Mansion in need of a face-lift

Effort in Jamesburg aims to restore old Buckelew property
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

The paint may be peeling off the old Buckelew Mansion and the roof may leak, but to the members of the Jamesburg Historical Association, the house has "beautiful bones."

"I love this house," said Ronald Becker, president of the historical association. "The house itself is majestic. It's part of Middlesex County history."

Sitting on Buckelew Avenue across from Manalapan Lake, the 23-room home, also called the Lakeview Mansion, has been in existence for 300 years.

With the past centuries being not so kind, the borough and the historical association are now seeking funds to restore the historic mansion from top to bottom, the first real overhaul since the house was restored in 1979.

"A quarter of the house has sunk 4 1/2 inches," Becker said. "There's water damage from the leaky roof, which we have temporarily fixed, and we were affected by the floods last year."

They have started the process of applying for a grant from several state and federal agencies with the aim of shoring up the foundation, fixing the roof and a long list of side projects.

Walking up to the house, the ravages of time and weather are evident in the white paint peeling from the shingles and the rot that blights parts of the fence around the mansion.

"Like any old house, it has its problems," Becker said. "It snaps, crackles and pops."

Immediate concerns bedevil the mansion. There is just $400 left for the rest of the year to maintain the house, which needs $8,000 to $10,000 for bills alone.

"Our budget got wiped out by heating bills over the winter," Becker said.

The historical association is planning a big push for fundraising and to supplement the $1,500 it gets from the borough and the cash it gets from donations.

"It's not the historical association's house," Becker said, "it's the people of Jamesburg's house. It's their heritage."

The mansion now serves as a museum for Jamesburg history, but was once the most prominent home in the borough, according to Marge Perrine, an association member.

Built as a one-room cottage, the house grew when James Buckelew, a prominent farmer and businessman, bought the property in 1832 and lent his name to the borough.

The Buckelew Mansion boasted one of the first bathrooms in the area, a lofty space with a blue claw foot tub.

In the conservatory, the historical association displays the Lincoln coach, the carriage that President Abraham Lincoln borrowed from Buckelew to go from the Trenton Railway Depot to the Statehouse in 1861.

The house eventually became a boarding home after the Buckelew family sold the property in the early 1900s. It was acquired by the borough and the historical association in 1979.

With so much history in the house, there are bound to be spirits.

"We have 400 ghosts in this house," said Perrine, who's had her own brush with the supernatural.

"My granddaughter was once playing with a little boy that wasn't there," she said.

At night, voices can be heard in empty rooms, faces peer out of windows when nobody is inside, phantom footsteps walk through the doors and a ghost boy named Bobby haunts the mezzanine floor, according to Becker and Perrine.

"When we opened up the house to the public, it stirred things up," Becker said.

Perrine comes in occasionally to give tours of the house and to dust the furniture, an act to appease the past mistress of the mansion.

"Mrs. (Margaret) Buckelew passed away in 1900, but sometimes I'm not sure if she did -- particularly when we don't keep the house up," she said.

For more information on the Buckelew Mansion, visit

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