By Maddy Vitale
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser stood on a hill and looked up at what should be the historic showpiece of the quaint, bayside community.
Instead, he shook his head, pointing to the oldest home in Atlantic County – the Somers Mansion, which, with little state funding to fix it up, has become an eyesore and the first thing visitors see when they enter the community from Shore Road.
“It is an important part of our history. This is an iconic place for Somers Point. It is a solemn place. The first home in Somers Point and in Atlantic County,” Glasser said. “It is our duty to ensure the legacy is preserved. Anything we can do to work with other agencies, we must do, so we can keep the legacy going.”
The Somers Mansion is located at Shore Road and Goll Street. It was built around 1725 by Richard Somers.
The mansion was in the Somers family until 1937, when it was deeded to The Atlantic County Historical Society. In 1941, it was transferred to the state, according to http://www.colrichardsomers.com.
The state gives weekend tours of the mansion. But because it needs work, and there aren’t many pieces of furniture or other historical artifacts in the building, a lot needs to be done to satisfy concerned residents of Somers Point who are proud of what the mansion signifies.
Residents are heading up a grass roots effort to work with the state to beautify the structure in hopes that they could restore the mansion to be the jewel of Somers Point that it once was and still should be.
“Look at the view overlooking Egg Harbor Bay,” Glasser remarked. “What he (Richard Somers) must have been thinking when he chose this site over any other. It must have been pristine.”
Glasser said he is glad residents are working on a plan to renovate and improve the property.
“Budgets are tight, but we have to move forward to maintain this property. We need to keep pressing this to go in the right direction,” Glasser said. “I join with the rest of the community to do this. There is so much that needs to be done.”
Greg Sykora, chairman of the Somers Mansion committee said members are working toward creating a non-profit in the near future to fund some improvements.
The first project planned is to paint the cracked, gray, weathered wall that can be seen by motorists from a distance.
“I just talked to a person from the state who is getting back to me on colors that would be appropriate for the wall,” he said. “We want to get volunteers to paint that wall.”
Sykora said that is the priority because it looks so bad and is not the first impression the community wants to leave for tourists.
“The thinking is we have so much visual for that area and you come over the bridge and you see that,” he said. “The state takes care of it, but barely.”
So, for about a year, Sykora, who is also the chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said he and Somers Mansion committee members had a decision to make.
“Do we say, ‘O.K. it’s not our property.’ Or do we partner with the state in some way?” he asked.
That is when the group decided to go through the process of creating a 501 c3. It will enable them to work with the state a bit more since it is a non-profit, Sykora explained.
“We have had meetings in which we invited volunteers. People have passion about it,” Sykora said adding that he would like the wall painted before the summer season kicks off
The group came up with a list of priorities.
They want a visitors’ area for tourists to get a drink of water, use the bathroom, and take some pamphlets about Somers Point.
“We don’t have an information center in Somers Point. I got information about a kiosk where you pull off into the parking area and pick up pamphlets about Somers Point and historical places to go,” Sykora said, adding that he reached out to the Boy Scouts and thought it could be a good Eagle Scout project.
Eventually, Sykora hopes they could use a portion of the building for classrooms to play movies or have talks about the significance of Richard Somers and the Somers family, among other important pieces of the community’s history.
The Atlantic Heritage Center in Somers Point agreed to let mansion visitors use the bathrooms at the center. Center officials also said they would lend the mansion committee pieces of furniture to display, Sykora said.
“I said to the Heritage people, ‘You don’t have enough room. Why don’t you put some (furniture) over in the mansion?’”
Sykora and the volunteers are hopeful that their love for the mansion is felt by others and people will help support this important endeavor for Somers Point.
“We aren’t waiting for funds to start working on this,” Sykora remarked. “We are going to keep doing little things and do anything we can to improve the mansion.”