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Saving The Luke Miller House

The Luke Miller House, circa 1730, is believed to be the oldest residence in the charming college town of Madison Borough, NJ. In 2005, the historic Colonial house and its surrounding 1.6 acre wooded grounds were nearly sold to S. DeMarzo & Sons, a luxury home developer. Zoning permits were requested to transform the picturesque homestead, which backs to the heavily wooded Summerhill Park, into a sub-division of new $million+ homes. However, during the 11th hour of sale and zoning negotiations, the Borough, in conjunction with the Madison Historical Society and the Madison Historic Preservation Committee, intervened. They collectively persuaded the developer to end its agreement with the seller, enabling the borough to purchase the historically significant property for $1,170,000 to preserve it for future generations.  

The borough used a novel public/private approach to purchase the historic homestead and ensure its preservation; this approach serves as a national model for saving other endangered historic sites from encroaching development. First, the borough sub-divided the lot to prevent any future development. A historic preservation and conservation easement, overseen by the NJ Historic Trust, was placed on The Luke Miller House and .39 acres of the land that surround it. The easement prevents the destruction of historically significant features inside and outside the house, and on the surrounding property. The remaining 1.21 acre, horseshoe-shaped section of land that encircles the back and side perimeters of the wooded lot became borough-owned, preserved open space that is also protected by the same easement (click this Property Survey link to see a current property survey map of the sub-division). The open space remains seamlessly attached to the Luke Miller House through the easement and its undeveloped, historic character must remain intact.

A total of $750,000 in grant money was obtained by the borough to fund the purchase of the 1.21 acre section of open space, including $300,000 from the Morris County Open Space Fund; $200,000 from the Morris Land Conservancy; $175,000 from Green Acres; and $75,000 from the Madison Open Space, Recreation, and Historical Preservation Trust Fund. The balance of the $1,170,000 purchase price was obtained through resale of the house and its .39 acre lot at auction. The auction was conducted by Max Spann of Clinton, NJ in Madison’s Hartley Dodge Memorial on October 14, 2005. The winning bidder, David Quirk, of Morris Township, NJ, paid $505,000 plus a 10% auctioneer’s fee to become the 18th owner of the historic home and surrounding property.  

The borough must be congratulated for its bravery as it undertook substantial risks in this noble historic preservation endeavor. A substantial increase in tax revenue was forgone by stepping in and preventing the development of several new large homes on the property. There was also no guarantee that the final auction price would be sufficient to cover expenses incurred by the during the borough’s purchase of the house and the surrounding land. In addition, it was unknown whether or not the winning bidder would voluntarily undertake the enormous task of restoring, conserving, and renovating the historic features of the 18th century home and surrounding grounds, or if they would be permitted to slowly deteriorate beyond repair. Fortunately, the new homeowner possessed both the determination and resources required to restore The Luke Miller House, its outbuildings, and the entire 1.6 acre grounds above and beyond their former glory.

You are invited to view the results of the 2-year, $500,000 restoration for yourself on this site in the Photo Gallery, which includes historical annotations along with photos of each room in the house. Written summaries of all restoration, conservation, and renovation work completed inside and outside the house can be found through the Restoration link on this site.

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