December 4, 2019

The “Secret City” is Mill Hill Holiday House Tour Theme

OPENING THEIR DOORS: Lucia and Vance Smith are among those who will open their doors on Saturday, December 7, as part of the annual Mill Hill Holiday House Tour. The couple, who chaired this year’s tour, say they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

By Anne Levin

It was on a tour of gardens in Trenton’s Mill Hill section 15 years ago that Vance and Lucia Smith fell in love with the neighborhood and vowed to make it their home. Two years ago,  the couple and their daughter, Olivia, finally made the move from Hopewell to a three-story 1886 Victorian on Montgomery Street, right across from a larger-than-life statue of George Washington.

While they are still relatively new to the neighborhood, the Smiths volunteered this season to chair the annual Mill Hill Holiday House Tour. Vance, a professor of medieval and African literature at Princeton University, and Lucia, a therapist in Pennington, have been gently prodding their fellow residents  to open their homes to the public for the fundraiser, which is Saturday, December 7 from 12-5 p.m.

Stops on the tour include an eclectic collection of residences, two churches, the Mill Hill Playhouse, and the historic Douglass House, where a costumed re-enactor will be on site to tell the story of the building. The tour has a theme — “Secret City.”

“One of the reasons we wanted to move here is that Trenton is an invisible city in Mercer County,” said Vance Smith. “That just seemed wrong to me. I was disturbed by it. I have colleagues that have never been to Trenton. We want to show people that this is not just a viable city, but an exciting place to live.”

The Smiths have lived in many parts of the world. Lucia Smith is from Santa Barbara, Calif. In addition to running her own therapy practice, she found time to help start The Bridge Academy, and volunteers for the Urban Mental Health Alliance. Vance Smith was born in South Africa and grew up in Kenya, where his family moved after his anti-apartheid-activist parents were forced to leave. “My father was an anthropologist and my mother was an ethno-musicologist,” he said. “They started a college in Kenya and still live on the campus.”

The couple’s home is filled with art, including several pieces from Africa. The previous owner had modernized the house, adding a third floor roof deck that overlooks Mill Hill Park. “After we decided we wanted to live here, I stalked the neighborhood on line,” said Vance Smith. “I saw that this house had gone into foreclosure and been bought by [Mill Hill residents] Roland Pott and Peter Kasabach. I tracked them down and we bought the house. So it never went on the market. Now, Roland lives right next door and his kids go to the same school as our daughter.”

Planning the tour has allowed the Smiths to get to know neighbors and experience their  different styles and backgrounds. Evelyn Nah’s home on Clay Street is traditional on the outside, and contemporary on the inside, with a neutral palette and bold artworks on the walls. Judy Winkler’s house on Mercer has much of its original Victorian detailing and an extensive collection of Trenton maps, which date from 1849 and are hung throughout the home with other local artifacts. The three-story wood frame house of Caroline Wylie and Craig Shofed on Jackson is an unofficial gallery for his fine art photography, and a growing collection of work by fellow Trenton artists.

“We love the diversity,” said Lucia Smith. “It’s exciting to see all of the businesses that are taking off in town. The city has its problems, but people who live here are trying to solve them.”

Tickets are $20 in advance, or $25 the day of the tour. Start at ArtWorks, 19 Everett Alley at South Stockton Street. The tour is held rain or shine. Visit for tickets and directions.