CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Four months ago, a house that dated back to Revolutionary War days was torn down by New Jersey’s Transportation Department, to make way for the Direct Connection project involving I-295, I-42 and I-676 in Bellmawr. Now, historic preservation officials are going to court.
The Camden County Historical Society fought for two years to move the Hugg-Harrison House, only to see the wrecking ball arrive without warning last March.
“The lawsuit alleges that the New Jersey Department of Transportation fraudulently concealed evidence by demolishing the house just one day after we had filed an emergency application with the New Jersey Superior Court to prevent them from demolishing it,” Executive Director Chris Perks told KYW Newsradio.
The suit, filed in federal court, also suggests that the state did not act in good faith as required under federal law. The action names the US Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration as co-defendants.
There was debate as to whether the Hugg-Harrison House would have made the National Registry of Historic Places, but the Society has evidence stating it was eligible.
Attorney Matthew Litt represents the Society and believes the lawsuit has a good chance of success, even if it’ll take two years or more to play out.
“There are two components to this litigation,” Litt said. “There’s the federal component regarding violations of the National Historic Preservation Act and there’s also a component under state law which claims that the state violated state law by intentionally and/or negligently destroying evidence in the form of the home and its contents,” said Litt.
The suit seeks funding to mitigate the damage caused by the demolition. Options include a replica house, a Revolutionary War museum or a monument.
New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Stephen Schapiro cited long-standing department policy in declining comment on pending litigation.