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Historical Society Buys Updike Farm House; Will Expand Museum

Matthew Hersh

The Historical Society of Princeton made a major property acquisition last week that will allow the organization to broaden services and expand its museum, the Bainbridge House, on Nassau Street.

Updike Farm on Quaker Road was purchased by the Historical Society for $1.25 million and will be preserved as a historic site. The farm, which is one of the oldest in the Princeton area, will be used for administrative offices and receptions.

The $1.25 million price tag was paid for in part by a $400,000 grant from New Jersey Green Acres and $191,290 from Mercer County Open Space Preservation Board.

The farm is located in a State and National Historic District and in the Princeton Township Battlefield District. The area is also identified as a parcel intended for preservation in the open space and recreation element of the Princeton Community Master Plan.

Gail Stern, director of the Historical Society, said that right now, the intention is to renovate and restore structures and facilities on the property as closely as possible to their original conditions in pre-Revolutionary War Princeton.

While there is work to be done, the farm, in the area where George Washington and his army marched on their way to the decisive Battle of Princeton on January 2, 1777, already exudes a feeling of history.

"It's a piece of Princeton where you are transported to the 18th century," Historical Society Curator Maureen Smyth said. "It's like time travel."

The farm had been inhabited by siblings Stanley and Sara Updike. After both died late in 2002, the property was turned over to their nephew Donald C. Updike, the executor of the Stanley's estate. Donald said that family pride in the property led to the sale to the Historic Society.

"Being immensely proud of the property as [Stanley and Sara] were, I can't imagine them being happier than to have the Historical Society own the place," Mr. Updike said in an interview. "We're happy that the new ownership will include public access to the farm," he added.

The six-acre property is essentially the final piece in a major land preservation effort that has been ongoing since 1997 when 589 acres of Institute for Advanced Study lands were preserved in a public-private partnership that included the Delaware & Raritan Greenway, central New Jersey's regional land trust.

Obtaining a property like Updike Farm was a somewhat new venture for the Historical Society, since the organization does not typically deal with purchasing real estate and putting together proposals for open space, which was one of the reasons why D&R Greenway was involved.

"Our staff helped work with the property owner in negotiating a purchase, and worked with the Historical Society to help put together a grant application," said Linda Mead, executive director of D&R Greenway.

Also, Greenway's involvement with the surrounding Institute lands made the organization a candidate for participation in the transaction. "This was kind of the hole in the doughnut of the Institute lands," Ms. Mead said. "It's such an important element of the view as you drive down Quaker Road and we wanted to see that whole historic landscape preserved."

Program event planning involving both Greenway and the Historical Society is in the works, Ms. Mead said. The venue could be used for exhibits or presentations that look at the historic landscape of Princeton over the past 300 years.

Dee Patberg, president of the Historical Society, said that she views Updike farm as a "community resource," that will engage "adults and children with a variety of programs and events structured to enrich our understanding of our community's heritage."

Subhead: A Place for Einstein

Emphasizing that the main museum at the Bainbridge House will continue to be the main attraction for special exhibitions, the Historical Society's Ms. Smyth did not rule out the possibility that last fall's acquisition of furniture that had once belonged to Albert Einstein would one day appear in a permanent exhibit in the museum's second floor. Currently, the second floor is where the Historical Society keeps its administrative offices.

Sixty-five pieces of Einstein's furniture, which was part of a donation to the Historical Society from the Institute for Advanced Study, was used by Einstein to furnish his house at 112 Mercer Street. That furniture, which underwent extensive restoration, is not yet on display.

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