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Home: Regional: U.S. States: New Jersey: Passaic County

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Vreeland Hamilton Van Wagoner House Clifton
Posted by: Liz Chasolen (ID *****2672) Date: April 23, 2003 at 06:14:35
  of 742

Floods threaten to wash away
piece of Clifton history

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


CLIFTON - The front door of the Hamilton-Van Wagoner House
Museum is engraved with a cross and Bible to ward off witches and
evil spirits.

Unfortunately, they don't keep out rain and melting snow.

During the past three years, the museum, a 19th century Dutch
farmhouse on Valley Road, has flooded five times. With each flood, a
small piece of local history is swept away with water damage to the
walls, documents, and artifacts.

The basement of the house flooded less than two weeks ago. Water
seeped up through the carpeting, which had been replaced for
$2,500 last year after it was damaged in a flood.

"It was 2 inches of water from stem to stern," curator Genevieve
Generalli said of the most recent flood.

Flooding two weeks before that left the basement in 5 inches of
water, she said.

Handmade pillows and stuffed animals in the gift shop are stored a
foot above the ground. Half a dozen pillows were lost during a recent
bout of rain.

The problem is funding, officials said. There simply isn't money in the
city's coffers to fix the problem, and the state has slashed funding for
the arts, Councilwoman Gloria Kolodziej said.

The museum is supported through city money, fund-raising, and
volunteerism. Generalli said there is almost no operating budget, and
the museum exists on money it brings in from artist receptions, live
music, poetry readings, and the gift shop.

Kolodziej suggested that local developers pitch in materials to help
the city repair the museum's drainage system and any damage to the

"How long can this problem continue until it wrecks the basement?"
Kolodziej asked.

The house is steeped in local history.

John and Anna Vreeland built the house in 1817. The Vreelands were
descendants of prominent Dutch immigrants who received land
grants after the area around the Passaic River was purchased from
the Lenape Indians for coats, blankets, kettles, and gunpowder in the
late 1600s.

Henry Hamilton bought the house in 1856, and his family lived there
as dairy farmers for 116 years. One by one, the four remaining
Hamilton sisters, Laura, Emma, Clara, and Addie, died off. The last
family member to call it home, Harry Hamilton, died in 1972.

In 1973, movers towed the house diagonally across the street to
SurgentPark, which could be the reason for the floods, said Mark S.
Auerbach, a Passaic city historian whose collection of photos
appears in books on Clifton's history.

"Every time a house was put someplace, there was a reason behind
it," Auerbach said. "In Colonial times, it was quite common for local
farmers to get together and jointly create dams or dikes. They would
pay people not to build in a certain area to avoid flooding."

The coordination also served to enrich the soil for planting.

Auerbach said early developers would offer the old Dutch farmhouses
free of charge to anyone who would physically move them. If nobody
took advantage, "scavengers" would pilfer the mantels, flooring, and
doorways, he said.

Generalli runs the museum with help from two volunteer tour guides,
local farmers, and caretaker Hatem Asfour, who lives above the
museum with his wife, Lorgia.

More than 40 classes from local schools visit each year as a part of
history curriculum, and music and civic groups meet in the basement
for social functions.

Amanda Gerut's e-mail address is

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