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The Parker Homestead-1665

By: Lori Draz

This month, The Journal focuses on home improvement tasks. Most readers who have tackled a remodeling project like adding a deck or even simply repainting a room know that things can go from easy to pretty complicated in a hurry. Now imagine if your project was the complete restoration of a 13-room, 330-year-old historic treasure – with, by the way, no funds to pay for any work. That’s what the Friends of the Parker Homestead-1665 (PH1665) undertook beginning in 2013.

The Parker Homestead-1665 was occupied by the Parker family for eight generations, starting in 1665, ending when Julia Parker gifted the property to the Borough of Little Silver upon her passing in 1995 at age 95. It was only to be used for historic and educational purposes. The Borough obtained a grant to repair the leaking roof and install a modern HVAC system. That grant money ran out quickly, and the house and barns sat unused for years.

In late 2012, a not-for-profit organization, PH1665, was formed to raise the money necessary for daunting tasks of restoration and to open the property to the public. Keith Wells, president of The Parker Homestead-1665 also known as Friends of Parker Homestead-1665, kindly shared a lot of the details of this massive undertaking.

“We discovered that the Monmouth County Historical Commission awards small matching grants every year for historic property preservation,” he said. “We organized the necessary work into 10 annual projects. The first one covered the repair of the plaster walls and ceiling and painting of the earliest rooms in the house: the kitchen, center hallway and front parlor. In the kitchen, the 1667 walk-in fireplace, bricked over in 1850, was opened up. In the front parlor, an attempt to repair the ceiling resulted in the plaster collapsing, revealing the original 1740 hand-hewn beams. Plans were quickly changed to permanently expose these beams. In December 2013, the Parker Homestead opened to the public for the first time. We were on our way.”

Now, eight years later, nearly all the initial preservation projects have been accomplished, including repairs to parts of the roof and the front porch. The Borough restored the three barns. Wells continued, “There were a few unexpected detours, such as a bulge in a section of the 1740 stone foundation and termites in the kitchen floor. But even the termites worked out well. Removing the modern floor revealed an original wide-board floor and even allowed for an archaeological dig in the dirt below where coins and pottery from the early 1700s were found.  

 

 

“Our current project is the restoration of a kitchen addition added to the western end of the house in about 1850.  As our projects went from room to room, we quickly realized each room was added to the house at different times by different generations of Parkers, resulting in a different feeling for each room. The earliest room is Colonial; the front parlor is from the Revolutionary War, rear parlor Victorian, etc. The kitchen is a big, sunny room used as a family gathering place. Saved by the Parkers, we have the original 1924 gas stove, a 1920s oak kitchen table and chairs, and boxes of early 20th-century kitchen utensils. The plan is for a 1930s farm kitchen feel. The floor will be covered in authentic 1930s pattern linoleum.” 

The Friends of Parker Homestead-1665 thank the Monmouth County Historical Commission, the Borough of Little Silver and significant community donations. PH1665’s total cost so far exceeds $200,000. In 2021, the Office of the Monmouth County Clerk awarded the group the prestigious M. Claire French Award for Leadership in Historic Preservation. So what’s next for PH1665?

“Short-term plan [is] the restoration of the final room on the first floor of the house, the farm office. We have the original oak roll top desk and boxes of farm records dating back to the 1850s. We also hope to upgrade a large room in one of the barns into a classroom or community meeting room.  After that, maybe complete the remaining second-floor bedrooms which are being used to store the Parker Library and Archives. The list goes on.”

Wells shared that the greatest lesson he learned is to dream big. Make a plan and modify it as needed. It’s better to eliminate or postpone some details than to not at least consider them. Unexpected events occur, such as finding termites, but with some flexibility, maybe you can make it work to your advantage.

Wells concluded, “Count on your friends and community. Some of our bleakest times were turned around by simply a kind word of encouragement or a meaningful donation.”

The Parker Homestead is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but you are welcome to walk the grounds and take pictures. To learn more, get involved or donate, visit ParkerHomestead-1665.org or contact keithbwells@gmail.com.

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