Article by Richard Cowen, North Jersey Record
CLIFTON - The chain-link fence that surrounded much of Weasel Brook Park for the past six months has come down, and the doors are now open to the newly restored Westervelt-Vanderhoef House.
Passaic County officials gathered with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on Monday to officially reopen the Westervelt-Vanderhoef house after a $1.1 million restoration. The park, which has been fenced off since arsenic was discovered in the soil in April, is again open to the public.
Cassandra "Sandi" Lazzara, the Passaic County Freeholder Director, did the honors, using an oversize pair of scissors to cut the ceremonial yellow ribbon on the front steps, flanked by a host of county and municipal officials. Lazzara called the Westervelt-Vanderhoef House "a masterpiece and a great example of 1720s architecture," although it is uncertain exactly what year the red sandstone house was built.
Suddenly, everything that was old seemed new again. Much of the floor, built of thick wood planks, is the same, and the ceilings are still low, in keeping with the times, but there are new windows, a refurbished fireplace, a new roof and, of course, fresh paint.
"I think they've really done a good job in taking an 18th-century building, restoring it and adapting it to a modern-day use," said Edward A. Smyk, the Passaic County Historian. "The character of the building hasn't been compromised. They not only saved the building from perdition, they enhanced its historic quality."
Smyk estimated that the house was built sometime around 1740, 20 years after Gysbert Vanderhoef set up a grist mill on the banks of what we now call the Weasel Brook. Vanderhoef was a Dutch settler, but his first stop in America wasn't present-day Clifton. It was the area around what is now Lodi in Bergen County, which was then known as New Barbados, Smyk said.
During the restoration, workers removed several large stones from the front yard of the house, where the grist mill used to stand. Those stones, which are believed to have been used to pulverize grain into flour, have been taken to the Dey Mansion in Wayne for safekeeping, said Kelly Ruffel, Passaic County's Director of Cultural and Historic Affairs.
Ruffel's office will be on the top floor of the Westervelt-Vanderhoef House. The bottom floor will be used for public events; there's an art gallery and a meeting room. The initial art exhibit focuses on Gen. George Washington and the American Revolution.
The Westervelt-Vanderhoef House has been owned by Passaic County since 1931, when it formed a park commission and bought the land around the grist mill to create Weasel Brook Park. Over the years, the house has had many uses; it's been the headquarters of the local Boy Scout troop and an office for the park commission, and at one time it was leased by the Passaic County Mental Health Organization, Smyk said.
The house had fallen into disrepair in recent years and was dormant. The Passaic County Freeholders have poured over $15 million into fixing up county parks and historic sites within the last five years, and Weasel Brook has gotten a major overhaul, with new playground equipment and a newly dredged pond.
Arsenic was discovered in the soil during renovations, and most of the park was closed in April. Restoration of the Westervelt-Vanderhoef House continued unabated, and earlier this month the chain-link fence came down and the park was declared safe to use.