Rescue dogs, foster children, 18th century houses that ended up as hippie communes in the 1970s, and, most recently, old barns — there appears to be no limit to the people and things that Carol Wojciechowicz will take under her wing.
Let’s start with the latest rescue project: the old barn — now known as the Wojciechowicz (Wo-je-ho-itz) barn — that is the newest attraction at the Historical Society of Princeton’s Updike Farm. Benjamin Clarke, an early Stony Brook settler, first owned the land as part of a 1,200-acre parcel he purchased in 1696. In 1892 George Furman Updike Sr. acquired approximately 190 acres of the original farmland and added buildings to the site, including the barn.
The Historical Society purchased the six-acre Updike Farm in 2004 from the estate of Stanley Updike. The society moved from Bainbridge House on Nassau Street nearly two years ago, setting up its offices and museum in the renovated 200-year-old farmhouse.
The move was the result of the Historical Society’s long-term strategic vision and intended to preserve a bit of Princeton’s farming history. The key was to get residents and visitors to come to the new center. One attraction, in addition to the free parking on site, was that old barn, which had been the focus of a renovation campaign almost since the day the Historical Society purchased Updike Farm.
Unlike most 19th-century barns built in New Jersey, this barn was still standing. And like most of the few that have survived, it needed a lot of work to become a venue capable of accommodating the public. The renovation effort needed money and a champion. That would be Wojciechowicz, who not only had been a longtime supporter of the Historical Society but was also a champion of old barns. She had already rescued one that now stands behind her house on Herrontown Road. And she saved another one that has been disassembled and placed in storage.
To anyone who knows Carol or knew her late husband, Alex Wojciechowicz, the idea of adopting a barn will not seem strange at all. Carol grew up in Neptune, near Wall Township, where her parents had owned the Wall Speedway, a stock car raceway, which they bought in 1949 at an estate sale. Her father was a contractor who had worked on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Her mother, known as “Jennie the Jet,” became the hands-on operator of the race track. “She was the only female promoter of auto racing,” says Wojciechowicz, interviewed at her Herrontown Road home with Shake, a rescue dog, and Una Bella, a Brussels Griffon, sitting underfoot.
Carol had a childhood friend who lived on a horse farm and the two girls would play in the barn, jumping from the hayloft. She was athletic, playing hockey and tennis and riding horses. At Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, she won an art history award. As a freshman at Centenary University, where she majored in interior design, Carol met Alex Wojciechowicz — then a Princeton University sophomore — at a party over Thanksgiving weekend
Also a resident of the Jersey Shore area, “Wojie” was the son of Alex Wojciehowicz, who along with Vince Lombardi was one of the famous “seven blocks of granite” on the undefeated 1937 Fordham University football team. Wojie Sr. later played 13 years in the National Football League.
The younger Wojie, himself a high school football star whose playing days at Princeton never materialized due to a shoulder injury, made a date with Carol through her mother. “We hit it off,” she says. The aeronautical engineering major went on to work for Hercules Power Co. in Rocky Hill, making rockets, missiles, and anti-missiles. The couple moved to Cumberland, Maryland, where he started Alto Development Corp., making electric insulators for telephone poles. After Wojie lost a finger in a boating accident, he consulted a hand specialist in New York City who mentioned the need for special wires for heart surgery. Alto Development morphed into A&E Medical Devices. “He was a mad inventor,” says Carol. “He would test some of his ideas on meat in the oven.”
The couple and their growing family eventually moved back to Princeton. “We had been living on Hamilton Avenue with three kids,” she says. One of Wojie’s Princeton University classmates, artist Ken McIndoe, was housesitting for a sculptor who owned the house on Herrontown Road, which is how the Wojciechowiczes first got to see it.
Once owned by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Hugh Lenox Scott, who served from 1914 to 1917, the house was a “hippie commune” back in the ’70s, according to Wojciechowicz. Every room was painted either hot pink, purple, or chartreuse, she says, and the former occupants conducted seances in the living room. Nevertheless, it had extraordinary character, such as a hand-carved mahogany ceremonial piece from the Philippines. The original house dates to 1746, with a brick section added in 1810 and a kitchen in the 1920s. “Our parents thought we were crazy,” says Wojciechowicz. “It was a gracious old colonial that needed so much work.”
After Carol’s parents’ initial admonishment, they gave good advice on the restoration.
The house became a home, with a growing family living there. Carol Wojciechowicz, a Girl Scout leader and a den mother, hired a housekeeper with 10 children who was unable to keep them all. Rather than have them become wards of the state, the Wojciechowiczes took in two of the children. “The 15-year-old asked to be a mother’s helper, and her brother, two years younger, came too.” So now the family included five children, all in middle school and high school.
In Wojciechowicz’s art-filled home there are paintings and sculpture by Ken and Connie McIndoe, paintings of Princeton landmarks by Robert Hummel, as well as many paintings of the house, some in snow and under a full moon. She has hosted the Arts Council of Princeton’s benefit dinner, Dining by Design. The walls are also filled with artwork she has purchased at benefit auctions. Wojciechowicz, who at one time served on the Arts Council board, occasionally paints still lifes and portraits.
When you have a large family, rescue dogs, and artist friends living with you, getting an old barn moved to your backyard seems like the next logical step — especially when you’ve completed extensive restoration of the main house. “Nothing was planned, life just happens,” she says.
That’s when the New Jersey Barn Company enters the picture.
Elric Endersby and Alex Greenwood founded the Barn Company to preserve historic structures and Colonial-era wood from sites taken over by development. They knew the forests that supplied that wood no longer exist. Once documented and disassembled, the pieces of wood go into storage until the right client comes along. Some of those clients have been Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray, and Larry David. Clients in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket were especially interested in repurposed barns for pool houses, antique cars, restaurants, and artist studios. Closer to home, Endersby and Greenwood reassembled a barn to serve as the visitor center at Howell Living History Farm and a school house for the Schenck Farm, an historic site in West Windsor, among others.
The Wojciechowiczes had met Endersby when they all went hot air ballooning together. When the Wojciechowiczes bought a farm in Hillsborough, they put the barn into storage with the Barn Company. (They later sold the property but the barn is still in storage.) Eventually Endersby, Greenwood, and the Wojciechowiczes became friends and Alex, by now a licensed private pilot, would fly Endersby and Greenwood to see old barns.
In 1990 the Barn Company principals introduced the Wojciechowiczes to an English-style barn from behind the Plainsboro municipal building. The Wojciechowiczes bought it and the Barn Company was employed to do the move. They took apart that Plainsboro barn piece by piece, labeled it, fumigated it, and reassembled it on Herrontown Road. Greenwood and Endersby are purists, Wojciechowicz says. The barn is constructed with wooden pegs, not nails. All the vintage hardware is from Finkel’s in Lambertville.
Wojciechowicz calls it a party barn — she has recently hosted two weddings, one for a granddaughter and one for a son. A crystal chandelier hangs from the rafters — Wojciechowicz got West Windsor artist Francois Guillemin, who has a studio in Hopewell, to rig it. Guillemin also crafted her copper counter with brass sculptural supports to the cabinetry above.
Bands often perform from the loft during parties. A spacious kitchen includes a six-burner stove. One area of the barn is Wojciechowicz’s workout room, where a trainer and a massage therapist come regularly.
Also on the property is a guest house that was moved from River Road by the Barn Company—it’s where the grandchildren stay when they visit and where she hosts opera singers for the Princeton Festival.
While all these improvements were made at Herrontown Road, Alex and Carol joined several other Princeton area families in buying some land on a small island not far from Puerto Rico, Culebra, which had been used as a site for militiary target practice. The Wojciechowiczes often traveled back and forth in his private plane, a twin-engine Cessna. On January 5, 2002, while ferrying their daughter, her husband and son, and her mother-in-law, from Culebra to San Juan Airport, Wojie crashed during stormy weather into a mountain top in Puerto Rico.
Back in Princeton the family called for memorial donations to be given to the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “So many gave money in their memory,” Carol says. “I put it in the Princeton Area Community Foundation and earmarked it for the barn, in their honor.”
Wojciechowicz, who served on the Township Committee between 1986 and 1989, has been on the Historical Society’s board for as long as she can remember. “I’ve been through three directors,” she says. Every four years she has had to rotate on and off. “Izzy Kasdin is brilliant and we’re lucky to have her,” she says of the young new executive director.
Restored by Ronnie Brezenger Architecture and Baxter Construction, the 125-year-old barn has become a premiere event space for weddings and fundraisers, and is a new venue for special programming organized by the Historical Society of Princeton.
The Wojciechowicz Barn at the Updike Farmstead was dedicated this past fall and has already hosted a panel discussion relating history and current events in the aftermath of Charlottesville. “Having our own space means we can schedule events like this more spontaneously,” says Kasdin. In October the barn served as a backdrop for the screening of a light show by Swiss artist Gerry Hoffstetter, with images of Albert Einstein from Historical Society’s collection projected on the barn. Several receptions and weddings have already shown the possibilities the space offers.
At 3,000 square feet, the barn can be used in three seasons. To maintain its barn-like integrity, it is not climate controlled. Spaces between boards allow the heat to escape — insulation would destroy the nature of it. Inside, the smell of the old-growth hemlock permeates, evoking a bit of Princeton’s heritage.
The center beam is from a tree from the 1580s. The ceiling is about 50 feet high. “The beam is made from wood with the properties of trees you can’t get today, giving it its resiliency,” says Kasdin. Most of the wood is original, but for doors that had to be reconstructed, thermally modified poplar was used — it was literally scorched in an oven to enable it to resist water and rot. And it matches the existing old wood.
Originally a cow barn, there had been animal pens, a hay loft, and areas for equipment storage. The old wood removed in order to create the sleek contemporary concrete floor was used to create a wall for the gender-neutral and accessible bathrooms. Other contemporary amenities include a prep kitchen, outlets for caterers on the exterior (where cooking tents can be set up), Wi-Fi, a projection screen, amplification system and speakers. Features such as the lighting did not have to hew to historic standards, since there was no electric lighting during the era of the barn. For lectures and other seating events, the space can accommodate 150. Yet it is still very much a barn.
None of this would have been possible without the efforts of Carol Wojciechowicz. “Carol touches every bit of what we do here, from planning our annual house tour to sharing her knowledge of Princeton history,” says Kasdin. “She was a force, fighting for the barn to be saved. She was adamant in prioritizing its completion.” The project took 11 years. “Carol was committed to converting the space while keeping us debt free, and it was almost exclusively raised from private funds,” Kasdin says.
“She would always remind us: It’s a barn. It should feel like a barn.”
Historical Society of Princeton, 354 Quaker Road. For information on event rentals contact Eve Mandel at 609-921-6748, ext. 102 or firstname.lastname@example.org.