Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

House Fades into History Home of Freed Slaves Demolished

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

House Fades into History Home of Freed Slaves Demolished

Article excerpt

An irreplaceable link to Bergen's County's early history, particularly for African-Americans, vanished in a cloud of dust on Friday as a backhoe clawed at the splintered wood and brownstone remains of the Zabriskie Tenant House, a 1780s building that later became home to generations of former slaves and their descendents.

The unexpected demolition dashed the hopes of county officials and historic preservationists who had been struggling to find funds to move the oldest part of the Colonial-era Dutch-style house at 273 Dunkerhook Road in Paramus to a site a short distance away at Bergen Community College. The campus is on land that was once part of the Zabriskie farm.

"I feel like I'm at a funeral," Freeholder Chairman John Mitchell said as the rat-a-tat sounds of metal smashing wood shattered the normally quiet neighborhood. "It's a very, very sad day for all of Bergen County."

Mitchell had been working with Quattro 4 LLC -- the partnership that owns the property -- and historic preservationists to forestall demolition until funds could be found for a move. But their effort suffered a blow when a state historic grant proposal submitted by the college was rejected two months ago, Mitchell said.

"I tried my best. I view this as a failure," Mitchell said. "I don't know what I could have done more, but I worked as hard as I could to keep this house."

The owners of the property, who plan to build two houses on the site, said they had been patient as the property went through Planning Board hearings, a court battle and the failed attempts to secure funds to move the building.

"We've waited three years to do this," said Marcello Petruzella, a home builder who lives across from the Zabriskie house and is one of four partners in Quattro 4. "We've been super-patient."

He added, "It just came down to timing."

Before the demolition, Petruzella said, he recovered some items from the house, including some stones and wood beams that he plans to incorporate in the new buildings. He also recovered some photographs and other items that he told Mitchell would be made available to the county.

The partners also plan to build a marker commemorating the historic significance of the site. …

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