One of North Jersey's oldest environmental advocacy groups is moving into a new home and preserving a historic Morris County landmark in the process.
The Passaic River Coalition recently bought the historic 6.2-acre Willow Hall estate in Morristown for almost $1.9 million with state and county grants. Because the purchase was funded with tax dollars, the property can never be developed and will be available to the public as open space and a historic resource.
In 2007, Morris officials listed Willow Hall as one of the top-10 endangered historic sites. The 1848 Italianate puddingstone mansion was home to George Vail, owner of the nearby Speedwell Iron Works.
Vail built it with earnings from his investment in the telegraph, developed by his brother Alfred and Samuel F. B. Morse.
In recent years developers proposed 20 town houses around the mansion. Preservationists sued and a judge ruled last year that the town house plan violated zoning ordinances.
Coalition officials have pledged that they will maintain the house's integrity while converting parts of it into office space with the help of a historical architect.
"There will be some rewiring done, but, for the most part, there is not going to be a lot of renovations," said Ella Filippone, the coalition's executive director.
Filippone said the home will allow a summer internship program for college students studying environmental sciences to be expanded into a year-round program.
The group, which has six employees, will move from its Warren Township location to Willow Hill this spring.
The $1.9 million came from the state Green Acres program, the Morris County Open Space Preservation Trust Fund and the Morris County Historic Preservation Program.
The coalition, which is celebrating its 40th year, is dedicated to reducing flooding, cleaning the lower Passaic and preserving open space.
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