GREENWICH TOWNSHIP - Cumberland County has for decades billed the Swedish Granary here as the oldest building in the county.
But there has been a problem with that claim: While officials believe the building was constructed in the 1600s, nobody knows for sure.
Now, the Cumberland County Historical Society is using a state grant to fund a study that will get an approximate date of the granary's construction. That project, however, is becoming more difficult than anyone initially thought.
The plan is to date the building through dendrochronology, which involves taking core samples of the granary's Atlantic white cedar logs and then using tree ring patterns, which are influenced by climatic events, to date the logs.
While the process is used successfully with some trees, such as oak, using it to date American white cedar is a different matter. The main problem is that there are few master samples of old American white cedar against which to compare the granary log samples.
Enter John Mathews, a historical society archivist.
Mathews is now spending a lot of time looking though local forests to find an American white cedar log or stump that might be leftover from the time period in the 1600s, when county officials believe the granary was built.
He's getting some help from people who are calling him with information about what they believe are logs and stumps to match his search. Most have turned out to be other trees.
That means Mathews' search for the right log or stump could take some time.
"I've got my work cut out for me," the 67-year-old Maurice River Township resident said.
The 14-by-30-foot granary was built in a style common to when Swedes were settling in Cumberland County from 1638 to 1655, Matthews said. That does not necessarily mean that's when the granary was built, he said. It could have been built after the Swedes were pushed out by Dutch settlers, who later were squeezed out by the English.
Originally located in Hopewell Township, where it was used as a farm storage shed, the granary was moved to its location behind the Gibbon House on Ye Greate Street in Greenwich in 1975. Matthews said it underwent some renovation at the time of the move.
Since then, the county has featured the granary as one of its historic places to visit. It has attracted tourists, students and historians.
All the time, there was some concern about the granary's age.
"We don't know," Mathews said. "It hasn't been proven yet."
The dating project is being funded with a $12,282 grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission. One grant requirement is that the county historical society write an interpretive essay for the granary.
The county historical society also is working with Columbia University on the project.
Work to date the Swedish Granary is not the only project to preserve historical sites in Cumberland County.
The county is using a $49,500 grant from the U.S. National Park Service's American Battlefield Preservation Program in connection with the so-called Battle of Dallas' Landing in what is now Commercial Township. The battle is the only documented military action in the county during the American Revolution.
In August 1781, members of a New Jersey militia unit open fire on British loyalists trying to take ship on the Maurice River near what is now Port Norris. The loyalists were trying to escape the region for the safety of New York City.
Many of the battle's details were lost over time. The county is trying to find the exact location of the battle and the burial sites of the seven loyalists killed during the engagement.
County officials say they are battling time, as there are concerns that the area could be lost to rising waters caused by climate change.
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