THE HOME IS DESIGNATED AS A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK ON DEC. 28, 1976
The building was occupied continuously until June 2006 when a member of the Vaccarelli family, then owners of the property, last lived there. The street has since been renamed and is known as Drs. James Parker Blvd. Named in honor of three extraordinary African-American physicians, father, son and nephew — Dr. James W. Parker Sr., Dr. James W. Parker Jr. and Dr. James A. Parker, a dentist, who together, served the Red Bank community for over 80 years,
The T. Thomas Fortune House is one of the most historically significant properties in the United States. It is one of only two National Historic Landmarks (NHL) in New Jersey that is significant because of its role in African American history. There are only 57 “National Historic Landmarks” in New Jersey, and only 2,500 in the entire USA.
In 1901, T. Thomas Fortune and his family, moved from Brooklyn, NY in search of a home in the country. Fortune purchased the property at 94 Beech Street, as it was known then, in Red Bank and christened his new home “Maple Hall.” It was during this time that Fortune entertained one of the leading African American figures of the time, Booker T. Washington, at his Red Bank home, as well as other prominent figures of the day.
The Fortune family was immersed in their Red Bank community, hosting recitals and festive parties at the home, along with political functions, which included community members like, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Rock, Daniel W. Shomo, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis O. Summersett and others. Fortune’s wife, Carrie, upon her death in 1940, was credited in an article with being the founder of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank, which is still a vital edifice of the faith-based community in Red Bank today. Their son, Frederick was in the first communion class of 1908, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
T. Thomas Fortune resided in the home until about 1908, when he and his wife separated. Carrie Fortune and their son, Frederick remained in the home until 1915. Frederick graduated from Red Bank High School in 1910. The son of a man born into slavery, Frederick would rise to become a renowned OB-GYN surgeon in Philadelphia, PA. The Fortune’s also had a daughter named Jesse, who became a teacher, married and moved to Sag Harbor, NY.
The home was built by John R. Bergen and was constructed in stages. It was determined in a 2017 dendrochronological study (tree ring study), that the foundation of the home dates back to 1774, while other timber rendered dates consistent with the mid-19th century. Originally, the home was a two-story L-shaped building with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and rear storage room on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor and an unfinished attic.
A 20th Century addition was added by James Vaccarelli, in 1917, who bought the property shortly after the Fortune Family moved from the home in 1915. The new addition enlarged the structure and provided two additional bedrooms, a larger kitchen and a larger family dining room. The previous dining room was converted into the living room, while the old living room became a parlor, or sitting room.
In 1918, a one-story bakery was added to the back of the property that the Vaccarelli family owned and operated throughout the 20th Century up until 2001, serving all of Monmouth County.
The home is a perfect example of “Picturesque Eclecticism” of the high Victorian age, which borrowed and placed details from any and every style on the same building. The building demonstrates eye catching patterns, and picturesque massing. It has its ancestry from the Italinate Villa, possessing decorative detail more prolific and less disciplined. Originally, the first floor of the structure contained two marble faced fireplaces. A typical building of this period, it possessed forms of vaguely medieval, classical, Baroque, and Rococo derivations heaped together to provide a complexity of moods.
According to the Red Bank Register, April 3, 1918, there was a long discussion in regard to changing the name of the street, which runs from Branch Avenue westward to the river. Although the street is a continuous thoroughfare, the eastern end beyond the rail road tracks is still called Bergen Place, while the western end, formerly Beech Street, is now known as Drs. James Parker Blvd. According to one account, “If the truth was known the real reason why the street had two names is because the white folks who lived on the eastern end didn’t want the street to have the same name as the western end, where the colored folks lived,” said Mr. Charles Irwin. Eventually, it was decided that Bergen Place be made the name of the entire street. The house has been on the National Register of Historic Buildings, as well as the state register since the mid-1970s. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 8, 1976 and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, on August 16, 1979.
Rehabilitation and restoration work on the T. Thomas Fortune house is underway in conjunction with the construction of 31 apartments behind it, where an elevator tower is visible.
Photos by John T. Ward
A vintage telephone, a relic of days gone by, located at the top of the second-floor landing. Crumbling brick, was once used for insulation. The restoration of the front door, the staircase, along with molding are important features that add to the historic character of the home.
Builder, Roger Mumford, shows off an original decorative corbel removed from just below the roof line of the house, and, in his left hand, a replica made from mahogany.