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A Slice of Princeton's History Takes Shape on Johnson Estate

Matthew Hersh

Drive down Rosedale Road away from Princeton to the grounds of the recently-opened Greenway Meadows Park, and one can get a sense of the majestic former Robert Wood Johnson estate.

A closer look reveals a piece of Princeton's past that is being transformed into a center for land conservation and education.

Ground was broken in October for the proposed the Johnson Education Center, future home of the D&R Greenway Land Trust. The relocation of the conservancy, currently located on Canal Road in Griggstown, makes sense, as Greenway was a principal, along with Princeton Township, in the $7.4 million effort that resulted in the conservation of the 60-acre estate.

"We're trying to keep a little bit of Princeton history alive, said Linda Mead, executive director of Greenway, Ms. Mead spoke last Wednesday at the future center with principals in the project, including Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand

Slated for a fall opening, the barn will retain much of its original design. Princeton architect Jeremiah Ford, of Ford 3 Architects, designed the center, which he has called a classic example of "adaptive re-use." The barn will retain many of its original structural details including its trademark timber frame.

Right now, however, that "adaptive re-use" looks more like an "ungainly beach house on stilts," according to Jo-Ann Munoz of Greenway. But that might not be a bad thing, Mr. Ford said, as now is a good opportunity to consider methods of building that date back to the 19th century.

"This a perfect time for you to see it because we're at the point when you strip the barn bare, preserve all of the old wood that needs to be preserved, and then move onto the new structure," he said.

Mr. Ford said he was "excited" that the old barn was more or less "compatible" with the needs of the new barn. With other barn conversions, he said, windows and fireplaces need to be added, but in this case, few substantial changes needed to be made.

"To be able to do that and to wind up with a barn that looks very much like it did originally is exciting," he said.

Moira McClintock, a partner at Ford 3, called this the "cumulative" moment where things are taken apart to facilitate the preservation of the structure, looking for rot, and installing modern building systems that would support an adequate infrastructure for a modern office.

It's what's inside that counts too, Ms. Mead said, adding that Greenway, which was founded in 1989, has become too big for its proverbial britches. The three meeting rooms, two kitchens and the Robert Wood Johnson Auditorium, that the new barn will feature, will be used for purposes of the Greenway mission, however. "We want to make sure the neighbors know we are not renting this space out for weddings," Ms. Mead quipped. "This is for educational purposes related to preservation and conservation."

The center will also be the home of the Upmeyer Internship for Land Preservation and Stewardship. Dedicated to Neil Upmeyer, the former chair of Greenway who died in April, the internship will be used to train future land preservationists. The internship, Ms. Mead said, was created using memorial gifts from Mr. Upmeyer's colleagues and friends.

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