The 18th Century King George Inn in the heart of Warren Township's Mount Bethel Village is such a recognizable landmark that it was part of the logo for the township's bicentennial celebration in 2006, local history lover Greg Fitzgerald told the Township Committee on Thursday night.
Now Fitzgerald, and others in the township, such as former mayor Susie Boyce, also a member of the township's historic sites committee, are asking the Township Committee to try to make sure that the historic building is preserved.
Fitzgerald and members of the historic sites committee said following Thursday's Township Committee meeting that the building, which housed a number of restaurants in the most recent decades, has been sold at a sheriff's sale on Dec. 3.
"It's an icon in our town," Fitzgerald said. "It's possibly the most significant structure in the town."
Fitzgerald said the new owner is a Realtor in Morris County, and he isn't sure what is intended for the building.
The rambling structure is located on King George Road, at the corner of Mount Horeb Road. The most recent occupant was the Torino Restaurant, which closed a few years ago.
Boyce said the historic sites committee and other historians would like the exterior of the building preserved, no matter what use is decided for the interior.
For more than 200 years, the inn has been a place to gather, but it has been sitting vacant since the closing of the Torino Restaurant — which followed Vincent's. For decades, it was a family-run restaurant, named the King George Inn.
Mayor said Somerset County was contacted about preserving the inn
After hearing comments by Boyce and Fitzgerald, Mayor Victor Sordillo said that the Township Committee already had discussed the matter in closed session, prior to the start of the public meeting.
He also said that the township had contacted Somerset County officials, and "the county said it was not interested in preserving or restoring that building."
Sordillo said township officials would report back to the public if a way is found to preserve the building.
Fitzgerald had suggested the township should seek either public or private funds to preserve the structure.
Of the remaining traces of historic villages encompassed within Warren Township, "Mount Bethel is the only one that is a village, and is recognizable as a village," Boyce said.
"Please take this very, very seriously," she added. "Where there's a will, there's a way."