County officials and community members gathered as the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference held a ground-breaking ceremony at the old Darlington Schoolhouse on Route 202 in Mahwah Saturday.
Built in 1891 during the "Gilded Age" by Theodore Havemeyer, it was designed by architect Dudley Newton who incorporated an eclectic mix of 19th century styles. The interior still boasts details like chestnut doors, Eastlake-style door hardware, slate chalkboards and rounded-arch, multi-paned windows.
Last used as a schoolhouse in 1945, the majestic building was then used into the 1970's as an administration building by the board of education. Later on, it was used mainly for storage. In the 1980's the building was largely abandoned, with windows and doors boarded up to keep vandals and the elements out.
Fast-forward to 2004. Ed Goodell, Executive Director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference was hiking in the with friends who happened to be council members in the township.
Goodell had been scouting a new location for the Trail Conference headquarters. While sitting on a high vantage point, someone pointed to the old Darlington Schoolhouse in the distance. The friend suggested to Ed that he ought to look into the building as a possible location.
Goodell inquired about the property. Noting it's location at the foot of the Ramapos, and its historic significance, he decided it would be the perfect place to serve as a public resource for trail and environmental education.
Seven years later, after many meetings, setbacks and false starts, the ground-breaking this weekend signifies that Goodell's vision of restoring the building will come to pass.
It has taken a concerted effort on the part of the Mahwah Township Council members, the Historic Preservation Commission, County officials, and a large group of volunteers to achieve this goal. To quote Goodell, "It has been a community labor of love."
Town Historian Carol Greene was in attendance. She congratulated Goodell for setting an "incredible example of patient perseverance" in overcoming the obstacles to make the ground-breaking a reality.
There are still many marks to hit before the fund-raising for major upgrades and restoration can happen. Grants are in place so that the important work of stabilizing the building will begin on April 1. Many plans have to be approved and it will be slow-going, but Goodell isn't daunted, saying "I have believed from the start in the power of community to do the right thing in saving this landmark for generations to come."
Randall Brewster, a fourth-generation Mahwah resident recalled driving by the schoolhouse his entire life. Saturday he said, "I am so happy to see those doors open."