Bridgewater Celebrates Preservation of Foothill Road Estate


BRIDGEWATER – Through a partnership of organizations, government bodies and neighbors who didn’t know when to quit, the 36-acre Wemple estate, where Revolutionary War soldiers once camped, will be preserved in perpetuity.

To mark the preservation of what has been called a historical treasure, the D&R Greenway Land Trust presented the township a portrait of the portion of the Foothill Road property where Gen. George Washington’s soldiers camped and their horses drank from a spring. The portrait by renowned artist James Fiorentino, who is also vice chairman of the organization, depicts the carriage trail at Steel Gap Road used by the troops.

Linda Mead, the president and CEO of the organization, said the preservation was the result of a “cooperative partnership” among the township council, Somerset County freeholders, Crossroads of the American Revolution and residents Bob Vaucher, David Stempian and Brendan Burns.

The Wemple estate on Foothill Road in Bridgewater will be preserved thanks to the efforts of neighbors and organizations (Photo: Mike Deak/Staff Photo)

The property is also on the historic Washington-Rochambeau Trail where Revolutionary troops marched on their way to the climatic battle at Yorktown, Va. A piece of paper in Washington’s handwriting was found on the property, ordering troop movements.

The painting was donated by the Shooting Star Chapter 195 of the Air Force Association to honor 101-year-old Vaucher who was one of the primary advocates of the preservation. Vaucher, who flew 117 missions during World War II, has been named “Honorary Air Boss” of the Arsenal of Democracy flyover in Washington, D.C. on May 8 to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory over Germany.

John Wemple, who lived all of his life in the house with his sister Peg, died at age 79 in December 2001. In 1995, Wemple signed an agreement with The Nature Conservancy to donate 1.9 acres of the property that can be seen from Foothill Road.

But the will was overturned because of allegations that Wemple, former advertising manager for the defunct Somerset Messenger-Gazette in Somerville, was incompetent, an allegation that Vaucher said was “nonsense.”

Wemple’s heirs then decided to sell the property, which has a house and out buildings where Wemple kept his antique car collection.

In 2010, Steven and Sandy Lang bought the property from Wemple’s estate and The Nature Conservancy for $1.95 million. The Langs proposed building 15 homes on the property with two dead-end streets with cul de sacs.

The proposal immediately ignited a firestorm from neighbors. The Foothill Civic Association, of which Vaucher has been an active member for decades, sprang into action.

The D&R Greenway, which has preserved more than 300 properties, became involved when it was asked to help in the preservation efforts. Through a quirk of fate, Mead said, Lang was already a supporter of the organization.

The drive then began to raise money to purchase the property for $1.925 million including  $1.15 million from the township’s Open Space Fund.

In addition to about $100,000 in individual donations gathered by Vaucher, Stempien and Burns, funding also included $250,000 from Somerset County, $250,000 from Crossroads of the American Revolution and  $175,000 from D&R Greenway.

On the property, Mead said, “you can walk in history and envision the future.”

Bob Vaucher, 101-year-old Foothill Road resident and World War II flying ace, speaks at Thursday’s Bridgewater Township Council meeting about the importance of preserving the Wemple estate. (Photo: ~Brad Fay/D&R Canal Commission)

“We all own it,” Vacher said. “Peg and John are up in heaven saying, ‘They finally did it.'”

“I would like to thank D&R Greenway Land Trust, Crossroads of the American Revolution, my partners in the township and county governing bodies and our dedicated group of residents who took this protect to fruition,” said Mayor Matt Moench. “This land will now be preserved for all future generations of Bridgewater residents to enjoy. We will hang the painting of the property, that was gifted to the township, proudly in the halls of our building”

Article originally from My Central Jersey

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