July 18, 2018

Hodge Road House Fire Under Investigation

THREE ALARMS: Two firefighters sustained minor injuries in the three-alarm blaze at 140 Hodge Road on Monday night. But damage to the nine-bedroom mansion, which was empty and has been on and off the market for years, was considerable. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Anne Levin

A three-alarm fire caused significant damage and minor injuries to two firefighters at a house on Hodge Road in Princeton’s Western Section late Monday night. No one was inside the 5,802-square-foot home at 140 Hodge Road when the fire was reported at about 11:50 p.m.

The blaze was on the second and third floors of the nine-bedroom home, and burned through the roof. Four EMS units, three rescue units, and 19 fire departments from across the area responded to the alarm, after a neighbor reported to the Princeton Fire Department that flames and smoke were coming from the back of the house.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Because it went to three alarms, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office was automatically called in along with the Princeton Police Department and Princeton Fire Department.

One firefighter from Lawrence Township was treated and released for respiratory issues, and another had a badly cut finger. “It was a very hot night. I can tell you because I was one of the first in,” said Bob Gregory, director of emergency services for the Princeton Fire Department. “The humidity and the heat were significant. It was a tough night. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of people to put the fire out.”

Gregory said the condition of the house will have to be assessed by an engineer or architecture firm. “There are issues with those old houses. It was built in the 1920s, with heavy timber construction. The walls were plaster on mesh wire. They had to break through the walls with sledgehammers.”

The house was previously owned by Princeton neurosurgeon Dr. Edward Von Der Schmidt. “It was vacant. He left in January,” said Amy Stavin-Strang, Southern New Jersey asset manager for Carrington Real Estate Services, which holds the note for the property. “The bank owned it but never foreclosed. Dr. Von Der Schmidt had tried to sell it for eight years, but no one bought it. Then he decided to deed it back to the bank, which has had it on the market since last November.”

A listing on the real estate website Zillow describes the house as Colonial Revival, designed in 1922. It has nine bedrooms and six bathrooms and sits on 1.64 acres. The property will remain for sale, Stavin-Strang said. “The bank has to do their diligence with insurance. We don’t know how it happened, whether it was arson, an electrical fire, or what. But I have an agent who drove by to check on the house about six or seven last night, and it was fine. So it’s strange.”

Gregory said the house was empty when firefighters searched to make sure nobody was inside. “It was pretty much cleared out,” he said. “There was no furniture — nothing.”

According to Stavin-Strang, the house had an old elevator system and a spacious third floor that must have housed staff at one time. “It had number boards, so the staff could see which room was calling them,” she said. “The house had amazing woodwork, features you just can’t do anymore.”

The house was first listed at $2.8 million, but most recently at $1.9 million. “Now it’s a teardown,” she said.