- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

BURLINGTON CITY, N.J. (AP) - After decades of neglect, the stately mansion built along the Delaware River in Burlington City for industrialist Andrew McNeal in 1890 is facing almost certain demolition.

But few city officials think the historic structure next to the shuttered U.S. Pipe manufacturing plant he founded is worth sparing, given the degree of deterioration. A 2001 fire at the mansion capped 50 years of abandonment, leaving a crumbling, three-story masonry skeleton vulnerable to vandals who have spread ghost stories about the place while posting shaky YouTube videos filmed from inside.

Earlier this month, a developer appeared before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to present plans to raze the structure. “All we did was express our sorrow and disappointment at the loss of a historical site while understanding the condition of the site was not the fault of the applicant,” Chance VanSciver, the commission chairman said in an interview last week.

VanSciver said the city council had asked a representative with the Philadelphia-based Brahin Properties Inc. to meet with the commission even though the commission has no authority over the historic site. “They were looking for our recommendation,” VanSciver said. The commission usually reviews plans to alter buildings within a defined preservation district in the downtown and on the waterfront and has jurisdiction over a limited number of historic sites, he said.

Brahin Properties plans to build more than 200 townhouses and condominiums and a small park on the property and will now go to the city’s Land Use Board to obtain approvals. The proposal also calls for the 1890 carriage house, adjacent to the mansion, to be restored. Lee Brahin, a principal, could not be reached for comment.

“Nobody wants to see the mansion come down,” City Administrator David Ballard told The Philadelphia Inquirer (https://bit.ly/1HsJICf). “It would be glorious to have it back, but where do we get the money to rebuild it?” He said the city council has approved the demolition, noting that a restoration could cost $7 million to $10 million.

The building is mostly obscured by overgrown shrubs and weeds and sits behind a chain-link fence. It is not on the city’s walking tour of 44 historic sites.

Originally built as the home for McNeal and his family, the 10,450-square-foot structure was converted into the national headquarters for U.S. Pipe in the 1920s and 1930s when three wings were added. It was nominated for inclusion on the federal Registry of Historic Places but was not approved due to opposition by U.S. Pipe, VanSciver said.

The grand estate was constructed in the Colonial Revival style and had a portico with Ionic columns by the front door, a gabled roof, a three-story “fine spiral wooden staircase,” stucco walls and two fireplaces, according to documents kept by the Burlington County Historic Society.

In 1998, Preservation New Jersey listed the mansion as among the “top 10 endangered historic sites” in the state. “It now lies in the middle of a redevelopment zone,” the nonprofit organization said, noting it had been abandoned in 1953.

The city acquired the building in the 1970s, the group said. It sat idle and fell into disrepair as windows were broken and the roof began to fall in.

In recent years, Brahin Properties was named the redeveloper for the property.

In the late 1860s, McNeal founded U.S. Pipe, which at one time produced 200 tons of iron pipe a day. Later, the company became U.S. Pipe and Foundry Co. The 38 acres where the plant once hummed is now for sale, adjacent to the McNeal mansion

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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