Sparta changes attempt to maintain historical identity

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SPARTA-There was yet another open house in Sparta a few weeks ago. This house on Sparta Avenue was large, but unlike so many under construction within the township borders these days, this one was not new and was not for sale. This open house at the three-story, Victorian-style home, now called and operated as the Brick House Farm Bed and Breakfast, was hosted by the Sparta Historical Society to unveil a marker recognizing the historical significance of the 150-year-old structure in the township. In years gone, local historians say the Brick House Farm served as a boarding house during Sparta's heyday as a summer vacation retreat. Today, it is within walking distance to a health and wellness facility, unheard of or unthinkable to past residents of an era who made their livings as farmers or iron workers. But the Brick Farm House remains standing, a short way removed from newly constructed senior rental units on the other of the street and a supermarket that neighbors a fast-food restaurant and buildings for commercial and retail space further down the road. Within a stone's throw of the Brick House Farm, large residential units compete for open space where hogs and other livestock may have once grazed. The change is not lost on David Troast, Sparta township planner and a key player in the way the community may or may not look in years to come. "The whole master plan is based on maintaining the historic rural character of the township," he said. "But, there's always a balance that has to take place. There will be issues on each side of the pendulum. Sometimes the best answers are in the middle." Members of the Sparta Historical Society recognize that township officials may have had little choice but to keep pace with development at all ends of the county today. And they, too, now find themselves trying to catch up with Sparta's transforming landscape. While some 50 visitors took advantage of the open house to view the hand-painted floral murals in the living room of the Brick Farm House, Edward Fritsch had his sights on a much broader picture behind the event. "We want to get some recognition and build enthusiasm to get people to understand the history of Sparta," said the president of the Sparta Historical Society. "There are many more houses and sites in Sparta that need to be preserved." The Brick House Farm dedication followed the Sparta Historical Society's first marking in December, at the Institute for Spiritual Development, a church built in 1868 on Sparta Avenue. Lynne Cavanaugh, a 26-year township resident and trustee of the Historical Society, said the goals of the organization are to keep the community informed and invoke an interest among new residents in Sparta's long cultural heritage. "Many of the newer residents may not have the emotional connection to the town because they may not have lived here long enough to appreciate it," said Cavanaugh. "People are not happy with having the town cut up like a Thanksgiving turkey. We've been successful in elevating the historical perspectives of people in Sparta." Cavanaugh said the Historical Society was established only three years ago and is anxious to work with the township on preservation projects. "We're a wholesome addition to the town because we're highlighting the gracious historical buildings that we have in town and, hopefully, will be preserved because of our efforts," she said. Councilman Doug Martin said it's important to preserve standards set for districts of historical importance, especially in light of the changing face of town. "The Historical Society is good for the town," said Martin, who represents the council on the Historical Society. "Someone's got to publicize the history of the town to be able to maintain it," A few years ago, Martin said the Planning Board turned down a look for the new Post Office because of the proposed use of a "big blue sign" out front. The same mindfulness, Martin said, has gone into adopting regulations in adherence with state and local guidelines for construction of the town center alongside the post office off Main Street. "We've worked very hard at it with every application," said Troast. "The ordinances are ordinances and if they are not followed, the town can get in a lot of trouble." While a number of buildings are beyond repair, townships officials say their replacements are required to be consistent with the architectural style of the 1900s. One of the buildings, formerly known as the Central Hotel on Main Street, provided food and lodging to visitors since the middle of the 19th century. The building has been the home to Nazzaros, a pizzeria and Italian restaurant for more than 60 years. Peter D'Antonio, who is developing architectural plans for the town center, said his firm, Nouvelle Associates, has taken into consideration suggestions and comments from the Planning Board. "We're attempting to do something that's in character with something you'd see in and around town, but we don't want the building to look the same," he said. "We want something distinctive and different."