A pair of Bergen County historians want to move Paramus’ nearly two-century-old Van Dien-Ruffgarten House to Bergen Community College, to help preserve the relic of local agricultural and African American heritage.
The proposal, put forward last week by two members of a county preservation committee, suggests moving the building from its location on Midland Avenue to the college campus 1.2 miles away. H. Michael Gelfand, one of the historians, hopes the college could use the house for educational purposes.
Larry Hlavenka, a spokesman for the school, said BCC has received the letter and will review it.
Gelfand, chairman of the Bergen County Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, said he’s been working for a decade to try to save the Van Dien-Ruffgarten House, which was built sometime in the mid-1800s. Paramus stepped in several years ago to put wooden bracing around the building to stabilize it, and the town paid for a study by historian Tim Adriance in 2014, but nothing has happened since then.
“Everyone involved has said to me, why don’t you give up on it,” Gelfand said. “‘It’s this tiny thing and nobody cares,’ [they said]. I think that’s the reason I’ve become so attached to the idea of seeing it have a future, because everyone has written it off. It’s been abandoned.
“The fact that it really encapsulates that whole history of people who are just small-scale, average, middle-class people has kept me passionate about wanting to see it have a future,” he said.
The Van Dien-Ruffgarten home’s historic ties
The house sits on a 9-acre lot and is one of six remaining Jersey Dutch stone houses in the borough. Built between the 1840s and 1850s, the one-story, one-room stone portion of the structure was most likely a home to farmers. The house may also have had ties to local African American families, Gelfand said.
“Because the Van Dien-Ruffgarten House is associated with average farmers, who are not presently represented across Bergen County, we feel that it would have a strong resonance for the student body at Bergen Community College,” he wrote in his letter to the college.
The building’s fate was in question in 2019 when a developer requested a demolition permit for the property while applying to subdivide it. At the time, Bill Twomey, who acted as a manager for the applicant, 113-117 West Midland Avenue LLC, said the house was “beyond its useful life.”
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The plan to raze the stone portion of the building was dropped in 2021. Gelfand, however, saw an “under contract” sign on the property a few weeks ago, he said. That prompted him, along with local historian Peggy Norris, to put together a proposal in case the future of the building once again is in jeopardy. Gelfand said he doesn’t know who the buyer is and no development applications have been filed with the borough yet.
Adriance’s 2014 report describes the building as “highly unusual” among Bergen County’s remaining 200 stone houses because it has one room without a fireplace.
There are as yet no estimates of what it would cost to move or restore the house, Gelfand said. But he said that given the relatively small size of the building, which measures about 17 feet by 15 feet, it should not involve extensive costs.
“We have so many things that disappear, and I keep saying to people ‘this is a one-room house,'” Gelfand said. “It would not take that much effort or money to keep it for the future.”
Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.