Man seeks to preserve pre-Revolutionary War home

Rutherford, N.J., Borough Historian Rod Leith stands in front of the historic Dutch colonial stone house that was built in 1741 before the American Revolution. (Mitsu Yasukawa /The Record via AP)

HACKENSACK, N.J. — For a month, Henry Kip and his brother Peter stood sentinel, alone. Abandoned by George Washington, whose broken army fled Hackensack for Pennsylvania so quickly that many of his soldiers marched without shoes, the Kips were members of a ragtag militia that walked Polifly Ridge, the last defense against British troops looking to pillage the farms of Bergen County.

After volunteering for guard duty, the Kips walked home to a stone farmhouse on the edge of the meadows. That house, built by 1743, still stands. During the Revolutionary War, it was one of dozens of homes along the old Polifly Road, which traced the ridge line from Hackensack to Newark and served as the residential hub for Bergen County’s political and economic elite for more than 100 years, until the Civil War.

Today the Kip homestead is the last of those houses left.

A developer wants to knock it down.

Theodore Van Winkle, whose ancestors served in the militia alongside the Kips, and whose great-grandfather Daniel bought the Kip homestead in 1852, thinks that’s a terrible idea.

“I’m very much against it,” said Van Winkle, 90, whose family has lived within a couple miles of the old Kip farm for 330 years. “It’s one of the oldest Dutch homes in New Jersey, and it should be preserved.”

The developer, Madison Hill Properties LLC, takes the opposite view. A report prepared on the company’s behalf describes the Kip house and 17 surrounding properties as an “area in need of redevelopment,” a term of art in local zoning law that translates roughly to “slum.”

Madison Hill has not disclosed what it hopes to build in their place. Representatives of the company did not return calls and emails seeking comment. The company’s report points out, however, that the neighborhood is zoned for two-family houses and five-story residential buildings.

That would mean replacing the last Colonial-era, stone-built home on the old Polifly Road with more town houses and apartment blocks, the same slapped-together agglomerations of vinyl siding and fake brick available from Teaneck to Spokane.

“The people who lived in this house, the Kip and the Van Winkle families, were part of the militia that guarded this area during the Revolutionary War,” said Rod Leith, Rutherford’s borough historian. “It’s southern Bergen County’s last connection with the Revolutionary War. I hope they let that house be.”