October 2, 2019

Restoration is On Track For Wars Memorial Bench

By Anne Levin

Back in 1925, public donations initiated the installation of the Princeton Wars Memorial Bench that sits in the small park at the intersection of Nassau and Mercer Streets. Nearly a century later, a new round of donations, this time from The Garden Club of Princeton, the Princeton Daughters of the American Revolution, and Princeton University, is funding some needed repair and restoration of the local landmark.

Members of the organizations presented checks totaling $29,200 — $24,200 from the two clubs, and $5,000 from the University — to Princeton Council at a meeting of the governing body on September 23. “It is fitting that restoration of the monument is to be funded by a similar community collaboration,” said Rosemary Kelley, first vice regent of The Garden Club of Princeton, upon presentation of the checks.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert praised the restoration project, which will include the bench and steps. “This is a very visible entryway into the central business district, so we want to make sure it lasts,” she said.

The funds will go to long-term improvements, beautification, and maintenance of the bench, which was built in tribute to residents killed in combat during World War I. The park continues today as recognition to those killed in later wars, and is regularly the focus of Memorial Day activities.

The classical stone bench was designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett, a New York architect who was on the advisory board for the University’s School of Architecture. Corbett was reported to have been inspired by ancient Greek examples.

When the memorial was completed in 1925, Art and Archaeology magazine described it as “an exquisitely designed exedra, carefully proportioned to the little park. With its simple inscription, ‘Hold dear our sons and daughters who gave their lives for freedom in the World War,’ it very touchingly does its work of commemoration. It is a model of what a simple memorial should be.” Andrew Fleming West, first dean of the Princeton University Graduate School, wrote the inscription, according to research done by The Garden Club five years ago.

Early contributors to the project included such prominent names as Mrs. Moses Taylor Pyne, Allan Marquand, Bayard Stockton, Gerard Lambert, and Mrs. Thomas Jex Preston Jr., the widow of President Grover Cleveland. Moses Taylor Pyne donated several properties and the Nassau Club contributed a small piece of ground.

Princeton’s Historical Commission assisted in assessing the work that is needed. The repairs are targeted to begin this month, in hopes that the monument can be restored in time for Veterans Day, November 11.