The Hopewell Museum (see story, page 26) is just one stop in the small town that can make a big impression, one that supports the 2007 New York Times Headline “It’s in New Jersey, but It Screams Vermont.”
And with the borough just about a mile long, it’s easy to walk and take in the features that may otherwise be missed.
The museum is located on East Broad Street — when leaving it, just make a right turn and head to the Old School Baptist Church and Cemetery. Here an 1822 brick structure rests on the site of the now-historic First Baptist Church, which served as the heart of Hopewell’s early history. And the tall gray stone monument right next to the building? That’s the grave marker of Declaration of Independence signer John Hart, whose house — now privately owned — stands nearby at 60 Hart Road, about a 15-minute walk from the church.
Next to the old Baptist Church is another institute of sorts — the Hopewell House. Originally an early 19th century tavern owned by the Stouts, the building existed many years as an inn until its current operation as a liquor store. It’s an ironic presence next to a church that admonishes those who drink alcohol and proof that God moves in mysterious ways — or least has a sense of humor.
A right here onto Mercer Street offers a visit to Gallery 14. One of the few fine art photo galleries in New Jersey, this nonprofit collective is operated by photographers who mount monthly shows and an annual juried national exhibition. Currently on view is the Princeton Photography Club’s exhibition “We Are More Than Our Disease.” The show centers on a poetic and personal photo essay by Barbara Warren along with related works by area photographers Joel Blum, Ilya Genin, Scott Gordon, Janet Hautau, Wayne Klaw, Fay Kobland, Randy Koslo, Christine Stadelmeier, Vivien Van Natta, and Jon Walker.
A return back to the corner and a walk to the far side of the street is Hopewell Antiques (47 West Broad). It’s one in a series of antique shops with a small-town America feeling must have inspired the New York Times writer in that 2007 article.
The next stop on the walk back towards the museum (heading east) is a rarity among rarities: Bear and the Books. Not only is the shop at 45 West Broad Street part of the imperiled breed of independent bookstores, it is one with a particular and unusual niche: books for children.
The store’s mission, says proprietor Bobbie Fishman, is to offer “a wide selection of books for children from birth through their young adult years — beautiful picture books, stories of faraway places, books about the earth and sky and sea, books of cars and trucks and things with wings, books that rhyme, books that tickle, books that will make you cry, books that will keep you company: books to grow up with.”
Fishman is part of regional book culture, cultivating her expertise in young literature as an employee at the late Micawber Books in Princeton (1999 to 2007) and then Labyrinth (to 2012) before opening her store in Hopewell. Her business philosophy? “Good books. They sell. Maybe not right away, but they will sell,” she says amid a sea of book covers representing a universe of ideas.
A dozen or so steps to the east lead to another space for art: Morpeth Contemporary (43 West Broad Street). Founded in 1996 and run by Ruth Morpeth, the independent art gallery features “the work of emerging and mid-career artists from across the country” and emphasizes “integrity and craftsmanship.”
The gallery is an open and airy space with large windows letting in light and street life. On view through mid-September is a show that encompasses a number of approaches and mediums by the Morpeth-represented artists: Illia Barger, Deborah Barlow, Lynne Campbell, Diana Gonzalez Gandolfi, Sandra Hoffman, Susan Howard, James Jansma, Christine Lafuente, Michael Madigan, Donna McCullough, Gregory Prestegard, Holly Roberts, David Shevlino, Marti Somers, and Brett Weaver.
Mahbubeh’s Antiques (35 West Broad Street) is the next stop. In addition to vintage stained glass, some religious items, china, and furniture, there are art works of scenes from New Jersey, including a lively depiction of a series of Trenton row homes. The artist is the late George Stave, whose career included background painting for Paramount Pictures in the 1940s and study with famed abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. Since Stave was married to the Iranian-born Mahbubeh and exhibited at Morpeth, his presence here is not coincidental.
“If I can put down on canvas what I think is beautiful and you can see it, then you’ve experienced what I have. That’s all I’m trying to do — depict beauty,” Stave said in a 2009 U.S. 1 interview.
At Marvelous Matter — the next door antique shop (33 West Broad Street) — owners Susan and Scott Mullhern are ready to talk art, politics, and the lost art of craftsmanship. “There will never be an Ikea antique,” says Susan, a painter and potter with a master’s degree in ceramics. They are also quick to engage, as in the case of a customer entering and inquiring about Asian art and the resulting discussion about the era of Japanese prints near the entrance.
On the approach to Greenwood Avenue — home of both the Off-Broadstreet Dessert Theater (now under extensive renovation) and a pharmacy building that seems only to exist in the paintings of Edward Hopper — the shops turn to eateries that offer invitations — and create indecisions.
There’s the Boro Bean offering coffee and ice cream on the porch or indoors. Right behind it is Sweetgrass, dubbed by U.S. 1 as “an ideal date night venue.” Also in view is the French-influenced Brothers Moon and the Pheasant Grill with its fresh baked goods and outdoor tables with large red umbrellas. And then there’s Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn, where the menu offers Hungarian dishes.
While Eastern European cuisine may seem an anomaly for a small town at first, a little reflection over a large cream-filled tort brings to mind the play “Our Town,” a work that celebrates Americana — complete with its own Eastern European inhabitants.
The associations become sweeter with the recollection that the play’s writer, Thornton Wilder, lived and taught in nearby Lawrenceville. And then there’s the big realization — “small-town America” is closer than one thinks.