January 4, 2017

Groundbreaking for Morven Expansion Finally Scheduled for This Week

MUCH NEEDED ADDITION: The new addition to be built on the grounds of Morven has been designed by GWWO Architects as a support structure that augments the historic mansion rather than stealing the architectural spotlight. Groundbreaking is Thursday. (Watercolor renderings by artist Mark Schreiber)

It has taken more than a decade, but Morven Museum and Garden is finally ready to break ground on a new building that will house an area for programming, a classroom, offices, and much needed storage space. On Thursday morning, January 5 at 10:30 a.m., shovels will officially hit the dirt.

“It just took some time,” said Jill Barry, the museum’s director since last September. “The previous director and board chair had everything keyed up and ready to go, and we are fortunate to be the ones to get it going. Museums sometimes just move glacially.”

The Stockton Education Center is designed by GWWO Architects of Baltimore, the firm credited with the Interpretive Center at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia. “They are very familiar with working on historic sites,” Ms. Barry said. “They understand that this building is not the showstopper. The mansion is the showstopper. This is the support building. It will be beautiful, but the focus is the mansion. This is for supporting programming and backup house stuff that we desperately need.”

The New Jersey Historic Sites Council approved Morven’s plan in April 2012, more than seven years after the project first took shape. Sent back to the drawing board after appearing before what was then Princeton’s Borough Council in 2005, the museum revised its scheme for expansion, which had originally suggested a new building in front of the historic mansion on Stockton Street. GWWO’s plan places the addition to the right of the house, with its rear facing the former Borough Hall.

The center will include a gathering space, lobby, gift shop, and small kitchen. Offices will be underground. The main house, which was built before the American Revolution by Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, will continue to display the permanent collection and changing exhibitions. Currently, the museum is showing an exhibit focused on musician Bruce Springsteen.

Morven’s property also includes a pool house, which dates from the residence of Robert Wood Johnson in the 1940s and has already been renovated as part of a $5.8 million restoration of Morven that began in 2004. Other restored buildings on the property include the 1890s carriage house, now a garden support building; and the former ice house from 1850; currently a gift shop.

Ms. Barry said that some trees have been taken down in preparation for the construction, which should begin in late February or early March depending on the weather. Construction is projected to take about six months before work is done on the inside of the building. It is anticipated that the center will be opened in the spring of 2018.

The project has been privately funded. In a press release, Board of Trustees Chair Robert Wilson said the board has been examining its site needs for over a decade. “With greater space, we can fulfill our mission by providing more robust programming on-site; sharing the remarkable history of Morven and its inhabitants, celebrating the cultural heritage of New Jersey, while accommodating much needed back of house space to make these goals possible.”