ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – A large house overlooking the bay at 170 Ocean Boulevard in the high hills of eastern Atlantic
Highlands, which had a core section pre-dating the Revolutionary War, was demolished in November under a permit issued by the borough. Known as Point Lookout, it is listed as one of 45 historic sites in the town Master Plan; this is an honor that provides no protection against destruction or remodeling.
“This loss warns us that we need to help owners preserve the character and value of historic sites,” said Historical Society president Paul Boyd. “It so happens that this owner paid attention to historical factors, but we can’t be sure that will be true in future cases” (see note below).
Point Lookout in Atlantic Highlands was demolished in November 2010.
Revolutionary War role
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The original section, probably built in the 1750s, had beams made of rough logs. Brass buttons from British officers’ uniforms were found when its half-cellar was excavated in the 1980s. The buttons were probably left behind by regiments from Belford that camped there for a week, waiting to evacuate to Sandy Hook following the Battle of Monmouth on June 27, 1788.
An early 1800s addition probably suited it for use as a blockhouse in the War of 1812. A wall removed in the 1990s was packed with clay and straw wattle – a method dating to the first decades of the 1800s. Later, a third floor and east and west wings were built.
Sears’ business uses
The land was in a 50-acre tract bought in the 1850s by Charles Sears. A grain and flour merchant and a social liberal, in 1843 he co-founded an experimental communal settlement, the North American Phalanx in Colts Neck. Land he retained there contained marl, a green sand used as fertilizer. This led him to buy the Point Lookout property, build a bayside landing dock reached by Sears Landing Road, and ship marl to farmers all along the east coast.
The business failed, and Sears next established a factory at the site that made a multi-purpose oil from moss bunkers. But it also produced strong odors, raising so many objections that the Board of Health shut it down in 1880.
After 1890 when Sears died, his son Charles Payne Sears lived there. A water colorist, his works were exhibited in Washington’s national portrait gallery.
In the 1950s the house was divided into apartments and decayed. It was restored as a single family dwelling in the 1980s.
The owner explains
Responding to the Historical Society, the owner said it was “a painful decision to tear down the house,” but many structural issues made it necessary, including major termite damage. The foundation was crumbling because the seashells used in the mortar – common practice in the 1800s – decomposed; he has employed master masons to restore it. In the new house, siding and windows will match the design of the old house. In the interior, an appraiser determined that renovations had left little original material. Old flooring is being saved. The hand-hewn beams will be incorporated into first floor rooms. These examples show considerable effort being made to preserve historic elements and maintain the home’s classic nature.
SAVING HISTORIC SITES
The Historical Society has proposed ways of ensuring landmark sites listed in the town Master Plan are not mindlessly lost or maltreated. First, provide for hiring an historic architect to review owner applications affecting such sites and advise how to retain their historic and economic value. Second, establish an Historic Preservation Commission to systematically promote maintenance and improvement of our architectural heritage, while also advising owners and town authorities on proposed changes in historic sites. To learn more, email to the Historical Society at [email protected]