Township To Take A Longer Look At Shuttered Historic House

first_imgBy John BurtonMIDDLETOWN – Can the MacLeod Rice House be saved? And should it?That’s what township officials hope to find out as they seek requests for proposals from architectural historians to prepare a conditions assessment report on the township-owned structure.The report is to, “go through the building in a determined way to give us the sense of how much it would cost if someone would try to restore the building and make it useful again,” explained Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante, “to give us a sense of what it would really cost.”“Most people seem to have an affection for it to be saved one of these days and restored,” Mercantante said. But that requires taking “a good hard look at it and seeing what that would entail, what it would really cost.”The distinctive MacLeod Rice House is part of the Croydon Hall complex, 900 Leonardville Road, in the township’s Leonardo section. The building, according to Mercantante, has been deteriorating for a number of years and was deemed unsafe a few years ago. The township moved those using the building to other locations.The Middletown Township Historical Society and township Municipal Alliance to Prevent Alcoholism and Drug Abuse had been using the building’s office space. The Bulldog Youth Athletic Association, or BYAA, had been using part of the building for its wrestling program, according to Mercantante.As part of the request for proposal, Mercantante added, officials would like whoever received the contract to investigate whether the site could possibly qualify for the state and/or national Register of Historic Places.Making either or both of those lists would indicate the location has some historic significance.And it does, maintained Randall Gabrielan, Monmouth County historian and vice chairman of the Monmouth County Historical Commission. One of the location’s defining historical roles involves one of its former owners, Melvin Rice, and his friendship to then governor and future U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who, according to Gabrielan, had actually visited Rice and stayed at the home. “It’s an association that may well provide eligibility to the national register,” Gabrielan suspected. The MacLeod Rice House was built in 1894 in the Queen Anne architectural style popular in the Victorian age. It was intended as the summer residence for Donald MacLeod, a successful New York City businessman, an importer of linens, in the Gilded Age, according to Gabrielan. Upon MacLeod’s death the building became home to his widow, Harriet, who eventually married Melvin Rice, MacLeod’s former employee – with whispers at the time suspecting Rice of having an affair with Harriet while she was still married to MacLeod, Gabrielan offered as a little piece of historical gossip.Rice, circa 1910, remodeled the building, adopting a more classical revival architectural style, that the structure has to this day.Rice died in 1924 and Harriet continued to live in the house until selling it to John Carr in the mid-1940s. Carr used the building as a residence. He established a boys’ boarding school, using the building and others constructed on the grounds. Croydon Hall, as the school was called, catered to the scions of wealthy families. Carr, according to Gabrielan, ran the school with middling success until closing it in 1975.Mercantante said the township acquired the entire location in 1977 and had used that building and accompanying structures for various municipal offices.Gabrielan charged the building was falling into disrepair. “The building was long neglected,” he said. And while there were places in the building that were in questionable condition, the portion of the building the historical society had been using “was a solid as a rock,” he said. Gabrielan has not revisited the building for several years.The Township Committee has the right to reject any or all proposals and has up to 60 days to award the contract, if it decides to move for ward.Even if the plan proceeds, those interested shouldn’t expect a quick fix for the building. “It’s going to take time,” Mercantante said. “It probably would be a phased project over many years, if it was decided at all that it’s worthwhile doing.”last_img