Tag Archives: Charles Williams

Fair Haven: Poised for a Park


By Elaine Van Develde

The Fair Haven house that Charles Williams built is gone.

But the historic significance of the freed African-American slave’s family homestead at the foot of DeNormandie Avenue has not been forgotten as the borough preps the swath of Navesink riverfront property for it’s new life as a park.

Fair Haven officials have said all along that once the transformation to passive recreation park takes hold, a plaque commemorating the Williams family and its Robards descendants will be anchored on the site. The plaque will include a brief history of the land’s significance.

For now, though, getting set for some major landscaping is the priority.

“The DPW is finishing up with clearing the property of any remaining bits of debris from the demolition,” Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli said. “The borough’s arborist has assessed the trees on the property and made a determination of which can be cut down and which must be saved. Becker Tree Service, which has a contract with the borough, will soon remove the trees that cannot be saved.”

After that, the property will be readied for turf and landscaping.

Taxpayers contributed roughly $200,000 to the acquisition of the $1.2 million plat. The remainder of the money to purchase it came from state, county and non-profit grants — all of which were contingent upon a commitment to eternally preserve the land as open space.

Take a look at the above slideshow for a glimpse into the property’s history, from borough acquisition to the home’s demolition.

— Photos and slideshow/Elaine Van Develde

A Heap of Fair Haven History

By noon on Monday, all that was left of the historic Williams-Robard estate in Fair Haven was an old television, a couple of mattresses, a laundry basket, and a chunk of foundation on a heap of scrap.

The 160-year-old waterfront DeNormandie Avenue home that freed slave Charles Williams built — and made home to his immediate family and Robards family descendants — was demolished to make way for a passive park was  on the banks of the Navesink River in Fair Haven.

The acquisition of the property has been in the works, via several funding avenues, for the better part of a decade.

The borough finally acquired the 6.9-acre property in the fall to preserve a rare swath of waterfront open space for future generations to enjoy, rather than letting it be sold to a private developer and closed off from public access.

The house, officials have said, was in too much disrepair to preserve. Also, as part of the deal for procurement of funding for the $1.2 million acquisition, borough officials had to agree to demolish the home.

The most recent owners, the Robards descendants, had lived in the house since 1855.

“Winifred Robards (who lived there since 1855, when she was 3) was known to invite kids onto the property to play and enjoy it all the time,” Lucarelli said.

It was her wish to pay that forward, Lucarelli had said. A plaque commemorating the Williams-Robards families will be erected on the site with a recounting of its history, Lucarelli said at the announcement of the acquisition in the fall.

Click here for the story of the acquisition.

— Photos and story by Elaine Van Develde