Warren is a bucolic town in Somerset County. It is known for its country feel and rustic charm, even though it�s located not far from three major highway systems. Now, this peaceful community is gearing up for a fight to save one of its historical landmarks.
The King George Inn, located at the corner of Mount Bethel Road, Mountain View and King George Road, is a beloved historical fixture with the townspeople. Dating back to the late 1700s, it has had many different incarnations. It was originally built as a private residence, and then added onto over the years to become a commercial building. Before Warren built its town hall in the 1950s, it functioned as a polling place, tax collector�s office, post office and meeting place for town business. It has also been an opera venue, tavern, restaurant and hotel. For a time, it was even a meeting place for church services until Our Lady of the Mount Roman Catholic Church was built and the congregation moved down the road. As stated in the How Old (Really) Is the King George Inn? [From Warren History, Vol. Three, No. 3, Spring 2000] publication, �In 1873 Jacob Blimm, then innkeeper, advertised a stage coach line that ran from the railroad depot in Plainfield to his Mountain Hotel.� The inn was so well known and such a hub in the community that Woodrow Wilson, when running for governor of New Jersey in 1910, campaigned out front.
At the height of its popularity, it was a major gathering place in Warren. With its picturesque views, it was a prime spot for a restaurant and hotel, and had many names over the years, such as Mountain House, The King George, The Inn at Mount Bethel, Vincent�s, Torino Restaurant and Trattoria, Truffles, and Chez Cheese. However, most town people continued to refer to it as the King George Inn, and because it is such a meaningful part of the town�s history, it was included in the logo for Warren�s bicentennial celebration back in 2006.
Due to Hurricane Irene and years of neglect, it is now being threatened with demolition. The most recent owner, Raghav "Rocco" Varma, is a real estate developer who bought the building in 2013. He is now seeking approval from the Warren Township Planning Board to rezone the property since he believes the building is beyond repair and would like to build condos.
A petition to stop the demolition of the building, which has been signed by hundreds of people so far, was started by Max Hayden III, whose family owned the Inn from 1953 to 1988. It reads as follows:
The King George Inn is being threatened with redevelopment which could allow its demolition which would cause an irreparable loss of history as the building has stood for over two hundred years and been used as a tavern for most of those years. We are petitioning the town to seek the restoration/preservation and adaptive re-use of the building as a condition of redevelopment of the property. A team approach to development could benefit both the developer and community by maximizing the use of the land and original part of building while preserving an important part of history. The proposals pending call for its demolition and replacement.
On February 13, 2017, there was a Planning Board Public Meeting to discuss this petition and the board voted 10-0 to recommend the property be designated as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment. However, since it is privately owned, it is up to Mr. Varma to ultimately decide what will become of the building. But whether that will be another restaurant, condos, or some other entity is yet to be decided.
Some townspeople do believe it needs to be demolished, or at the very least redeveloped. Broken windows and a lot strewn with trash it not what people want to see when entering the town. When asked for her opinion, Mayor Carolann Garafola responded that �a review of the article on the Warren Township website on the history of the King George Inn indicates that the original building was a private home, there is skepticism that it goes back as far as the date put on the Fireplace, and clearly something needs to be done about this building as right now it is an eyesore. This could be a win-win for the new building to be designed and built in the similar style of the King George Inn, go back to being a home for residents, and become a ratable to help the rest of the taxpayers in Warren. The Planning Board will have control over that. The notion that the town could purchase it at a cost of probably close to $1M then renovate it for anywhere upwards of $2M is a tricky undertaking that could be questionable as this will raise taxes."
Will the King George Inn continue to make memories, or will the memories of the past have to suffice? We�ll have to wait and see what happens.
Susan Baldani has a MA in Education and a BA in Psychology. She enjoys writing and in addition to writing articles on small town life, is currently working on her second book. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.mywritingwall.com.