July 12, 2017

Optimism Grows for Veblen Buildings’ Future

The fate of the house and cottage formerly owned by the renowned mathematician Oscar Veblen and his wife, still standing in Princeton’s Herrontown Woods nature preserve, continues to hang in the balance. Mercer County, which owns the buildings, “is still contemplating demolition,” but the administration, according to Mercer County Deputy Director of Communications Michael Boonin, “is still internally discussing the Veblen matter.” 

The Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) preservation group is hopeful that they will be able to take over the property and make needed repairs, and the town of Princeton wants to work with them to help find a resolution to the standoff between FOHW and county officials. “We’ve tried to assist the group by meeting with both parties,” said Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield. “We hope there will be a happy resolution.”

The County Park Commission recently rejected all bids for demolition but has requested additional bids. FOHW President Steve Hiltner is optimistic that the rejection of those bids was an indicator that demolition is on hold, but Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert cautioned against undue optimism. “Publicly owned structures can’t just be handed over to a private group,” she said. “The way forward is complicated.”

She continued to affirm the town’s support for FOHW in “trying to see if we can find a way forward. FOHW is one of Princeton’s great volunteer groups. We appreciate all they’ve done already. It’s a great area and a great place to go walking.”

Mr. Hiltner stated that the FOHW continues to communicate with the mayor and town council members and “that there is potential for FOHW and the town to find a way to move forward.”

He further noted, “The Veblen House is finely crafted, which is not apparent from the outside, and I think when people see the inside they will agree that this is a significant historical property that needs to be preserved.”

Mercer County previously rejected a proposal from FOHW to repair and maintain the buildings, claiming that the house and cottage were in too poor condition and too expensive to repair and that FOHW’s planning and fundraising were insufficient.

FOHW will be giving a tour of a new trail at Herrontown Woods on Sunday, July 16 at 1 p.m. The route passes through areas of the preserve that most people haven’t seen, Mr. Hiltner said.