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(Photo courtesy of Historic Society of Princeton)

FARMING FOR HISTORY: The Historical Society of Princeton received a nod from the Princeton Township Historic Preservation Commission Monday in a plan to move offices and viewing spaces to the Updike Farm on Quaker Road.

Historical Society Moves Closer To Fulfilling Relocation Objectives

Matthew Hersh

The future administrative offices and receptions facilities for the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP) received a preliminary nod Monday from the Township Historic Preservation Commission. And while the go-ahead only precedes appearances before the Regional Planning Board of Princeton and the New Jersey Historic Sites Council, it marks the first official step toward fulfilling HSP's goal of moving their offices off Nassau Street to rural Quaker Road in the Township.

The future facilities will be located in Updike Farm, which was purchased by the Historical Society for $1.25 million in April 2004. One of the oldest in the Princeton area, the farm will be preserved as a historic site.

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 the Mercer County Open Space Preservation Board.

Since the farm is located in a State and National Historic District as well as in the Princeton Township Battlefield District, the Preservation Commission needed to review HSP's plans for renovation and adaptive re-use. The area is also identified as a parcel intended for preservation in the open space and recreation element of the Princeton Community Master Plan.

Monday's presentation by Penny Watson and Michael Henry, who were retained by HSP as the project architects and preservationists, outlined what kind of use and pedestrian/automobile activity would occur at the farm.

The two are also responsible for compiling a preservation plan that would be sensitive to the historical background of the property, and for performing a physical assessment of the building, and the entire farmstead as a site.

"We're treating it not just as individual buildings, but as an ensemble of buildings," Mr. Henry said, adding that the adaptive re-use issue was something of an obstacle for the preservationists: "Even though it's a historic property and a cultural resource, for the Historical Society to be an effective steward, they have to be able to use it.

"So there's an element of utility and function here that we have to keep in mind."

In addition to the HSP administrative offices, the farm will also be the site of the museum, which will presumably house, at least in part, the 65 pieces of Albert Einstein's furniture, which were part of a donation to HSP from the Institute for Advanced Study. The furniture was used by Einstein to furnish his house at 112 Mercer Street. That furniture, which underwent extensive restoration, is not yet on display.

According to Mr. Henry, there was a need put forth by HSP to find a home for those materials on the site. "They have very specific requirements," Mr. Henry said, referring to climate control and risk management.

And while there is work to be done, the farm, which is found in the area where George Washington and his army marched on January 2, 1777, on their way to the decisive Battle of Princeton, already offers a sense of history – in line with the aims of the Historical Society.

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 Updike estate. Donald said that family pride in the property led to the sale to the Historic Society.

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