Convent Lands Purchased for Morris County Open Space (NJ)

MENDHAM TOWNSHIP, NJ, 7/9/2008: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today the protection of 112 acres through a purchase from the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist in Mendham Township, New Jersey. The $8.4 million purchase relieved the sisters of a large portion of land that they have owned for decades, but which had become more than they wanted to manage as the numbers in their order declined.

The land, which is located north of Mosley Road, will be now owned and managed by Mendham Township, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, and Schiff Natural Lands Trust, which runs a nearby nature preserve. TPL negotiated the purchase and lined up eight funding sources to cover the cost.

“The project was both unique and challenging with many partners and funding sources contributing to make it possible,” said Richard Hehmeyer, project manager for TPL. “Everyone worked diligently to get the deal done. We all recognized the environmental and recreational value of this site.”

“The township of Mendham, with this acquisition, reaffirms its commitment to the quality of life and environment of our residents and all who enjoy these facilities,” said Mayor Phyllis Florek. “We particularly want to thank all of our partners in this effort who contributed their time and financial support to make this a reality.”

The deal was two years in the making and involved a subdivision and a rezoning of the larger property, which includes the former Mosley Mansion, now home to Mount Saint John Convent and its seven Baptistine Sisters. At one time, there were as many as 30 sisters living at the convent and running services and programs including an orphanage, school, and retreat center. The Montgomery Academy, an educational institution teaching grades K-12, now leases the school space.

The Trust for Public Land worked closely with the township on the subdivision of the larger property and has worked with the sisters to identify private sector purchasers for the buildings. There are approximately 110,000 square feet of building space including the convent and school building. Originally known as the Mosley Mansion, built in 1906, the property was purchased at auction by the sisters in 1926. They added two wings to the building and ran many charitable outreaches from this base.

The building and grounds continue to serve as a conference and retreat center for priests, sisters and other visitors.

Since the orphanage closed in 1937 and the school in 1992, the number of sisters living at the convent has drastically declined, making the sale of the property inevitable. The sisters had received multiple offers from developers, but agreed to sell to The Trust for Public Land at a competitive price with the agreement that the land will be preserved.

The purchase has long been a top protection priority for the Township of Mendham, which plans to make the existing athletic fields available to the public and offer access to the significant open space. The land is also at the headwaters of Gladstone Brook, which feeds the Raritan River, the drinking water source for millions of New Jersey residents.

“The permanent preservation of this unique property by this partnership will protect drinking water supplies and critical wildlife habitat, and provide opportunities for active recreation. This transaction will serve as a model for many other projects throughout the state, and we are delighted to be a partner in this effort,” said Michael Catania, president of Schiff Natural Lands Trust.

“The preservation of this property is important to protect drinking water,” said Henry Patterson, executive director of the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, which provides water resources for more than 1.5 million people in central New Jersey. Using the dedicated portion of its Source Water Protection Fund-provided by rates charged to downstream users-and financed by the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority contributed $800,000 toward the purchase.

“The Morris County board of Chosen Freeholders is proud to be a major funding partner for this project,” said Freeholder Jack Schrier. “Morris County is glad our open space trust fund was able to provide $4 million towards the acquisition of this pristine property, which will provide both active and passive recreational opportunities.”

Mendham Township has pursued an aggressive program of open space acquisition since the 1960s and is proud to have protected more than 1,500 acres of property. The goals of the town’s open space preservation efforts include protecting groundwater aquifers, trout producing streams, woodlands, critical wildlife habitat, and historic sites as well as providing active and passive recreation opportunities.

“This land preservation project is a win-win for everyone who enjoys the outdoors,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Administrator John Flynn. “Nature lovers will now have access to a beautiful parcel of land which is rich in natural resources, and sports enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the playing fields. The DEP is proud to be a funding partner in this effort.”

Since their arrival in the United States in 1906 at Saint Lucy’s Parish in Newark, NJ, the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, whether in inner-city neighborhoods or suburban parishes, have served the public through education, nursing home care for the elderly, missionary service, parish ministry, counseling, and social work.

TPL conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.5 million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 23,000 acres in New Jersey. Locally, TPL recently protected 107 acres that were added to the Schiff Nature Preserve in Mendham Borough. TPL has also done significant work with Rockaway Township, protecting Egbert’s Lake and the Herman J. Koehler III property. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.