A three-story white farmhouse on six sprawling acres between Route 1 and Princeton Pike gives passing motorists a glimpse of rural life from another century. The Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, occupied by descendants of its original owners until just over a decade ago, managed to survive area development and suburbanization. The farm and its outbuildings were purchased in 2004 by the Historical Society of Princeton.
The acquisition added a bucolic site to the Historical Society, whose in-town headquarters at Bainbridge House on Nassau Street. Since then, the organization has held several events on the grounds. The biggest is its annual fundraiser, which this Saturday evening brings the Marshall Tucker Band to the farm for the “Concert Under the Stars.”
The idea is not just to raise money. Making people aware of the farm as a resource for the public is a large part of the plan. “Our concept, when we opened the Farmstead two years ago, was that we wanted Princeton to think of it as their own back yard,” said Erin Dougherty, the Historical Society’s executive director. “That’s still our philosophy. We want people to come out, have a picnic, sit and watch the sunset.”
The farm is open to the public not only for events [check the website www.princetonhistory.com]. Ms. Dougherty said there are people who stop at the site while hiking, and others who bring their easels and paints to take advantage of the vista. “It’s the most beautiful place in Princeton, particularly in May and June with the gorgeous pink sunsets,” she said. “The views are incredible. You’re looking out at a farm field, at open space. It’s quiet. When you walk into the back of the house, you just hear nature. It’s so peaceful. We hear a lot from groups that it’s the freedom of the farm that people love, particularly kids. You can get out of the car and just run.”
Stanley and Sarah Updike lived at Updike Farm until their deaths in 2002, according to the Historical Society’s website. The brother and sister were descendants of George Furman Updike Sr., who bought approximately 190 acres of the original farmland, which was known as the Benjamin Clarke property, in 1892. The Updike family sold 184 acres of the property to the Institute for Advanced Study in 1969.
The Farmstead is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and lies within the Princeton Battlefield/Stony Brook Settlement Historic District. Mr. Clarke, an early Stony Brook settler, purchased 1200 acres of the land in 1696. Continental troops passed the site on their way to take on British soldiers at the Thomas Clarke farm at Princeton Battlefield.
In addition to the farmhouse, the Updike site includes a large barn built in 1892, a wagon shed, corn crib, three-bay garage, garden sheds, and chicken coops. The farmhouse has been rehabilitated to house expanded operations of the Historical Society. At the concert on Saturday, the next step will be announced.
“We’re about to start some work on the large barn, replacing the roof as part of the first step of stabilizing the building,” Ms. Dougherty said. “Now that we have the house done and can use it as a museum and have programs there, we’re hoping to eventually use the barn for programming as well.”
The buildings on the site are of varying ages, but they form a seamless whole, Ms. Doughterty said. “We had a wedding out there a few weeks ago, and the photographs with the vistas of the fields, the corn crib, the weathered barn — they are just amazing,” she said. “The buildings are such a big part of it all.”
The fundraiser is Saturday, June 15, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The Marshall Tucker Band will play for 90 minutes. Main Street is providing the food. Guests can explore the grounds and tour the farmhouse, where three exhibits are on display. Tickets start at $150 but groups get savings. visit www.princetonhistory.org or call (609) 921-6748.