August 9, 2017

Town to Take Over Herrontown From County

Mercer County has agreed to transfer ownership of the 142-acre Herrontown Woods Arboretum to the town of Princeton, resolving years of discussion and opening the door for the Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) to bid to take on restoration of the Veblen House.

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert on Monday made a joint announcement of the agreement, which must be approved by the Princeton Council, the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the New Jersey Green Acres Program. 

In addition to woods and numerous hiking trails, the park includes a house, cottage, and other structures formerly owned by the renowned mathematician Oswald Veblen and his wife, Elizabeth, who gave their property to Mercer County in 1957 and 1974. The county acquired additional acreage in the 1960s.

Since 2011 the town of Princeton has been responsible for management of Herrontown Woods grounds, and FOHW has taken the lead in restoring the trails and habitats. Attempting to block county plans to demolish the historic structures, which require extensive repairs, FOHW recently proposed to repair and maintain the buildings, but the county rejected their proposal, claiming that the structures were in too poor condition and too expensive to repair.

Ms. Lempert, who has praised FOHW as “one of Princeton’s great volunteer groups,” stated, “We’re thankful to the county for working with us to reach this resolution. The municipality is currently in discussions with the Friends of Herrontown Woods to develop a separate agreement for the restoration of the Veblen house. We’ve seen a surge in community interest in preserving the property, and are hopeful that the municipality and the nonprofit can agree upon a plan. Any restoration would be funded without local taxpayer dollars.”

Having restored the trails and habitats over the past four years, FOHW is “thrilled that we will now be allowed to take the next step, and begin realizing the Veblens’ vision for the buildings,” said FOHW President Steve Hiltner. “We have long wanted to apply that restorative energy to the buildings as well.”

The proposed agreement also calls for the county to complete confirmatory groundwater sampling and soil remediation prior to closing, and to pay Princeton $85,000 for the potential demolition of the structures on the property, should future demolition become necessary.

“The Veblens loved nature, and loved bringing people together,” Mr. Hiltner said. “It’s fitting that they left behind a house and cottage that can serve as a gathering place along the magnificent corridor of preserved open space in eastern Princeton. We’re thankful to all those in the community who expressed their support, and to the mayor and town Council for giving the initiative the chance it deserves. We look forward to working with the town to make Herrontown Woods and its cultural legacy a great asset for Princeton.”

FOHW is a nonprofit that welcomes donations at