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Residents Celebrate History Of The Waxwood Building

Candace Braun

The Waxwood, the recently-opened apartment building in the John-Witherspoon Neighborhood, has been formally designated a National Historic Register site.

Residents, local officials, and longtime members of the community, including 102-year-old Susie Ione Brown Waxwood, gathered last Thursday to celebrate the designation.

Originally built in 1858, the former school and nursing home on Quarry Street was bought three years ago by Architect J. Robert Hillier, FAIA, who restored it and converted it into a condominium residence. Formally known as the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, it was renamed The Waxwood, in honor of Mrs. Waxwood's late husband, Howard B. Waxwood, Jr., principal at the school between 1936 and 1948.

Under construction for two years, the now completed building has approximately 25 percent of its units for moderate-income households. Of the 34 total designated units, five have been reserved as affordable housing units for residents of the John-Witherspoon community who have lived there for 10 years, or are direct descendents of those who have lived there. Three more units will later be available to rent and purchase as affordable housing units under the Borough's affordable housing guidelines.

A non-profit organization established by Mr. Hillier, the Waxwood Foundation provides John Witherspoon residents with 20 percent of the purchase price. Renters receive a 10 percent rent subsidy. Because of the historic nature of the building, all of the housing units must be rented for five years before they can be bought. Monthly rentals range from $800 for the affordable housing units, to $3,500 for two-bedroom units.

Thirty-one of the 34 units have been rented out. The first of the building's inhabitants moved in on November 15.

Mr. Hillier's development plan involved the rehabilitation of the building through the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, which entitles owners of historic properties to a credit of 20 percent of rehabilitation costs, if the plans closely resemble the building's original structure.

The architect has retained the original brick exterior, and the ceilings and windows were returned to their original heights of 12 feet and 8.5 feet, respectively.

Among the features that were added to The Waxwood were a piazza with a fountain on the west side, and several private gardens attached to individual units.

Waxwood's History

The Waxwood was established as the Witherspoon School for Colored Children in 1908, where it accommodated more than 300 African-American children from kindergarten through eighth grade. As the student population grew, a gymnasium/auditorium and new playground were added to the building in 1939.

In 1947, segregation of public schools was declared unconstitutional in New Jersey, and and the "Princeton Plan" was established, making the building the Borough's new junior high school. The building was turned into the Princeton Nursing Home in 1966, when the John Witherspoon Middle School was built.

After the nursing home moved to its new location on Bunn Drive in 2002, the building was bought by Mr. Hillier, who, after speaking to neighbors, decided to preserve its original structure because of its significance to the community.

Mr. Hillier is the founder and president of Hillier Architecture, headquartered in Princeton. Founded in 1966, the company has renovated and adapted seven residential properties in the Princeton area for residential use.


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