Frenchtown is one of the most spectacular river towns along the Delaware River. Sitting just across from Bucks County Pennsylvania, it is a vibrant, beautifully preserved town that boasts some of the area’s most cherished hotels, restaurants and stores. The quaint, picturesque group of buildings on Race Street, anchoring the west end of Bridge Street, has been an iconic focal point for over a century. These buildings have been the subject of countless photographs and paintings, and are part of the history of the region as well as a draw for present-day visitors.
Frenchtown was originally settled and developed to take advantage of a powerful and readily available water supply. Along the eastern edge of town runs the Nississackaway Creek. A raceway was built in the early 1800’s to direct water from the Nississackaway Creek to a mill at the southeastern edge of town. Where that race once stood is now known as Race Street.
By the mid 1800’s, structures on Race Street were built on over the raceway to take advantage of the valuable property on either side. These buildings started out as individual wood framed structures, but as time went on and retail space became more valuable, structures were continually reconfigured, connected, and enlarged, often using less than ideal construction methods. By the year 2000, the buildings were in very poor condition, having been subject to neglect over many years. The fact that they had been haphazardly built in the first place accelerated the decline. Major support members had been removed over the years, and entire floor joists were collapsing, with storm water pouring into the eastern portions of the buildings. The entire block of buildings on Race Street were in dangerous disrepair.
Dorsey Reading, owner of Dorsey Reading Design Build, purchased the entire block of buildings with a plan to rehabilitate the buildings that was similar to his successful project just to the north on Bridge Street. Working with White Dog Studio and Eclectic Architecture, LLC, Dorsey assessed the buildings and developed an approach for their rehabilitation. Work began in the Fall of 2013 and was completed in August 2014, remarkable considering the extent of the work needed. Work on the two buildings at the south end of Race Street included complete deconstruction and rebuilding, with a design that honors the iconic character and detailing of the originals. The two northernmost buildings underwent partial reconstruction, with the majority of their structural elements rebuilt.
These historic buildings have been a cornerstone of the historic village aesthetic for which Frenchtown and Hunterdon County are known. Their successful renewal embodies the successful continuation of the architectural heritage of Frenchtown. For the work on the Race Street buildings, Dorsey Reading Design Build received the 2014 Hunterdon County Adaptive Use Award.