Built as a community church in 1844, this NJ home deserves praise
Cindy Dunham wasn’t particularly surprised when her home attracted a buyer just a week after she put it on the market.
She had a similar spontaneous attraction to the converted 19th century church in 11 Mountain Church Road in Hopewell when she first saw him 22 years ago.
“I was under contract to buy a place in a new development at Princeton, but backed out (when there were contract issues),” Dunham recalled. “I came home and that same evening saw an ad in the local paper for this house in Hopewell.”
Dunham contacted the owner, then drove over to view the 2,500-square-foot home on 1.7 acres.
“It was like a fairyland, all lit up by those big windows,” she said. “I hadn’t seen the inside yet, but I knew I wanted to live there and was willing to pay the asking price.”
A preliminary contract is drawn up the next morning.
As Dunham soon discovered, the interior is also very attractive.
The “for sale” listing released earlier this month by Mark Jacobson of Weidel Realtors-Flemington notes that the “one-of-a-kind” home was built as a church around 1844 and “then years later delightfully converted and expanded into its current 3-bedroom, 2-bath residence while retaining much of its original character.Special features include a superb barrel-vaulted great hall, oversized windows, extensive millwork and a still functioning church bell.
“Yes, everyone who comes to visit rings the bell,” laughed Dunham. “That’s what you have to do.”
The open-plan first floor, “the original vaulted hall of worship”, serves as a kitchen, dining room and living room. A late 1920s expansion added three more bedrooms, and locals Randall and Janet Payne, who owned the house before Dunham, built the second-story loft and large garage. Dunham said she did the finishing work inside when she moved in in 2000.
An ophthalmologist who owned the Princeton Eye Institute at the time, Dunham chose the location to be close to his practice. She lived there alone until her marriage in 2009 and her husband and two stepchildren joined her.
Dunham said he learned from neighbors that the building served as a “simple community church” for a long time before it was turned into a residence. The pastors came in turn to lead the services.
“It was just called Hopewell Mountain Christian Church,” she said. “There would be dinner parties twice a year to raise money to pay taxes.”
Besides the church bell, other relics of the building’s former life as a place of worship include a surviving piece of stained glass on display and an aged notice of hours of service displayed on one of the doors.
“We have a pulpit upstairs, clothes, folding chairs, hymns,” Dunham said. “Someone stopped by and gave me a really beautiful old photo of the house.”
Dunham noted that “someone pulling over” was not an unusual occurrence on Mountain Church Road. She said the neighborhood has a strong sense of community, with “wonderful, wonderful people.”
“When I moved in, I was told that everyone was having a block party and that my house was designated for the Christmas party,” she recalls.
Now retired, Dunham moved with her teenage daughter-in-law to a 465-acre farm in Kentucky. She admits she will miss the close-knit community of her Hopewell home, but now she has another congregation to keep her company.
“Let’s see, at last count there were 25 pigs, 27 cows, 30 ducks, 20 chickens. . . and don’t forget the dogs, 15 dogs, three cats, five rabbits. . .”
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Patrick O’Shea can be reached at [email protected].