Most homes built 100 or more years ago are small, due in equal measure to the materials builders had available, the efficiency of fireplace heating, and the financial state of the builders and buyers.
But all is not so tiny in the realm of historic homes, especially on the grounds of the former Drumthwacket estate. On Saturday, November 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Historical Society of Princeton will present its 2009 House Tour, including five on Drumthwacket, near the governor’s mansion, that are both historic and grand. For $40, history buffs can take a self-directed look into homes that span American history from the early colonies to the early 20th century. Visit www.princetonhistory.org/housetour.cfm
This year’s tour is more ambitious than previous endeavors, says Erin Dougherty, executive director of the Historical Society. In years past such tours typically featured five properties within walking distance of each other. This year’s eight require a small drive, and is self-guided, Dougherty says.
Dougherty took the reins of the Historical Society two-and-a-half years ago, succeeding Gail Stern, the society’s longtime executive director who died in 2006. Dougherty had been vice president for programs at the Morris Museum in Morristown, near where she grew up.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Dougherty has a master’s in education from the College of William and Mary. She says “museums are my love,” and parlayed her education and history backgrounds into a 20-year career in the field.
She has worked at the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the New Jersey Historical Society, and the Jersey City Museum.
In her tenure at the Historical Society, she has learned the value of working with others and the value of not taking the community’s love for granted, she says. The progress the society has made since 2007 has been due to a joint effort of society members, corporate donors, and homeowners willing to open their homes to the public.
Her tenure has also overseen the society’s efforts to relocate its administrative offices to Updike Farm on Quaker Road. The society purchased the farm for $1.25 million — paid for through a combination of state and county grants — in 2004 and plans to use the site for classes, exhibits, and receptions.
Renovations on the historic, mid-19th century barnhouse began earlier this month.
One of Dougherty’s most hopeful plans is to expand the society’s public profile and its fundraising capacity. The house tour is this year’s second fundraiser for the society, the first being the Fall Antiques and Fine Arts, which just had its fifth go-around in September and generated more than a quarter million dollars, according to Barbara Webb, the society’s director of development and coordinator for the Historic House Tour.
Last year’s house tour, Webb says, drew about 1,100 people, meaning the society would raise $44,000 if that crowd was to return.
2009 House Tour: Saturday, November 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Self-guided tour of eight historic homes, including five on the former Drumthwacket estate. Tickets: $44. Call 609-921-6748 or visit www.princetonhistory.org. Also available: lunch at Drumthwacket, the official governor’s residence, 354 Stockton Street, for $20. Separate, advance reservations required. Call 609-683-0057, ext. 4, or visit www.drumthwacket. org.
Drumthwacket’s Five Outbuildings
When Claire Percarpio and her husband, Edward, went shopping for a house 15 years ago Princeton beckoned because it was a mid-point between Philadelphia and New York. She was working as a stock market analyst in Philadelphia, and he was expected to be frequently traveling to Manhattan for his technology management consulting firm.
Neither were looking for a place on the former Drumthwacket estate, but they ended up in its greenhouse anyway. The home of the Percarpios since 1994, the “Greenhouse” is on the state Historic Register and is one of five “outbuildings” on the Drumthwacket estate to be featured on November 7.
According to Barbara Webb, the Drumthwacket of a century ago was surrounded by a 138-acre estate complete with model farm buildings, greenhouses, a serpentine road, garden buildings, a butler’s lodge, small lakes, employees housing and cottages, a deer park, and a coach house with stables.
The owner of all this was Moses Taylor Pyne, an 1877 Princeton University graduate who, with a fortune he inherited from his grandfather, Moses Taylor, the first president of the First National City Bank of New York, bought the 40-acre estate of New Jersey’s Civil War governor, Charles Smith Olden in 1893.
Olden had named the estate Drumthwacket after a novel by Sir Walter Scot, which was published in the 1830s, a few years before the main block of the house was built. Olden’s land was part of the Princeton Battlefield and included the burial site of the dead of both armies.
When Pyne developed the properties on Drumthwacket, he did it in an unusual way. Most who know Drumthwacket know its centerpiece mansion, now the official home of the governor.
But the estate’s other buildings — the servants’ and superintendents’ quarters, greenhouses, and stables known as Drumthwacket’s outbuildings — are manors in their own right. Pyne did not simply construct serviceable wood frame houses as pale satellites to his home. He built them of expensive stone as a testament to his enormous wealth.
Pyne reportedly inherited more than $70 million when his grandfather died in 1882. Adjusted for inflation, it would equal more than $1.52 billion today.
Pyne, also a Princeton trustee, was a generous benefactor and an ardent supporter of collegiate Gothic architecture, which he felt linked Princeton intellectually to the rich heritage of the English universities, according to the society.
The architect of almost all this was Raleigh Gildersleve, who designed several buildings on the Princeton campus, including McCosh Hall and the Cap and Gown Club. The estate was subdivided in 1941 and the following buildings the survivors.
The Greenhouse, 19 Greenhouse Drive, was built around 1906 and became a residence when the estate was subdivided. It is the only survivor of the original greenhouses that surrounded the main building. The rest were demolished in the 1940s, but parts of the masonry foundation walls remained and were incorporated into the landscaping.
The Percarpios immediately fell in love with the outside of the Tudor cottage and moved in with their new child. Percarpio says she and her husband were perfectly content to live in the house as is, having fallen in love with the interior too.
They just wanted to do a little remodeling in the kitchen.
Their architecture firm, Outerbridge Morgan of Rocky Hill, had better plans. “We ended up flipping the living room and the kitchen,” Percarpio says. Then the couple enlarged other rooms, which cost them two bedrooms — which they then added back in.
By the time the renovations were done, the house had a larger second floor and saw half its footprint reconfigured, Percarpio says.
The remodeling was allowed despite the house’s historic designation, in large measure because from the road it is not so obvious, she says. These days, the house affords a lush view of the garden and elicits such sentiments from friends as one Percarpio says she heard a few years ago: “It looks like Goldilocks and the Three Bears live here.”
“The Dairy Barn,” 176 Parkside Drive. Built in 1899 and gutted by fire in 1911, the Tudor revival building housed prize cattle and sheep until the late 1930s.
Charles Weigel and his wife, president and treasurer of Rockwood Dairy, purchased the dairyman’s house, dairy, and barns in 1941, along with 40 acres and used the site for their operations. In 1947 much of their leased grazing land became part of Battlefield Park and operations were transferred elsewhere,
But the Weigels remained and subdivided the property in 1960. As a result, the connections between the house, dairy, and barns were demolished. Princeton architect Charles K. Agle converted the north barn into a residence and the courtyard into a garden with trees for the new owners, Patrick Kelleher, director of the Princeton University Art Museum, and his wife. In 1995 architects Ralph Lerner and Lisa Fischetti bought the property and began to restore it along Gildersleeve’s design.
“The Superintendent’s House,” 6 Greenhouse Drive. Originally planned as a home for the head gardener, the house was built sometime after 1908 and enlarged in the 1950s. Renovations in 1990 won a preservation award from the Historical Society of Princeton. Regan and Jeffrey Tuder bought the property in 2005.
“The Garden House,” 20 Greenhouse Drive. This complex began in 1905 when the original buildings formed a long L-shape facing a series of kitchen gardens. By 1908 parts of the plan still were not complete, although the round brick water tower was in place along with housing for farm equipment, stables, and wagon sheds.
Chris Mario — a reporter for U.S. 1 in the early 1990s who susequently has invested in real estate and has helped manage his family’s investments — purchased this property in 2003 and began a restoration program aimed at creating a fresh interpretation of an English country house. The project earned another of the estate’s historic preservation awards from the Historical Society of Princeton.
“The Coach House,” 87 Lovers Lane. Dating to around 1893, this building is thought to be one of the earliest of the Drumthwacket outbuildings. Designed around a courtyard with one open side, the building is a mix of shingle style with Tudor revival touches. It transitioned from coach house to garage during Moses Taylor Pyne’s lifetime and his coachman became his chauffeur.
The street, once called Lubberly’s Lane, made a similar transition to Lovers Lane long before subdivision provided the coach house with suburban neighbors.
Dilip and Nomita Abreu purchased the property in 1991.
“At Last Farm,” 984 Cherry Valley Road. The house was built circa 1850 by Reuben Savidge, an entrepreneur who ran the Mt. Rose general store and post office.
According to the Historical Society, the house is a good example of New Jersey vernacular architecture, often called “I-houses” because they are tall and narrow, two stories high, and one room deep with two rooms on the first floor.
Owned by architect Max Hayden, who bought the house in 1984, the house has been enlarged several times and moved once. Two years ago the house stood just a few feet from the intersection of Cherry Valley and Carter roads. Hayden and his wife, Jennifer, worried about their children’s safety, as well as the threat to the house itself, moved the entire building a quarter mile back.
132 Birch Avenue. This colonial revival house has been the home of the same family — one of the area’s most prominent black families of the early and mid-20th century — for five generations. Alvin Clarence Anderson and his wife, Mabel, bought the property in 1924 and, according to family tradition, built the house the following year with much help from students from the Tuskegee Institute.
The Andersons had lived in Washington, D.C., before moving to Princeton but Mrs. Anderson’s family roots were in Maryland. The social columns of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper described celebrations at the Princeton house when the Andersons sent news to family and friends, Webb says.
The family names have included Walter B. Harris, the first African American member of the Princeton police force; Stanley Twyman; and Eric and Beverly Broadway, the current owners, who bought the house with their son, Cameron, to become the fourth and fifth generations to live at 132 Birch Avenue.
Ezekiel Smith House, 974 Mercer Road. Built in the 1730s, the Smith house is one of the few remnants of the early Quaker settlement at Stony Brook.
A succession of owners named Ezekiel Smith farmed here until 1826, and access to the property increased in 1808 when Mercer Road, then called the branch turnpike, was laid out through the Smiths’ land.
In the 1870s the property was the Stony Brook Stud Farm of Colonel David McDaniel, who lost his land when Paul Tulane foreclosed on a mortgage. For the next 73 years the farm belonged to John H. Updike and his heirs.
The current owners, Bruce and Marcia Willsie, bought the house in 1999. The Willsies found the house when Bruce was on a business trip to Princeton. He had graduated from Princeton University in 1986 with a bachelor’s in international relations.
Born and raised on Vashon, a storybook island near Seattle, he is the president of the Bellevue, Washington-based Labels and Lists, a privately held non-partisan national voter profile data processing company. Clients include the polling industry, individual candidates, political parties, organizations running campaigns, independent expenditure campaigns, and political consultants.
The Willsies got Ezekiel’s house for the modest price of $500,000, then shelled out another $500,000 during an 18-month restoration and renovation Bruce orchestrated along distance from his office in Bellevue with T. Jeffery Clarke of 116 Commons Way.
Clarke, vice president of the Historical Society of Princeton, also was the architect behind the restoration of Avril and John Moore’s Tusculum mansion in Princeton Township, built by John Witherspoon three years before he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Marcia Willsie ran a cooking school, Ezekiel’s Table, at the 300-year-old farmstead last year (U.S. 1, March 26, 2008).