OLDEST HOME GETS ITS HISTORICAL DUE

white-house1Red Bank’s oldest house, on South Street, was finally put on the state’s list of historic places last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A tour of Mary Gilligan’s South Street home is, quite literally, a trip back in time, starting with the walk up the driveway, as you take a look at the white Dutch Colonial. The upstairs windows, shrunken versions of the ones downstairs, are the first sign that something is different about this house.

Is that a one-story or two-story? Actually, it’s a one-and-a-half story.

Then you walk through the front door, which can only be unlocked with a skeleton key, and walk on wide wooden floor boards that have been there since the 1790s. Through a couple short doorways — “For anybody above my height, the rule is, watch your head,” the vertically-challenged Gilligan said — to the kitchen, where Gilligan uses a wooden chopping block and slaughter table, which have been in the home for centuries, to store various kitchen items. Eighteenth century families did not have CuisinArt collections or varieties of Swiffer’s to amass, so storage space is at a premium in Gilligan’s home.

“The hope is to have more cabinets so I can actually put things away,” she said.

One project at a time. Her most recent feat came last week when the house, the oldest in Red Bank, was accept to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, an endeavor six years in the making.

white-house11A tree trunk, believed to be from the 18th century, supports a crossbeam in the basement. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

Gilligan, a Preservation New Jersey officer and member of the borough Historic Preservation Commission, hit a number of stumbling blocks on her journey to get the house its historic designation — cancer being one of them, giving her “chemo-brain,” which made it hard for her to complete the detailed 12-page application. Plus she had to survey and research every inch of the property, from the sewer lines to the electrical system, which is a tall order in itself.

The home, called the White Homestead, was built by settler Robert White, whose descendants lived there until the 1920s, Gilligan said. On October 13, she’ll have owned the house for 21 years.

The first time she stepped into the home was for a funeral reception.

“I said, ooh, I could live here,” Gilligan said.

And here she is, well-acquainted with the nuances of the 200-plus-year-old house, from the sagging end of the dining room floor — she doesn’t serve peas for dinner very often, she said — to the paucity of electrical outlets, which forces her to unplug a lamp in order to plug in the TV.

“I like this house because it’s not cookie-cutter,” she said.

She’s submitted her application to get the home placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Word is expected to come back in about six months, she said.

If it makes the list, maybe she’ll finally accomplish another one of her goals and do something about that skeleton key.

“I am tempted to one day go to Home Depot and ask for three copies,” she said, laughing. “Maybe next April Fool’s Day.”