August 4, 2021

No Injuries in Fire at Princeton Seminary

By Anne Levin

An early morning fire on Tuesday, August 3 at Lenox House, a 19th century building that houses faculty offices at Princeton Theological Seminary, sent flames through the roof and closed surrounding streets for several hours while news helicopters whirled overhead.

No one was in the building at the time, and no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

This was the second time in the past four days that a two-alarm fire has broken out in Princeton’s Western Section. Just after 4 a.m. on Saturday, July 31, a fire was reported in the garage of a residence on Armour Road. There were no injuries. The blaze is under investigation.

Princeton Theological Seminary Security contacted the Princeton Police Department at 5:11 a.m. on Tuesday to report the Lenox House fire. The Princeton Fire Department and Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad were dispatched, and found flames shooting through the roof of the building and on the third floor.

Mutual aid came from Princeton Plasma Physics Lab’s fire department, and from fire departments of Plainsboro, Princeton Junction, Rocky Hill, Kingston, Lawrenceville, Hopewell, Montgomery #1 and #2, and Monmouth Junction, as well as a recall of the career firefighter staff. The blaze was put under control by 7:11 a.m.

Carolyne Murff, who lives across the street, woke up at 5:30 a.m. to see flames shooting through the roof of Lenox House. “The police were already there. Then everything went kind of crazy,” she said. “It started in the back of the house. I took pictures from the corner of my yard.”

Murff was especially impressed with the quick response to the situation from neighboring fire departments. “I was just amazed at the way people came out to help,” she said.  “To watch them all come together and do it on a volunteer basis … it is very stressful for those guys doing that.”

DISTINCTIVE ARCHITECTURE: The damaged building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, is considered architecturally unique in Princeton. (Photo by Weronika A. Plohn)

Lenox House is one of four distinctive buildings on the corner of Stockton Street and Library Place. It is considered to be architecturally significant. According to information from the Historical Society of Princeton, it was built between 1878 and 1879 and designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed the base of the Statue of Liberty; The Breakers in Newport, R.I.; and Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.

“It is a work of great solidity, and its style of architecture is unlike that of any other building in Princeton,” wrote John F. Hageman for a 1989 exhibition mounted by the Historical Society, “Small Town, Distinguished Architects.”

Local architect Max Hayden described the building as one of the only local examples of its style. “It’s a loss. It’s one of the anchors of that corner,” he said. “It’s one of the few prominent Victorian buildings in town. People tend to think of Princeton as either Colonial or Gothic, and this is a reminder that the town isn’t just one style. It has nice details, and brick, which isn’t that common. It’s just kind of a funky, brooding presence.”

A statement from Princeton Theological Seminary Tuesday said, “We thank the Princeton Police Department for its response, the Fire Department for containing and extinguishing the fire, as well as all other first responders who swiftly arrived to campus.”