For over 250 years, the Hugg Harrison House in Bellmawr Borough, Camden County, New Jersey, stood as a living testament to the American Revolutionary War.
Built by William Harrison, Jr. in 1764, he and his family lived here during the war while he served as the captain of the Gloucestertown Militia. Twice during 1777, the fighting came to this property, and in the second instance, Harrison fought along with the Marquis de Lafayette in Lafayette’s most important battle. This house was truly a national historic treasure.
That is until the morning of March 3, 2017, when the New Jersey Department of Transportation summarily and without notice, demolished it.
Alleging that the federal laws which should have protected this important resource were circumvented, the Camden County Historical Society has filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.
The lawsuit alleges that NJDOT fraudulently concealed evidence by demolishing the house just one day after the Historical Society filed an emergency application with the NJ Superior Court to save it. The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants violated the required processes of the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to conduct themselves in good faith, which is a requirement under the Act.
Among other evidence, the lawsuit points to the contrast between the first and final drafts of the review process’s most critical document, The Base Survey. The first draft found the Harrison House eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but the final draft mysteriously reversed course and found it ineligible. It was subsequently found in fact to be eligible under two separate criteria.
The lawsuit asks the District Court to order the defendants to fulfill their obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act, by consulting with the Historical Society to determine ways to mitigate the effects of the wrongful demolition of the house, and for the defendants to provide the resources to then implement appropriate mitigation measures.
Such measures might include a replica house, Revolutionary War museum, or monument.
“There is no longer anything that can be done to reverse the irreparable harm done to the Harrison House” said President of the Camden County Historical Society Chris Perks, “but those who were responsible will be held accountable, and the significant loss of this historic resource needs to somehow be restored to this community.”
Attorney Matthew R. Litt of the Maple Shade law firm representing the Historical Society, McDowell Posternock Apell & Detrick, acknowledges this case is unusual, but points to the 1992 decision by the United States Court of Appeals in Vieux Carre as precedent that: “mere difficulties formulating a remedy in an otherwise living case do not evidence the absence of a case.”
(Source: Camden County Historical Society Media Release)
To view the Complaint with all of the supporting attachments, click the image below: