At the Mahwah council meeting on Jan. 21, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference was honored for our work in restoring the Darlington Schoolhouse and repurposing the historic building as our new headquarters.
Presented by Commission Chair Barbara Shanley and members Anne Powley and Deborah Grob, the Heritage Award is a great honor.
“I am delighted to be here tonight to present our Heritage Award to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, to honor them for their monumental achievement over the past 10 years, of successfully restoring and rehabilitating the Historic Darlington Schoolhouse at 600 Ramapo Valley Road” said Commissioner Anne Powley at last night’s award presentation given to the Mayor and council members of Mahwah.
Powley went on to tell the council, “We think that when you look up the words ‘commitment,’ and ‘dedication,’ and perseverance in your dictionary, one of the definitions should be ‘New York-New Jersey Trail Conference,’ because of what they accomplished in this 10-year project. You will agree, if you go onto the Trail Conference’s website and read the restoration timeline they have posted.
“The Darlington Schoolhouse was built by Alfred B. Darling, and Theodore Havemeyer, both owners of large farm estates on Ramapo Valley Road in the early 1900s. These two gentlemen farmers wisely hired one of the best and most well-known architects of their time, Dudley Newton, to design the school building.
“In 1891 the schoolhouse was completed, and donated to Mahwah by Darling and Havemeyer, specifically to be utilized as a school. It served that noble purpose for many years. In the mid-’70s it ceased to be used for education, and sat vacant for almost 40 years. Some prospective buyers expressed interest, but were discouraged by the deterioration and the work that would be needed to bring it back to its former glory. This stately building continued to be empty, crying out for rescue.
“The Trail Conference was looking for a new headquarters location, and Executive Director Edward Goodell was told to take a look at the Darlington Schoolhouse by a friend, Tibor Latinscics, a Civil Engineer with Conklin Associates. Tibor encouraged Ed to go see it, which he did in 2003. Ed has said on numerous occasions that when he first saw the schoolhouse, despite its severe deterioration, he knew immediately that it would be the perfect building for the Trail Conference headquarters. But he also knew it would take huge sums of money to restore it properly. Not discouraged, Ed began to work on a restoration plan that would convince the Trail Conference Board members that the Darlington Schoolhouse would be a wonderful home for their new headquarters, and restoring it would be a worthy project. Ed was obviously very convincing, or we would not be presenting an award to them tonight.
“To say there were major obstacles along the way puts it mildly. The work of raising the millions of dollars to fund the work alone was daunting, in addition to the structural assessments, stabilization, research, historic restoration details, environmental studies and engineering, county state and local board approvals of certain phases, that needed to happen.
“This building is protected on the National, State and Township historic registers, which means that all exterior work had to meet with approvals of those boards. While they were proposing to renovate the original building, they also proposed to put a two-story addition onto the back, for meeting rooms, and offices, so they needed to prepare more applications and approvals for that. Their parking needs created a whole different set of environmental EPA issues because they are located near the Darlington Brook. Basically, in every way, this is a story of just plain hard work on the parts of all the Trail Conference Members, Bergen County, NJ State and local historic groups, architects, engineers, construction experts, and grant writers. But these and other obstacles were surmounted between 2004 and 2015, so that the Darlington Schoolhouse restoration and rehabilitation was completed in March 2015.
“There are so many people in the Trail Conference, as well as many outside the organization, who contributed to the work and donations needed to bring this project to completion. We wish we could thank each one individually, but we would be here until midnight just naming them. We thank them all now, for their valuable contributions. They pulled all the stops out, never losing their vision for this project.
“While our award is for all the Trail Conference members, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the dynamic leadership and determination of their Director Ed Goodell, who steered the project through sometimes choppy waters, and also the work of Civil Engineer Tibor Latinscics, for providing pro bono all the engineering work and presentations to commissions and boards. We also acknowledge the important contributions of Carol Greene, our Township Historian who provided valuable assistance in researching the schoolhouse history, providing photographs, restoration advice, and encouragement.
“We also would like to thank the members of the 2007 Township Council for their foresight and wisdom in agreeing to purchase the schoolhouse with the Trail Conference, thereby becoming co-owners. Without that key initial financial support, this remarkable restoration story might not have had such a happy ending.”