operates the house as a museum, is seeking funds to finance that effort so that it can then more easily seek grant funding from various sources, according to Cathy Thek, assistant curator with the Osborn Cannonball House Museum.
She told the Union County HAWK that the process of getting the museum listed on the registries was begun by the Historical Society 25 years ago. It was deemed eligible for listing at that time, she said, “and we received a COE [Certificate of Eligibility] from the State Historic Preservation Office, primarily due to the fact that two Revolutionary War soldiers once lived there.” The next step — starting the process of getting listed on the registry — was never pursued, and Ms. Thek said that, “what we are doing now, in cooperation with the town, is finishing that process.”
She explained to the HAWK that any site wishing to be considered for listing on the registry “must go through a nomination process which takes time, much research, committee reviews and is often done by a historical professional.” Ms. Thek added that, “this all requires funding, and in our case, the initial cost is $9,500.”
To help with the process of getting the Cannonball House on the registry, the Historical Society is working with Barton Ross, an award-winning architect who specializes in historic preservation. “He will guide us through this process and he will prepare the nomination for us,” Ms. Thek said. Any additional funds received will go toward the preparation of the architect’s report, another document that is necessary for securing many grants, she said.
Any further excess money from the fund-raising drive will be earmarked toward renovations of the house itself. “Yes, our beloved and irreplaceable museum, with its amazing history, has been showing signs of its 262 years,” said Ms. Thek. She told the HAWK that the group “is committed to giving our museum the TLC it needs and deserves so that it can continue to be a wonderful place where people can come and learn about their town and their country’s history and the fact that a battle of the Revolutionary War took place right here in their own backyard.”
Ms. Thek detailed some of the work needing to be done. “Some of the museum windows need restoration,” she said. “There are water drainage issues, we will need a new roof in the near future, a ceiling in one of the museum’s rooms is beginning to give way and needs replacement, some of the siding needs replacing and the building needs to be painted.” She told the HAWK that the house needs to have air-conditioning installed, “so that our antique dress collection and all of the other precious antiques in the building” will not be affected by the extreme summer heat. In addition, Ms. Thek said, the shed behind the museum contains “some very interesting artifacts, which we would love to share with the public, but that building is in great disrepair and requires a lot of restoration and climate control as well.”
She emphasized that all of the restoration work and repairs “have to be done with special attention to historical accuracy and so as not to harm significant elements of an 18th-century building.”