George Bowden, right, with Historic Preservation Commission members Charles Nickerson and Michaela Ferrigine in 2016. Below, Bowden spearheaded the borough’s centennial celebration and parade in 2009.(Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
George Bowden, once dubbed “the Energizer bunny” of historic preservation in Red Bank, died at home in Middletown Sunday. He was 92 years old.
Galvanized into action in 2001, after the borough allowed the demolition of an old house on West Front Street, Bowden became a champion for old and neglected structures in town.
Not least of those was the T. Thomas Fortune House, which was resurrected from near-oblivion earlier this year, more than a decade after Bowden and others launched a campaign to save it.
Bowden’s death was disclosed Tuesday by his daughter Lisa on Facebook.
“We all owe George and Gladys, his late wife, an enormous debt of gratitude in the efforts which they undertook to preserve and protect our historic legacy for generations to come,” Mayor Pasquale Menna wrote on Facebook Tuesday night.
Among the achievements George Bowden had a hand in: the creation of the Washington Street Historic District; the renovation of the borough train station; and the adoption of a 2018 ordinance that put more teeth into the development review process by the Historic Preservation Commission.
A longtime owner of a circa-1895 house on Hubbard Park, Bowden capped his efforts with the preservation and restoration of Maple Hill, the onetime home of pioneering civil rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune, on what is now Drs. James Parker Boulevard.
Near collapse, it was saved under a deal with builder Roger Mumford, who acquired the site, rehabilitated the house and turned it over to a nonprofit foundation for $1, after the zoning board allowed him to build 31 apartments at the rear of the lot.
The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center opened last May, and now runs a busy calendar of programming.
In a 2007 redbankgreen profile, Bowden said his passion for local history was sparked in 1999 when he accompanied Gladys to a council meeting, where a citizen group called Preservation Red Bank was clamoring for the Rullman House, built in 1805, to be saved.
The effort failed, and the borough created Riverside Gardens Park on the site.
“I said, ‘This is one down, but there are a lot of other places in town that will be at risk,’” he said. “A lot of buildings are on borrowed time, plain and simple.”
In 2007, Councilman Ed Zipprich, then a candidate for office, dubbed Bowden the “Energizer bunny” for his tireless work on the Historic Preservation Commission. Then-member Mary Gilligan called him “the tidal wave of enthusiasm who brings everyone along.”
Gilda Rogers, who was also instrumental in saving the Fortune house, said the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center recently honored Bowden at a fundraiser, “because it was his efforts that brought the importance of Fortune’s life to the light.
“I am eternally grateful for his love of Red Bank and preserving its history,” she told redbankgreen Wednesday.
A celebration of Bowden’s life is scheduled for Saturday, January 18 at All Saints Memorial Church in Navesink, with a funeral service and burial at 2:30 p.m.