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Unnamed Benefactor Funds Award-Winning Mountain Lakes Historic Preservation Project

THE ICEMEN COMETH: During the winter of 1910 when the Princeton Ice Company was in full operation at what is now known as the Mountain Lakes Preserve, ice men lined up for an unknown photographer on a pier that was used to move “cakes” of ice to the incline elevator, right rear, for loading into the ice house that can be seen behind them. In the days before refrigeration, the Company served Princeton’s businesses and homes.(Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society of Princeton)

THE ICEMEN COMETH: During the winter of 1910 when the Princeton Ice Company was in full operation at what is now known as the Mountain Lakes Preserve, ice men lined up for an unknown photographer on a pier that was used to move “cakes” of ice to the incline elevator, right rear, for loading into the ice house that can be seen behind them. In the days before refrigeration, the Company served Princeton’s businesses and homes. (Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society of Princeton)

The rehabilitation project that has restored both of the dams at the Mountain Lakes Preserve has been awarded a 2013 Historic Preservation Award from the State of New Jersey Historic Preservation Office.

The award for the “Princeton Ice Company Historic District” will be presented at the 23rd Annual Historic Preservation Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 16, at 3 p.m., in the Court House in Flemington.

While those who worked on the project will earn deserved recognition, the person who gave $3 million to fund it remains anonymous. All that is known is that he or she lives in the Princeton-area.

“The two-year project was challenging because of the restoration of the stone masonry structure. Both dams had to be restored. It was a large project costing $3 million that was provided by an anonymous donor, who also provided money for signage,” said Princeton Engineer Bob Kiser.

A team comprised of Mr. Kiser; William Pyontak, of civil engineers French and Parrello Associates; contractor Glenn Goebel, of Compass Contruction; archeologist Jim Lee, of Hunter Research, Inc.; and historic preservationist Clifford Zink, of C.W. Zink and Associates carried out the “complicated mix of historic preservation, conservation, dam safety, environmental, and engineering requirements,” as described in a report by Mr. Zink. Princeton’s Assistant Engineer Deanna Stockton managed the project.

Known for his expertise with respect to stone structures such as the circa 1850 Heathcote Farm in Kingston, Mr. Zink took on the task of making sure that due respect was paid to the the site’s “historic significance” while the dams were rebuilt to meet required safety regulations. “The DEP has new and stringent regulations on dams. In this case, we have an earthen dam at the lower level that dates to 1884 and another masonry dam at the upper level dating to 1904,” commented Mr. Zink in a telephone interview, Monday.

Mr. Zink, who was also responsible for the project’s historic interpretation, reported that “more items than we had originally hoped to discover were found during the the monitored excavation. The contractor halted work when what appeared to be a foundation was discovered. The archeologist was called in and it turned out to be the apron for the ice elevator that was a sort of diagonal conveyor belt that lifted ‘cakes’ of ice so that they could be placed inside the ice houses. It’s a piece of machinery dating to the early years of the 20th century and it’s a remarkable find,” he said.

Portions of the original ice wall and building foundations were uncovered along with several well preserved ice tools including an ice plow and guides for marking and scoring ice, and an intact lower portion of the circa 1906 ice elevator apron. The items will be kept for any future on-site display.

The well-preserved 5-foot long ice-plow would have been horse-drawn and used to score a grid on the ice. “A bar with a wedge would then be inserted to pry the ice out in ‘cakes,’” said Mr. Zink, who also prepared the new signs that convey the history of the site and the work of preservation. For these, he used, in addition to his own research, the work of the renowned local historian Wanda Gunning. The signs were designed by Fairfax Hutter.

“Princeton exercised extraordinary stewardship on this project,” said Mr. Zink. “Municipalities don’t always do the best thing with their buildings but in this case the work done in meeting dam safety regulations while preserving the historic significance is exemplary,” he said.

History

Mountain Lakes was once the site of the Princeton Ice Company. According to Mr. Zink’s report, the owner of a stone quarry and an ice harvesting company created the original seven-acre lake there in 1884 to produce ice for Princeton homes and businesses. He built a lower dam of earth along with a spillway, a drainage basin, retaining walls, and culverts all made of stone from his quarry.

In 1902, he built a stone and concrete upper dam to control sedimentation in the lake. The ice harvesting facility included a steam powered ice elevator for loading ice “cakes” into three ice houses. It operated into the 1920s, when refrigeration came into use and the ice houses and elevator were demolished.

Princeton Township acquired the 80-acre property in 1987 with the support of a Green Acres grant, private funding from the Friends of Princeton Open Space, and other private sources. The Nature Conservancy acquired an easement to protect the lake and the surrounding woods in perpetuity from development.

Over the decades, much of the lake had silted in. Both dams and other original features had deteriorated and were in danger of failing.

In 1990, then Princeton Township’s Historic Preservation Officer Christine Lewandoski and the Historic Preservation Commission contracted Hunter Research Inc. to assess the site’s historic significance. Ms. Gunning researched the history of the property, which was then nominated to the State and National Registers. In 2007, The Mountain Lakes Preserve Rural Historic District was listed on both.

Princeton’s Other Lake

If you haven’t been to the Mountain Lakes Preserve recently now would be a good time to take a walk there. Besides finding Dogwoods, May Apples, and Spring Beauties in bloom, you’ll find that the rehabilitation project has brought wider trails, easier access to lake views, a new path over the lower dam, and informative and well-positioned signs. From a walkers point of view it’s a real treat and money well spent.

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