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Updated June 1, 2004
Staff contact: Martha Catlin
Agencies: Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, American Battlefield Protection Program, and Environmental Protection Agency
While commercial development such as bank branches and 24-hour pharmacies is a convenient aspect of modern life, the location of these services sometimes intrude on historic properties and landscapes.
In Edison, New Jersey, a site within a former American Revolutionary Battlefield known as Oak Tree Pond was slated for a 24-hour pharmacy and strip mall. In a stunning reversal of events, the local, county, and State governments joined with citizens to purchase and preserve the National Register-eligible site as a park. One acre that could not be bought by the local government, however, will become the site of a bank branch.
As the community works to restore the topography of the land next to the site of the future bank, the ACHP is working with the bank owner, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the community to ensure that the bank’s adverse effects on the preserved area are minimized.
In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, American forces fired upon British troops that were advancing along converging roads in Edison, New Jersey. The success of General George Washington’s tactics against the enemy’s overwhelming numbers enabled him to keep his forces intact—a critical factor in prevailing in future engagements with the British military.
|Re-enactors recreate the Revolutionary War battle at Oak Tree Pond, Edison, New Jersey (photo courtesy of Jim Hebenstreit, Save the Oak Tree Pond Organization)|
Two hundred and twenty-three years later, this historic site known as Oak Tree Pond was to become a strip mall with a 24-hour pharmacy and a bank branch. Although the site was bulldozed by the potential developers, it retained enough integrity to continue to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places as a component of the historic Battle of Short Hills.
The ACHP first became involved in the case in 2001 by responding to a Congressional inquiry on the project. It contacted the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its Section 106 responsibilities for permitting the strip mall development.
As public concern grew, evidenced by a petition with more than 4,000 signatures, Edison Township was able to purchase nearly all of the five-and-a-half-acre site through tax revenue-based “open space” funds matched by Middlesex County open space funds and State “Green Acres” grants.
A local group known as Save the Oak Tree Pond Committee raised money for the cause through garage sales and selling t-shirts and American flags. Weekend “Pond Watches” were held to prevent further encroachment on the former battlefield.
A bank, however, plans to build a branch on a remaining acre within the historic engagement area. Because the bank is required to obtain a permit from the Federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the OCC must undergo the Section 106 review process to ensure that the effects of new construction on the adjoining historic property are minimized.
The ACHP is consulting on the case with the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP), OCC, the bank, and the community.
The bank has agreed to conceal the branch through vegetative screening that is compatible with the landscape planned for the park. It also will serve the park by providing parking and handicapped access. Other aspects of the proposal are still being discussed, including installing lighting that is more in keeping with the park’s lighting.
The technical assistance of ABPP has been critical to addressing the significant values of the Oak Tree Pond engagement area. It was ABPP’s independent analysis of historic events at the site that early led to the site being included within the boundaries of New Jersey’s proposed “Crossroads of the American Revolution” Heritage Area.
Currently, the consulting parties are drafting a Memorandum of Agreement on how adverse effects to the park will be resolved.
Staff contact: Martha Catlin