The Sourland Conservancy and the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) announce last week that they are now co-owners of a property where they hope to build their new shared administrative and program space. The property is located at 191 Hollow Road, Skillman, in the heart of the Sourland Region and overlooks Rock Brook and preserved woodlands next to the Museum. The two groups have begun to jointly raise funds to support the project.
“We would like to thank D&R Greenway Land Trust, Montgomery Township, SSAAM, and the Whidden family for their help in acquiring and preserving this beautiful property,” said Caroline Katmann, Sourland Conservancy Executive Director. “Our organizations are all very passionate about this project and have worked hard to make it happen. We are so grateful for the time, effort and resources that everyone has so graciously contributed.”
“The first property ever purchased by D&R Greenway was in the Sourlands,” said Linda Mead, D&R Greenway Land Trust President and CEO. “As we celebrate our 30th anniversary and over 20,500 acres preserved, we are proud to be a part of the history of this land. This newly preserved property meets all three parts of our mission: preservation, land stewardship and inspiring a conservation ethic by enabling our partners SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy to share its heritage and natural beauty with the public.”
On Monday, July 29, 2019, the Sourland Conservancy, Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), Montgomery Township, and D&R Greenway attended a closing for the property on Hollow Road and the adjacent stream and woodlands. Present at the closing were D&R Greenway Land Trust President and CEO, Linda Mead and Laurie Emde Director of Operations; Sourland Conservancy Executive Director Caroline Katmann and Board President, Dante DiPirro; Montgomery Township Open Space Coordinator, Lauren Wasilauski; Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum Board President, John Buck and Vice President, Bruce Daniels; Keith Wheelock and Georgia Whidden, property owner.
“Our family is delighted that we’ve been able to help with the preservation of both this beautiful property along Rock Brook, and the Hollow Road AME Church,” said landowner, Georgia Whidden. “We have many memories of the wonderful singing coming from the Church every Sunday years ago, and are enthusiastic that the Church has become the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. We believe strongly in its work, as well as that of the D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Sourland Conservancy. We are pleased to support Montgomery Township’s long, strong commitment to land preservation. We especially appreciate the D&R Greenway and Montgomery Township’s hard work in making this project a reality.”
Georgia Whidden’s property totaled eight acres where she raised her children and they played in the woods and stream. D&R Greenway brought together Whidden and the partners and secured a contract to purchase all of the land. At closing, D&R Greenway assigned its purchase rights so that Block 25001, Lot 3 consisting of 1.2 acres could be purchased by the Sourland Conservancy and SSAAM, and the nearly 7 acres that make up Lot 7 could be purchased by Montgomery Township as permanent open space. This land is an important link between the AME Church and the new SourlandConservancy/SSAAM property, and the township’s Bessie Grover Park.
“Montgomery Township supports environmental stewardship and celebrates cultural heritage,” said Mayor Sadaf Jaffer. “We are enthusiastic about the steps taken by the Sourland Conservancy/SSAAM to protect the Mt. Zion AME Church. We also support their plans to use this property as an environmental and cultural center highlighting the rich African American history of our region.”
“The Township’s strong relationships with groups such as those involved here help us maximize our preservation efforts – the Sourland Conservancy was able to get the land they need and the Township acquired an additional 6.6 acres along our Rock Brook Greenway, which will allow us to expand Bessie Grover Park right next door,” said Montgomery Township Open Space Coordinator Lauren Wasilauski.
This complicated transaction speaks to the dedication and cooperation of all entities involved – D&R Greenway Land Trust, Montgomery Township, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, and the Sourland Conservancy. These groups share the desire to preserve and protect the ecology and history of the Sourland region and the vision to create a place where residents and visitors can learn about the African-American history and the unique ecology of the region.
The Sourland Conservancy’s mission is to protect, promote and preserve the unique character of the Sourland Mountain Region. The mission of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum is to tell the story of the unique culture, experiences, and contributions of the African American community of the Sourland Mountain Region.
The Stoutsburg Cemetery Association and the Sourland Conservancy have worked together since 2014 to bring to light the important and inspiring story of the African-American presence in the Sourlands and Hopewell Valley throughout history and in the present. Together, the two organizations worked to create the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. The Museum has received its own nonprofit status and continues to partner with the Sourland Conservancy. The land acquisition is a huge step toward their ultimate goal to create administrative and program space for both organizations.
Both organizations have received grants to restore the historic church, which has been entered into the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. The New Jersey Register is the official list of New Jersey properties worthy of preservation. Restoration work has been partially funded by the following grants: Somerset County Historic Preservation Grant Program, NJ Center for the Humanities and the NJ Historic Trust/1772 Foundation Grant. Many individual donors have contributed toward this project as well.
The next steps toward creation of the “SC/SSAAM Campus” are demolition of dilapidated structures on the property and fundraising for the next phase, which includes engineering and architectural work.
“There are many conservation groups in the area, and there are also several historic societies,” said John Buck, SSAAM Board President. “The partnership of SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy is a unique combination of both fields. Our organizations are hoping that through our strong partnership and with the support of entities like D&R Greenway and Montgomery Township we can provide a unique museum and educational center that will advance our missions in a way that will enrich the community as well.”
For more information about the project, please visit www.ssaamuseum.org or contact Caroline Katmann at 609-309-5155. This press piece was submitted by the Sourland Conservancy.