An original piece of Weehawken history is being remodeled and restored to its 19th Century splendor.
For the last 80 years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have been renting the former Town Hall at 309 Park Ave., a narrow brick building that is just down the hill from the present Town Hall near the border with Hoboken.
It originally housed the township’s Police Department on the first floor, including a jail in the rear, and government offices on the second floor. Historians believe it may even have been a private home long before it was converted to municipal use.
Now, the town has decided to renovate the three-story building with new brickwork, windows, dormers, plumbing, and electric wiring.
After work is complete sometime early next year, the building will house the VFW on the first floor, a meeting room on the second, and the Weehawken Historical Commission on the third.
“We want to save as much of the original building as possible,” said Weehawken Chief Construction Official Frank Pattoli last week. “Our goal is to restore the structure to previous conditions inside and out.”
Built in 1890, many of the original features are still visible. The original cell gate is still swinging – the jail was turned into a barroom by the veterans sometime in the ’40s – and a period bathtub is in the bathroom on the third floor.
Old bathtub found
“We want to maintain the original layout of the building,” said director of Public Works Robert Barsa. “Once the demolition phase is complete, we will begin work on the interior in the winter and hopefully finish the project by spring. It’s a beautiful, historic building; we’re really excited to renovate the structure and open it to the public.”
According to Lauren Sherman of the Weehawken Historical Commission, not much is known about the historic building.
“Some things we know a lot about, and others we just don’t,” Sherman said. “It doesn’t appear that the building was built as a municipal building.”
The layout of the space suggests it might have been a one- or two-family home at first.
“Our goal is to restore the structure to previous conditions inside and out.” – Frank Pattoli
Calling all vets
The VFW hall doesn’t get much use anymore. Named after two Weehawken soldiers killed in World War I, the Oulton-Kraft VFW Post 1923 was established in 1930 and took up residence in the building that year.
Lifelong Weehawken resident Joe Fredericks is a life member of the Weehawken VFW post at age 86. According to Fredericks, all 47 original members were from the township. “They all have Weehawken names,” he said.
Fredericks served with the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, supplying the resistance forces with munitions and supplies in France and Germany.
“Our missions always took place at night,” Fredericks said. “It was a scary business.”
After returning home, Fredericks joined the VFW and is now one of the oldest members of the Weehawken post. In March, the post will hold a celebration because of its 80th anniversary.
“We hope all the renovations can be finished by March,” Fredericks said. “We’ll get all the guys together to celebrate the anniversary in our new building.”
In addition to celebrating with the current members, Fredericks is hoping to attract new members.
“We’re hoping to get new members to take over,” Frederick said. “The old guard is fading away and we need the next generation of veterans to carry on the tradition.”
For more information on the VFW, visit www.vfw.org.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org