The Historical Society of Princeton — housed for nearly a half century at the historic Bainbridge House at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton — officially begins a new chapter on Wednesday, January 6, when it opens its new headquarters at the Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road. The late 18th and early 19th century farmstead located on six acres within the Princeton/Stony Brook Settlement Historic District has been an HSP adjunct center since 2011.
Eve Mandel, director of programs and visitor services, says the current news is audiences can expect the same program important to Princeton — but with a few changes.
For example, the weekly walking tours will resume in March. Participants will meet in front of the Bainbridge House at 2 p.m., but they will pay for the tour online. During January and February the walking tours will be replaced by 2 p.m. “virtual” indoor talks by tour guides at the Updike Farmstead with refreshments served.
Then there are the exhibitions chosen to fit the new layout. Visitors entering the farmhouse will spot two paintings by Rex Goreleigh (1902-1986), an African-American artist and teacher who painted and taught art classes in Princeton from 1947.
Mandel says that one painting, “Field Workers,” on loan from the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, depicts Goreleigh’s interest in painting migrant farm workers — a fitting selection for a farm. The other, “Mary Watts’ Store,” belongs to HSP’s collection and visually preserves a general store that had been a fixture on Route 206 near Cherry Valley Road since the Depression but was torn down after Watts retired in 1986. Complementing Goreleigh’s store painting is a collage of photographs of the general store by the late Princeton-area photographer John Emerick.
Then there is Princeton’s Portraits, an exhibition of early 20th century photographs documenting rural life in Princeton. Also on view is a group of photos depicting Updike Farmstead taken in 2012 by the Princeton Photography Club.
Several paintings in the hall gallery also depict the Updike Farmstead — all on loan from the Trenton Community A-Team, a nonprofit artists’ cooperative that meets at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. “They come to the site every summer and they paint. Then we change the exhibit, so what they create here then gets put on the wall,” Mandel says.
Mandel is charged with planning and conducting educational programs for children and adults and with creating partnerships with community groups. Her training includes a B.A. in psychology from American University in 1993 and a teaching certificate from the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station. She has also taught educational programs at the Morris Museum and the National Constitution Center.
Mandel works closely with Izzy (Isabel) Kasdin, the new curator for programs and exhibits. Kasdin seems a fitting addition: Her father is a vice dean of Princeton University’s school of engineering and applied science father and her mother is a venture capitalist. She grew up in Princeton and attended both Princeton High School and Princeton University, graduating with a B.A. in history and following up with a master’s in archaeological heritage and museums at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Kasdin began working at the HSP in 2007 while in high school as a volunteer docent for an exhibit called “Stand Up, Speak Out” and continued on as a research assistant. She returned to the Historical Society of Princeton as its curator in October, 2015.
Her early experience as a volunteer sparked her interest in museum studies. “Stand Up, Speak Out was the first exhibition that I really helped with handling the objects,” Kasdin says. “I think I was helping to re-package suffrage sashes that we had on loan after the exhibition to be sent back, and it was just a moment, being able to touch something, and I definitely feel a kinship with women’s history. I think that’s the first time I realized the power of objects to tell stories.”
Kasdin is responsible for the first permanent exhibit at the Updike Farmstead. Instead of attempting to recreate HSP’s Princeton History Gallery from Bainbridge House, with its overview of 300 to 400 years of Princeton history, the new exhibit, “The Einstein Salon,” is designed to give an intimate look at Albert Einstein through the use of objects — his writing desk, favorite chair, and other items in a furniture collection donated to the Historical Society in 2003 by the Institute for Advanced Study, as well as personal items.
“A few of these items had been on display at Bainbridge House, but what we really wanted to do was put together a comprehensive exhibition about Einstein and his time in Princeton from 1933 to 1955,” Mandel says.
Across from the salon is the Innovators Gallery, which will rotate as it spotlights various creative individuals connected with Princeton, beginning in 2016 with John von Neumann, mathematician, economist, and leader of the team at the Institute that developed the first programmable, stored memory computing device, as well as a part of the Manhattan Project.
HSP executive director Erin Dougherty feels the new location will allow the HSP to better fulfill its educational mission to inspire children and adults to have a passion for history. “I think for us, really, the concepts of collecting and preservation are still very much a part of our mission, but you can’t help but think about education when you’re in a site such as this,” she says. “People come here, kids bound out of their cars. They’re dying to run around,” Dougherty says. “There’s this sense of freedom that you get when you approach the farm that’s a little different than the feeling you might get approaching just a historic building, and I think it’s great.”
Historical Society of Princeton, 354 Quaker Road. Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. $4. Free Thursdays, 4 to 7 p.m.
Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Virtual Tour, Sunday, January 31. Presented by Shirley Satterfield. Downtown tours resume in March. hspwalkingtours.eventbrite.com.
Historic Move for HSP
The Historical Society of Princeton’s move from the Bainbridge House — which housed members of the Continental Congress as well as War of 1812 naval commander William Bainbridge — to its new headquarters at another historic site listed on the State and National registers of historic places follows a path of history itself.
To fully appreciate the historic significance of the Updike Farmstead, a little background about the early settlement of Stony Brook, which predates Princeton University, goes a long way.
The settlement began in the 1690s when six Quaker families established a community along the Stony Brook, near what was then King’s Highway but is now known as State Road or Route 206. Benjamin Clarke was the first to purchase 1,200 acres of prime meadowland along the stream from William Penn in 1696. Among those acres was the land that was to become Updike Farmstead.
The original Benjamin Clarke property was divided into smaller parcels and remained in the hands of his descendants for more than 150 years. And George Washington and his Continental Army marched across the fields to confront British soldiers at the neighboring farm of Thomas Clarke in the Battle of Princeton.
In 1892 George Furman Updike Sr. purchased about 190 acres of land from a descendant of Benjamin Clarke and added a large barn. In 1969 the Updike family sold 184 acres to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on the condition that it be used as farmland.
Brother and sister Stanley and Sarah Updike continued to live on the remaining six acres, which includes the house, barn, wagon shed, corn crib, three-bay garage, and garden sheds, until their deaths in 2002. Photographs taken in 1995 by their nephew Michael Johnson, which are currently on display in the original kitchen at Updike Farmstead, show them working in the old room with its original cooking hearth that was converted to a wood-burning stove.
The Historical Society of Princeton purchased Updike Farmstead from the estate of Stanley Updike in 2004, renovated the farm house with a grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust in 2007, and opened it as its second location in 2011.