History of Ridge and Valley Conservancy

RVC was born in the late 1980s out of the Frelinghuysen Township Open Space Committee, an informal group of five people who wanted to preserve a quarter-acre triangle of land at the entrance to the Johnsonburg Historic District, and who wanted the township to require conservation easements in subdivisions. Development pressure in the area was intense at the time, so the Committee investigated other options to preserve land directly. The concept of Ridge and Valley Conservancy developed in 1990 and funds were raised to incorporate as a non-profit land trust in 1992. One of the original founders still serving on the board today is Bob Canace.

The timing was ideal, as robust state and county funding was available for land preservation. State Green Acres funding required the development of target project areas, so RVC identified four strategic conservation areas — the Limestone Forest Sinks and Springs, the Kittatinny Ridge Forest, the Paulinskill Greenway, and Bog Turtle project areas. It has remained active in all of these areas to the present day.

White Lake in the Fall

Two of RVC’s first projects were the acquisition of a conservation easement on the 272-acre Tucker property and the purchase of the 258-acre White Lake property, both in Hardwick, in partnership with the state and Warren County. RVC also developed a partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which shared RVC’s emphasis on protecting the most critical wildlife habitats in the Great Limestone Valley of New Jersey (commonly called the Kittatinny Valley within the state). Several large acquisitions were made in partnership with TNC, with RVC serving as the lead, including the 700-acre Tranquility Farms property, purchased from the descendants of Peter Stuyvesant, and the Bear Creek/Glovers Pond property, identified by the state’s Endangered and Non-game Species Program as New Jersey’s most important Bog Turtle site.

Along the way, RVC took advantage of the state’s non-profit farmland protection program to preserve five farms, which it ultimately transferred to Warren County’s farmland preservation program, which oversees more than 20,000 acres of preserved farmland. More recently, RVC has focused on identifying and preserving areas that can be converted to natural meadows, due to the dwindling amount of this important habitat in the region. RVC remains true to its early goal of protecting large stands of forest, especially atop limestone, and it continues to create and maintain an extensive trail system, which includes both loop trails on individual preserves and the regional Ridge and Valley Trail, intended to cross the Ridge and Valley region and to help connect the New Jersey Highlands to the east with Kittatinny Mountain to the west. The last connection to the trail was completed in the Fall of 2016.

RVC has been particularly adept at forming partnerships and leveraging funding to accomplish land conservation. Many observers are surprised at how much land RVC has protected as a volunteer organization. As it looks ahead to its 25th anniversary in 2017, RVC continues to identify important natural areas to protect within the Ridge and Valley Region and to find creative ways to meet its goals. Challenges that RVC faces include dwindling sources of public funding and a decline in public support relative to land conservation, predominantly as a result of the Great Recession. Opportunities include increased private funding and a growing awareness among funders that the Ridge and Valley Region will be resilient in the face of climate change and therefore is deserving of special attention.

Historic Headquarters

In 1990, when Ridge and Valley Conservancy (RVC) was founded, the United National Bank, First National’s successor, offered the old First National Bank building, located at 16 Main Street in Blairstown NJ, as a donation. RVC was still in the process of obtaining their 501(c) 3 non-profit status and was unable to accept the donation at that time.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) was able to step in and accept the donation on RVC’s behalf; NJCF held the title on the building until transferring the title to RVC for a nominal consideration in 2001.

History of the bank building

The bank’s history began in 1900, when a group of local businessmen and farmers saw their months of planning come to realization in the granting of the charter for the First National Bank of Blairstown. The bank was opened in the building on lower Main Street later occupied by the law office of Archie Roth, located just to the right of the present day post office. The bank started with capital of $25,000.The site where the building is now located on the north side of Main Street was previously occupied by a blacksmith shop. The bank purchased the lot on January 1901 from Abram Williams for $1,200. The site did not become home to the bank until 10 years later, when the bank opened for business on October 16, 1911.
An important milestone in the progress of the institution was the appointment on February 1, 1901 of Theodore B. Dawes, later to become a New Jersey State Senator, as cashier and later president of the bank.
Senator Dawes remained active in the bank’s business for over 50 years. There were very few incidents to upset the orderly conduct of business at 16 Main Street over the years, but the morning of April 21, 1935 was a major exception. Three armed bandits entered the bank
and made the employees and patrons lie down on the floor while they scooped up $20,000 in cash and four times as much in securities. A successful escape was made in an automobile parked in the front of the bank. Fortunately the loss was fully insured and everyone was unharmed.
Among the building’s many notable architectural features are its ornate façade of Gouverneur marble, which is supported by three highly polished half-columns of Vermont granite. The building still contains the massive safe deposit vault manufactured by the Diebold Safe and Lock Company of New York.