This article was originally published in the October 2018 Princeton Echo.
The Historical Society of Princeton’s annual house tour returns on Saturday, November 3, featuring five residences open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $50. The homes are notable for their design, but with the expected dose of architectural history comes an unexpected helping of religious history.
86 Mercer Street
The story of this home — the official residence of the president of Princeton Theological Seminary — begins well before its construction in 1846. The property, on what was once Springdale Farm, was part of an 800-acre tract owned by Dr. John Goron, who conveyed half of it to the Stockton family in the late 1690s. One hundred acres of that land was then transferred to William Fitz Randolph, who would eventually donate the land to the nascent College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). The rest stayed in the Stockton family as Springdale Farm.
The existing Gothic Italianate-style house was constructed in 1846 and was acquired by Princeton Theological Seminary in 1903 to serve as the home for its first president, Francis Patton, who had previously served as president of Princeton University until the trustees voted to replace him with Woodrow Wilson, of whom more later.
It has served as the president’s residence since and is now home to president M. Craig Barnes and his wife, Dawne, who happens to be an interior design counselor and owner of DB Homes. She has undertaken careful remodeling of the historic home, keeping in mind its function as a venue for seminary events as well as home to a family.
72 Library Place
Before Woodrow Wilson got to move into his own presidential residence, he was a member of the university faculty, and in the 1889 he bought this Library Place home constructed by noted Philadelphia builder-architect Charles Steadman in 1836. The owner when it was first built was Professor John Breckenridge, an 1818 alumnus of the College of New Jersey and 1821 alumnus of Princeton Theological Seminary. After serving as a minister in Kentucky and Maryland he returned to Princeton in 1836 to become a professor of pastoral theology and missionary instruction at the seminary, but only remained at the school until 1838. He died in 1841, but his legacy lives on: in the Historic American Buildings Survey the house is referred to as the Professor John Breckenridge House.
117 Library Place
Finally on the religious history tour is this home at the corner of Library Place and Boudinot Street, constructed in the early 1900s for William Park Armstrong, who served as a professor and dean at the seminary for more than 40 years. He also held a doctorate from the university. He died in 1944 and is buried in Princeton seminary.
Other homes on the tour include 34 Cleveland Lane, a brownstone-style estate in the western section, and an outlier: 52 Arreton Place, an arts-and-crafts-style home dating to 1919. Also known as Rothers Barrows, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently listed for sale at $2,975,000.
The 4.4-acre property was once part of an 117-acre equestrian estate owned by the Herring family. The current owners completed a major interior renovation of the six-bedroom house, but kept the home’s original Moravian tiles and added tile work to other rooms. (For more on the home, see the Echo, November 2016).
For more information, visit www.princetonhistory.org.