Skip to content

A town square for an unsquare town

redbankgreen

Standing for the vitality of Red Bank, its community, and the fun we have together.

RED BANK: FORTUNE CULTURAL CENTER OPENS

red-bank-fortune-house-052319-1-500x332-2618096Dozens of supporters gathered on the front lawn for the opening of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center. Below, a view of the ceremony from inside the restored house. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

red-bank-fortune-house-052319-4-220x146-9892290More than a century after the departure of its most famous resident, the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank reopened Thursday as a cultural center dedicated to his mission of advancing civil and human rights.

james-vaccarelli-052319-1-copy-500x332-2974862James Vaccarelli, center, whose family owned the house for decades, was among the first in the door for a tour. Below, Roger Mumford speaks near the plaque denoting the home’s origins as ‘Maple Hall.’ (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

roger-mumford-052319-220x146-7704782

Fortune, a crusading civil rights journalist who was born into slavery in Florida in 1856, bought the house, then known as Maple Hall, in 1901 and lived there for the next decade, before losing it to lenders.

While there, he was visited by the leading lights of the post-Civil War drive for equal rights for African-Americans, including W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.

The house, which is believed to date from as early as 1774, served as home in the last century to several generations of the Vaccarelli family, who ran a commercial bakery on the site. Because of its connection to Fortune, the house was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Despite of that designation, the house was crumbling by 2006, attracting the attention of local preservationists. The property had been vacated, and repeated attempts to find a buyer had failed.

On the verge of being bulldozed, it was saved by developer Roger Mumford, who in 2016 convinced the borough zoning board to allow him to build 31 apartments, in the same architectural style of the house, at the rear of the property in order to finance a restoration of Fortune’s onetime home.

Construction on both was completed earlier this year, and Mumford deeded the house to the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation for $1.

At a rain-spritzed ceremony, Gilda Rogers, vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation, which will run the center as place to celebrate social justice and cultural differences, told several dozen of supporters that with the center established, “I need you to be here for the long haul. I need you to support, donate, volunteer, whatever you can to keep the doors open.”

Mark Fitzsimmons, an architect who helped rally attention to the endangered building’s plight a decade ago, told the audience he considers it a “sacred” site.

The new center, he said, “will resurrect the many truths that should be told abut this nation, its laws and its constitution that should govern all the people and provide civil rights and social justice in our democracy for everyone.”

Among those touring the house were 90-year-old James Vaccarelli of Shrewsbury, who grew up in it, and his niece, Pat Vaccarelli. During the renovation work, she said, Mumford’s crew found a report about the house that she had written when she was in high school, she told redbankgreen.

“A lot of memories. It was always a very happy time here,” she said, noting the spots where her grandfather kept his desk and the Christmas tree would be put up each year. “I’m glad it’s still here.”

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
Partyline
DOUBLE DYLAN IN RED BANK
Trucks for a production company filming what one worker said was a Bob Dylan biography have lined Monmouth Street the past two days with cre ...
AFTER THE RAIN
A pear tree branch brought down by a brief overnight storm left a lovely tableau on the sidewalk in front of Red Bank's Riverside Gardens Pa ...
CONE OF UNCERTAINTY
Asked by a redbankgreen reporter why these cones were on top of cars, the owner of the car in the foreground responded: “That’s ...
RAIL RIDER’S VIEW
A commuter's view of Cooper's Bridge and the Navesink River from North Jersey Coast Line train 3320 out of Red Bank Tuesday morning.
PUT ME IN COACH!
Red Bank T-Ball kicked off at East Side park on Saturday morning. The brisk weather proved to be no deterrent to the young players, ranging ...
IT’S A SIGN!
Once proudly declaring its all-but-certain arrival in Spring 2019, the project previously known as Azalea Gardens springs to life again with ...
SPRINGTIME MEMORIES OF CARL
The Easter Bunny getup and St. Patrick’s Day hat that belonged to longtime Red Bank crossing guard and neighborhood smile-creator Carl ...
RED TRUCKS AT RED ROCK
A small dishwasher fire at Red Rock Tap and Grill was put out quickly by firefighters overnight, causing minimal damage. Red Bank Fire Depar ...
CREATIVE COVER UP
The windows of Pearl Street Consignment on Monmouth Street were smashed when a driver crashed their car through them injuring an employee la ...
THEY’RE BACK!
Ospreys returned to the skies over Red Bank this week for the first time since they migrated to warmer climes in late fall. With temperature ...
SPRING IS SPRUNG
RED BANK: Spring 2024 arrives on the Greater Red Bank Green with the vernal equinox at 11:06 p.m. Tuesday.
RED BANK’S FINEST – AND NEWEST
Red Bank Police Officer Eliot Ramos was sworn in as the force’s newest patrolman Thursday, and if you’re doing a double take thinkin ...
EASTER EGG MAYHEM AT THE PARK
An errant whistle spurred an unexpectedly early start to the Spring Egg Hunt on Sunday, which had been scheduled to begin at eggsactly 11am ...
PRESEASON DOCKWORK
RED BANK: With winter winding down, marina gets ready for boating season with some dockwork on our beautiful Navesink River.
CORNED BEEF AND DISCO FRIES?
It’s Friday, and smart Lent-observing Leprechauns know the pot of gold at the end of Red Bank’s rainbow is actually the deliciou ...
SURFBOARD DITCHED
It’s a violation of etiquette in surfing to ditch your board.  (it could hit another surfer and hurt them). But someone appears to ha ...
ELSIE, TAKE ME WITH YOU!
Soaked by pouring rain with the temperature hovering in the low 40’s, this sign in the window of Elsie’s Subs on Monmouth Street ...
WALK THIS WAY
PARTYLINE: Before-and-afters of a sidewalk cleanup on West Street.
SOGGY NOTION
RED BANK: Breezeway sculpture captured the mood downtown as heavy rains fell Saturday morning.
HOME DELIVERY
RED BANK: After a subdivision, an instant house rises on a new Catherine Street lot.