"For years and even decades, this building has been neglected," said Cunningham, who was joined by members of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, a historic preservation organization. "The Apple Tree House has been a part of the history of Jersey City, from the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution to its use as a funeral home only a few decades ago."
Cunningham said one of his campaign promises was the reconstruction of the Apple Tree House. He was now calling on the City Council and community groups to work toward the restoring of the landmark.
According to Catherine Burke, vice president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, the Apple Tree House's greatest claim to fame was as a meeting place between General George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette during the early years of the American Revolutionary War.
"The story is that Washington and Lafayette dined under an apple tree while the American Army was in Hudson County," said Burke. "Behind the house there was once a very large apple orchard."
During that period, Jersey City was not the united metropolis that it is now. The Apple Tree House is located in what was then a smaller town called Bergen.
"It was owned by Hartman Van Wagenen, a member of a prominent family [in Bergen] at the time," said Leon Yost of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy.
Burke said the Landmarks Conservancy had been working with a number of Jersey City administrations to get work done on the historic Dutch homestead.
"We're happy to see the mayor's interest," Burke added.
During the press conference, Cunningham outlined his plan for the restoration of the Apple Tree House. Cunningham announced that he would soon submit to the City Council resolution dedicating $500,000 for stabilization of the pre-colonial landmark. These funds would be used, Cunningham said, to stabilize the structure of the building.
"We would also look into grants for further improvements on the historic site," Cunningham added.
"The first thing that would have to be done to the house would be to see if the roof leaks," said Burke. "Then the exterior of the building could be worked on."
With the completion of proposed restoration on the Apple Tree House, Cunningham suggested the transformation of the homestead into a history museum. "We could have our own little Williamsburg in Jersey City," said Cunningham, alluding to the reconstructed colonial village in Virginia, at which people dress in period clothing.
Cunningham said the museum would positive tourist attraction for the Journal Square area. In addition, it would also be an education center for Jersey City.
"We already have an art museum and the African-American Museum as part of the library," Cunningham stated. "We should have a museum dedicated to the history of the city."
Burke agreed with Cunningham's idea for a Jersey City history museum located in a restored Apple Tree House. "Since Jersey City is one of the first cities of New Jersey," said Burke. "It is fitting that this old house be the site of a collection of Jersey City history."
Cunningham went on to note that much of the funding for area museums comes from grants and stressed the need for funds for the creation and operation of a museum at the Apple Tree House.
"The African-American Museum gets funding through grants," Cunningham said. "This would be a way to fund a museum here."
The apple corps
At the end of the press conference, Cunningham announced the creation of a committee of advisors to help with the restoration of the Apple Tree House.
"This informal committee will be drawn from people in the community," said Cunningham, adding that the committee would be composed of about seven members, including representatives from historical preservation organizations and the Jersey City Board of Education.
"Most people don't know the Apple Tree House is here," Cunningham added. "There is a need to educate people about this building. I promise you the Apple Tree House will be brought to its full potential."