The Odd Fellows Field of Weeds and Dreams
Editorial by John Stringfellow
The photo above shows a recently acquired property in Frenchtown NJ. This “spot of green” between the Odd Fellows Building and the Frenchtown Inn on Bridge Street, once housed a charming old Victorian Home that burned down sometime in the late 1950’s or 60’s. The lot has been sitting vacant and unused for decades. In a beautiful little community like ours, this field of weeds was a field of dreams to me. Somehow, I always wanted to see LIFE there in some form, whether that be cultural, business, or some attempt at cultivated nature. In the short article below I detail some of my ideas.
First idea: The Mallet-Prevost Memorial Park. If we the citizens of Frenchtown were going to have a big empty lot in the middle of the business district, why couldn’t it be purchased by the town and made into a proper park, unlike the poor excuse for a park that we have hidden off of Kingwood Avenue. At least it could become a wildflower preserve if nothing else with some great old tree plantings and walkways. Of course it would be named after Mallet because his history is such a fascinating one, and one that is not memorialized anywhere but in our “misnamed” name.
Second idea: Borough of Frenchtown Parking Lot. In the late 1990’s I owned a store in town, and it was clearly evident every weekend that this little town had a huge parking problem. This problem has only gotten worse with the recent growth in the retail trade and with our popular new restaurants. It would truly be a sin however, if this entire property became a huge expanse of ugly black tar. If some smart developer can work a paid parking lot into his or her plans, town would benefit greatly.
Third idea: With the help of a major corporate sponsor, the site is large enough to become The Delaware River Museum of Art and History. I have thought for decades now that the area needs a good local repository for our history, and our culture. Frenchtown in many ways needs an institution. This grand idea is one of my pie in the sky dreams for my little town that I know will never come true.
According to town rumors, the property is sold, and plans are already in the works for a mixed commercial residential development that will greatly change the nature of the site and of French Town itself.
Another site and the plans of redevelopment for it drawf this project to make it seem insignificant.
The Riegel Field of Metal, Asphalt, and Transformers
The former Riegel Paper Company property, located in Alexandria Township and Milford borough, just north of Frenchtown has been purchased by Oneill Properties of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Oneill properties has a history of transforming abandoned industrial money-pit properties into thriving residential and commercial pieces of real estate. I think that Frenchtown, Milford, and Alexandria Township are exceptionally lucky to have such a company willing to invest millions of dollars to remove an environmental and aesthetic monster from the landscape.
In their announced preliminary plans, they laid out a proposal for some 800 new homes on the property, and an almost complete destruction of all the existing buildings. According to the Del-Val News, local officials were shocked and dismayed at what the corporation proposed.
My concern here is that if local officials give this well respected company too much grief, they will just sell off the property to someone with less credibility and funding. I am not saying that this property could actually hold those 800 homes, and I know that the local roads, and schools would be sorely taxed to handle this new influx of families, but some smaller but still ambitious plan should be possible for this site that sorely needs help. It is not like some of the developments popping up throughout Hunterdon County that are eating up precious green space and the open land that give our county it’s charm and unique flavor. This plan would take a ghost factory and infuse it with life and if done correctly restore some of the natural beauty of this property that lies right along the Delaware River.