‘Hopewell Borough was born in this building’

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ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
The outside of the red-brick Old School Baptist Church and Meeting House at 46-48 West Broad St. in Hopewell Borough.

Historic Old School Baptist Church to receive financial boost for preservation work

Preservation efforts for the Hopewell Old School Baptist Church and Meetinghouse received welcome news when it was announced that the state will provide $150,000 in grant funds to aid planned work on the Hopewell landmark.

State officials will present the grant award during a community celebration at 10 a.m. Aug. 2 at the 46 West Broad St. location of the church and meeting house.

“We are so grateful for the funding assistance,” said Kris Provenzano, the Meetinghouse Foundation’s board president. “We have been working hard to detail a path forward and have been working to raise necessary funds to bring our plans into fruition. We look forward to welcoming the community back to the building as was originally intended – a meetinghouse for our community.”

We are committed to this preservation effort and this grant is a tremendous help, she added.

The Meetinghouse is a 501(c)(3) foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the highly significant historical building and grounds for educational and future community uses, according to a press release.

The inside view of the church and meetinghouse stage and pews. PHOTO BY ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
Photos displayed on the walls inside the church and meetinghouse. PHOTO BY ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
Cemetery at 46 West Broad St. is the burial ground for John Hart and civil war soldiers. PHOTO BY ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

The major grant award is funded from the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) State Fiscal Recovery Fund under the American Rescue Plan.

Members of the Hopewell State delegation, including state Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson will be on hand for the presentation, along with Mayor Paul Anzano and members of the Hopewell Borough Council.

Numerous other local dignitaries are expected to attend.

“Hopewell Borough was born in this building from the early settlers that lived here,” Anzano said. “We are proud of our history, and we strive in many ways to protect it through our land use initiatives. The preservation and renovation of the Meetinghouse is critically important to the character of our community.”

Anzano said that he looks forward to the community embracing the project through volunteer efforts and future programs that can be offered at the site.

While no longer a church, the building stands as a reminder of Hopewell’s heritage and the community it was built to serve. In the early 1700’s, the Baptist settlers organized the Hopewell Baptist Meeting and the growing congregation emerged, with homes and businesses built to become known as the Hopewell Meeting House.

The village was later re-named as Columbia, and finally Hopewell, in 1891. Hopewell’s
most famous son and Founding Father John Hart, who was elected in 1776 to represent colonial New Jersey in the Continental Congress and one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, donated the land upon which the Baptist Meeting House was built.

The prominent resident and gentleman farmer was later unanimously chosen as the first speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. He maintained a homestead plantation on what is known today as Hart Avenue, from 1757 until his death in 1779.

Hart is buried on the Meetinghouse grounds, and his grave is visited often by United States history and Revolutionary War enthusiasts.

A Board of Trustees governs the operation and maintenance of the facility today. The Board has reorganized in recent years, with a mission to return the facility to the community for a variety of uses.

Many residents have never seen the interior as it has rarely been open due to a lack of volunteers and a need to renovate the space to accommodate visitors. As examples, the building does not currently have restroom facilities or air conditioning, and it cannot easily welcome those requiring access under the American with Disabilities Act.

In order to further these improvements, the Trustees have established a grants committee that will pursue capital revenue sources.

They are currently working on the nomination process for historic designation on the federal and state registers, and a preservation plan that is consistent with Department of Interior Standards will be developed to complement those funding applications.

The assistance provided by the state in the FY23 State Fiscal Recovery Fund will enable maintenance of the facility to continue while the larger projects are being developed, and it will fund necessary expenses to pursue those opportunities.

In addition to Provenzano, other trustees are Julie Osborn, Marsha Lowe, George Wislar, Rae Grasso, Mark Bovenizer, and John Buck. They are currently seeking additional volunteers for board initiatives and program planning.

For more information about the event or about the Meetinghouse, please contact Board President Kris Provenzano at 609-610-6889.