Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the September 20,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Morven’s Preservation: For Posterity & Tourism

To many of us, the idea of historic preservation

conjures up musty, dusty notions of old deeds and genealogies, dry

rot and leaky roofs. But spend an hour with Emily Croll, director

of Historic Morven, and Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner, of Historic

Building Architects, and you’ll discover that there’s no work that’s



challenging, or compelling. They almost make it seem like just plain


Morven, the house that was home to Richard Stockton, a signer of the

Declaration of Independence, is moving closer to becoming a regionally

significant historic site. Closed since July, 1999, the first phase

of the three-phase restoration of house, gardens, and outbuildings

has just been completed.

Progress to date will be celebrated and shown off to all with


that begin Friday, September 22, with a benefit cocktail party.


September 23, is Family Day, with special activities featured from

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours will be given by these most knowledgeable

professionals at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m. There will also be antiques

appraisals by Sotheby’s, historic reenactments, children’s crafts

and games, a silhouette artist, storytelling, and refreshments.


is free.

"The whole history of Morven is a timeline of change,"


Croll. This notion, she says, defined the restoration approach.


acquired historical significance early on as the home of a signer

of the Declaration of Independence, but interesting and important

people lived here right up to the 1980s."

"A lot of preservation projects take in just one moment in


says historic preservation specialist Radcliffe-Trenner. "For

instance Colonial Williamsburg ripped down all their pre-18th century

structures, including some interesting 19th-century additions."

"If we were to rip down everything after built after Richard and

Annis Stockton," says Croll, continuing the line of thought,


have nothing more than a small portion of Morven’s west wing. Instead

what we’ll have here is 250 years of history told in a variety of

different ways."

She and Radcliffe-Trenner first worked together in the early 1990s

on the restoration of the Bainbridge House for the Historical Society

of Princeton. Directing the design and restoration of the gardens

is landscape preservation specialist, Lucinda Brockway of Kennebunk,

Maine. John Hatch of Clark Caton Hintz is the project architect. The

general contractor is Haverstick Borthwick, and the landscape


is N.V. Holmes. The progress to date is pleasing to Croll and


"The project has been a dream come true," says


"This is why I love my work — it’s detective work in


So enamored is the team with all the intriguing discoveries they’ve

made over the course of the project that the initial exhibition will

feature the kitchen of the building’s soon-to-be restored interior.

Looking quite a shambles at first glance, the room is a mass of


Yet amidst these stripped brick and exposed beams, the project team

has exposed some of the joys of their work to public scrutiny. Not

only does the room track the 250-year history of the structure, it

also shows off the recently uncovered 1758 brick oven, lost for


behind brick wall additions and remodeled chimneys.

The property that became Morven was part of a 5,000-acre tract


by Richard Stockton from William Penn in 1701. In 1754, Richard’s

grandson, Richard Stockton, one of the colonies’ leading attorneys

who became a signer of the Declaration of Independence, acquired


of the tract on which he and his wife, Annis Boudinot Stockton, built

their house in 1758.

Annis named Morven after the home of a mythical Gaelic

King Fingal in the epic poems of Ossian. (This notorious poetry scam

of the 1760s was perpetrated by the Scottish poet, James Macpherson,

who represented the works as translations from the Gaelic


poet, when they were in fact his own.)

Five generations of the Stockton family occupied Morven before it

was sold in the mid-20th century. It then served as the residence

of four of New Jersey’s governors and their prodigious families.


to Morven during the era of Governor Brendan Byrne report that Morven

had a well-worn look to it — not surprising, given all the kids

underfoot.) In 1986 its management was turned over to the New Jersey

State Museum.

One of the most historically significant sites in the state, Morven

now comprises the 10,000 square-foot mansion, three outbuildings,

and five acres of land (reduced from 300 in 1890); it is a National

Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first thing sure to strike this weekend’s visitors to Morven is

its fabulous facade, restored to the way it would have appeared circa

1850, about the time of the completion of all the old building’s



The look is stunning. Shining white brick is enhanced by off-white

paneled shutters. The Greek Revival style was superimposed by Richard

"the Duke" Stockton, who served in Congress around 1812. This

was the period of major construction of the nation’s capitol, and

"the Duke" probably wished to emulate the White House, then

under construction.

Notable is the pedimented front porch, added about 1850, with its

fluted columns, fan light, and newly-revealed punch and gouge


ornamentation. In the 1880s, the porch was embellished with the now

130-year-old wisteria. Bound to be the envy of every gardener, it’s

back in leaf after being shepherded through the renovation ordeal.

Weighing pragmatic commercial interests against the requirements of

"the historical record" is an ongoing debate in the


profession, but Trenner sees the ready reconciliation of the two.

"You can do that by being very honest about history," she

says. "You can make your site attractive — and visitor


— by telling the stories, all the stories."

"We have gone for excellence with the restoration of the building

exterior," says Trenner. "We’re setting standards for


re-use of traditional materials."

The bricks used in Morven’s original 1758 construction were probably

made on site, pressed into molds, and pit fired. The house was


unpainted, then limewashed through the 1880s. What came next —

26 layers of enamel paint — was one of the team’s greatest


To protect the historic brick and woodwork lurking below, innumerable

paint layers were removed with rubber spatulas.

Four coats of authentic limewash, know familiarly to country folk

as whitewash, now provides a "shelter coat" for the old brick.

Another accomplishment of which the team is justly proud is the


lime stucco with horsehair binding on the visitors center. Builders

for the project had to learn how to "chuck" the wet stucco

the old way, to make it adhere, before troweling it to a smooth


These lime-based historic building materials, says Trenner, are


to the materials behind them and allow them to breathe."

The first phase of the long-awaited restoration is the largest. It

has included the complete exterior restoration, new slate roofs, and

the interior and exterior restoration of the outbuilding. The latter

has been remodeled to serve as Morven’s Visitors Center, with upstairs

offices for staff. The visitors center opens with an orientation


"Morven through Three Centuries."

Directing the design and restoration of the gardens

is landscape preservation specialist, Lucinda Brockway. Her firm’s

past projects include Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville,


and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline,


Brockway says that colonial families established their status not

only in the style of their house but in the landscaping their property

with spreading, deciduous trees. "The reasoning was that if the

public is walking past your house on a hot summer’s day, and if you

provide a beautifully shady walk, they’re apt to slow down and


she explained.

The new gardens incorporate elements of various past landscapes and

restore such famed elements as its enormous catalpa trees that seemed

designed to commemorate Richard Stockton each year when they burst

into bloom on the Fourth of July. The last of them were cut down in

the 1920s. The new Bower Walk, completed in 1996, is a theme garden

that is home to a variety of 18th-century plants that were mentioned

by Annis Stockton in her poetry and letters.

Now nine new catalpa saplings run along Stockton Street again, and

nearer the house, pairs of young horse chestnut trees define a new

tree-lined walkway that will eventually extend along the Borough Hall

property. An orchard of pear trees is beginning to take form behind

the house.

Radcliffe-Trenner, whose firm won six grants this week from the New

Jersey Historic Trust, including funding for the planning of Morven’s

final restoration phase, knows the value of historic preservation.

"Worldwide," she says, "preservation is proving itself

as an economically viable tourism tool with significant socio-economic

benefits." She says her approach had to be both practical and

cost effective.

"Morven’s a large place to keep going, and we’ve got to get the

audience in time and time again," says Croll, so it’s logical

to make it an attractive destination that the public will want to


The new Morven should prove attractive to history buffs, architecture

enthusiasts, and garden hobbyists. For weary workers, it also promises

a gracious destination of lovely outdoor spaces. History buff or not,

here you may sit in the shade of the 100-foot-high Norway spruces

and watch those sapling horse chestnut trees grow.

— Nicole Plett

Benefit Party, Historic Morven , 55 Stockton Street,

609-683-4495. Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, musical entertainment, and

an insider’s tour of the gardens and house. $75, with proceeds to

go toward Morven’s continued restoration. Friday, September 22,

6 to 8 p.m.

Family Day. Opening weekend celebration continues with

a day of special activities including antiques appraisals by Sotheby’s

($5 charge per item), historic reenactments, children’s crafts and

games, silhouette artist, storytelling, and refreshments. Free.


September 23, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Beginning September 27 through November 29 Morven will be open

for tours on Wednesdays, Thursday, and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 2

p.m. It will then close for the second phase of restoration that


the house interior, reopening in the spring for garden tours.

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