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Restoration resumes for 200-year-old factory that drove Bridgeton's early development

Restoration resumes for 200-year-old factory that drove Bridgeton's early development


Margaret DeMarco talks about initial work done on the Nail House Museum in Bridgeton Monday June 7, 2021. The work that still needs to be done is repairs to windows, shutters and a doors.

BRIDGETON — Restoration work will resume next month after a two-year break on the Cumberland Nail & Iron Works’ 200-year-old Nail House, located at the entrance to the City Park.

The initial repairs, which were finished in 2019, consisted of mostly adding steel supports to the floor joists in the basement and repairing the previously damaged historic plank flooring.

An excellent job was done on the first phase of work on the building, said Maggie DeMarco, the Nail House project manager.

“It was easy to work with people, and they did a wonderful job,” DeMarco said as she stood inside the building and showed there were no remnants from where the floor was patched. “It was a very nice job.”

This summer, work will begin on replacing windows and sprucing up window frames, DeMarco said.

There are as many different types of windows as there are phases the building has gone through, DeMarco said. The windows need to be stripped, and some of the glass needs to be replaced, she said.

The building has electricity, but eventually, the plan is to add heat, running water and air conditioning, DeMarco said. The city-owned building is a treasure and provides historic narratives of the city, said Flavia Alaya, CEO and board president of the Center for Historic American Building Arts, located here.

“We are preserving the history and the storylines and the narrative of the people and all the people’s stories that reside somehow in this place,” DeMarco said. “The place is an instrument of telling stories and singing songs of the past.”

There is an fundamental relationship between this building, which is a remnant of Nail Works, and the rest of the historic district, which is the largest in the state.

“The Nail Works was the foundation of the city. It was because of the Nail Works needing money and needing to circulate money and buy and sell that Cumberland National Bank was created here in 1816. We had only the second bank chartered in the state,” Alaya said.

Built between 1814 and 1815, the Cumberland Nail and Iron Works Mill produced nails, pipes and iron goods by the tons for nearly a century during the 1800s.

Materials from this mill helped build homes, buildings, other factories, barns and bridges. American Engineer Oberlin Smith was employed at the Works as a child. He later founded the Ferracute Machine Co. here. The Cumberland Nail & Iron Works announced it had finished its work here and shut down the mill in 1899.

Smith pleaded with the city to hold onto Nail Mill property and its surrounding 1,000 acres for a permanent city park, which succeeded. Almost every other Nail Work building, big or small, came down.

Over the decades, the Nail House has been used as a city parks office and a farm. The Bridgeton Antiquarian League was the last organization to make use of the building on a regular basis until 2011, DeMarco said.

Because the Nail House has been historic in every phase of its life, everything has to be treated as if it is historic, Alaya said.

While the Nail House’s floor was being repaired, the Center for Historic American Building Arts published a Nail House children’s book in late 2018 that sells for $25 in hardcover, Alaya said. Proceeds from sales of the book help pay for building restoiations.

The book was issued in Spanish as well. It sold out its first edition and went into a second hardcover edition as well as a soft cover version in 2019.

Both the English and the Spanish first editions were adopted by the Bridgeton Schools, and the schools did a video reading of the English edition, Alaya said.

“It is this combination of editions that I believe attracted the special attention of Preservation New Jersey,” Alaya said.

At the 29th annual New Jersey Historic Preservation Achievement & Leadership Awards earlier this year, “This Little Building Is Huge: The Story of Bridgeton’s Nail House” book by the Center for Historic American Building Arts received the new preservation initiatives award.

Besides the work on the windows, the Nail House should see at least one artistic installation take place within the building before the end of the year, and a craft fair will be taking place on its ground during the second weekend of September.

“This is an extraordinary resource for telling a narrative about South Jersey that is rarely told,” Alaya said.

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