The Thomas Fortune House is one of the most historically significant properties in the United States. It is one of only two National Historic Landmarks (NHL) in New Jersey that is significant because of its role in African American history. There are only 57 “National Historic Landmarks” in New Jersey, and only 2,500 in the entire USA.
In 1901, T. Thomas Fortune purchased a home in Red Bank, NJ at 94 Beech Street, as it was known then, from 1901 through 1908. He named his home Maple Hall and resided there until the separation from his wife in 1906. His wife and children remained in the home until 1915.
It was built by John R Bergen, constructed in stages from 1860 to 1885, with 20th-century additions. James Vaccarelli, Sr bought the property in 1912 and started a bakery in 1918. The bakery operated behind the house until 2001. Originally, it was a two story L-shaped building with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and rear storage room on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor and an unfinished attic.
In 1917 the two story structure was enlarged to provide two additional bedrooms, a larger kitchen and a larger family dining room. The previous dining room was converted into the living room, while the living room became a sitting room. In 1918 a one story bakery was added. It is a perfect example of "Picturesque Eclecticism" the high Victorian age which borrowed and placed details from any and every style on the same building. The building demonstrates eye catching patterns, and picturesque massing. It has its ancestry from the Italinate Villa, possessing decorative detail more prolific and less disciplined. The first floor of the structure contains two marble faced fireplaces. A typical building of this period, it possessed forms of vaguely medieval, vaguely classical, vaguely Baroque, and Rococo derivations heaped together to provide a complexity of moods.
According to the Red Bank Register, April 3, 1918. There was a long discussion in regard to changing the name of the street, which runs from Branch Avenue westward to the river. Although the street is a continuous through fare the eastern end to the rail road tracks is called Bergen Place while the western end is called Beech Street. This last name was the original name of the entire street and was given by the late John R. Bergen on account of two big beech trees which were in the line of the street when the street was opened. "If the truth was known the real reason why the street had two names is because the white folks who live on the eastern end didn't want the street to have the same name as the westers end where the colored folks live" said Mr. Charles Irwin. He moved that Bergen Avenue be made the name of the entire street, but Mayor Patterson did not put the motion and it was not voted on. The mayor said the matter could be taken up later.
The house has been on the National Register of Historic Buildings, as well as the state register since the 1970s. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 8, 1976 and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. on August 16, 1979.
The building was occupied continuously until June 2006, when Ray Vaccarelli, the last family member living there, died. The street has since been renamed and is known as Drs James Parker Blvd. Named in honor of two extraordinary African-American physicians, father and son — Dr. James Parker Sr. and Dr. James Parker Jr. — who together served the Red Bank community for over 80 years.
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