Plainsboro will celebrate its 100th birthday this Founders Day on Sunday, May 5, with the reopening and rededication of the historic Wicoff House on the municipal site.
The house, which will be used as a museum of township history, was the subject of a recently completed $1 million dollar renovation.
Founder’s Day is the annual celebration—now in it’s 40th year—of the incorporation of the township on May 6, 1919.
This year’s festivities start at 12:30 p.m. with a parade from Edgemere Avenue to the municipal complex on Plainsboro Road. The celebration is set to end at 4:30 p.m.
The event features amusement rides, inflatables, crafts, food and music.
The Wicoff House ceremony, which is set to start at about 1 p.m., is one of the centerpieces of the township’s year-long centennial celebration in 2019.
Officials expected to be in attendance include Gov. Phil Murphy, U.S. Senator Bonnie Watson Coleman an state Senator Linda Greenstein (a Plainsboro resident) and county and township officials.
The house was built by the Wicoff family in the late 1870s and was eventually purchased by the township about a 100 years later.
Mayor Peter Cantu, who will speak at the reopening, was involved in the negotiations to purchase the house and surrounding 18.5 acres of land in 1977.
“We were able to buy the property at a very, very resonable price,” he said. “I think it was for something in the $300,000s, which was a hell of a deal.”
The property was purchased from a developer who had been sold the property by the Wicoff family.
“When we bought the house, the Wicoff family was very excited about seeing it preserved and they paid for some renovations,” Cantu said. “It was painted and a few other things were done.”
The township used the house as its municipal administration building from 1979 until 1995, when the current town hall was built. After that, the Plainsboro Historical Society used the building as a museum for a short time. The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
“God bless them, they were nice people (the Historical Society), but they thought everything was historical and they crammed the place with every imaginable thing,” Cantu said. “And the operation was not terribly well run, in my opinion.”
Ultimately the Historical Society disbanded and the township assumed control of the building and decided to make much-needed repairs and updates to the facility and reopen the museum.
The township obtained about $750,000 in grant money from the state and the county to restore the building. Including the township’s contribution, the cost of the renovations was about $1 million, Cantu said.
The township also hired a consulting firm to evaluate the collection that the Historical Society had amassed and determined which of the items were important to the township’s history and worth keeping.
“In addition, there was an architectural firm hired as part of the renovation project and everything there is first class now,” Cantu said.
According to Township Administrator Anthony Cancro, who oversaw the project, the renovations included installation of a new HVAC system and electrical wiring. All the rooms were painted and the wood floors were restored.
Display cases have been installed in a number of the rooms in the house’s first floor to showcase historical items and works by local artists adorns the walls. Two of the rooms on the first floor are planned to be used as classrooms, Cancro said.
The township has hired a part-time museum specialist, Kate Nolan, to help manage the collection and the facility. Cancro said there were a number of applicants seeking the position, and that Nolan was hired from a list of four highly-qualified finalists.
The township is exploring the possibility of renting out the building’s second floor as an commercial office to help defray the cost of running the facility.
“I would think its idea for a nonprofit, small accounting firm or something like that,” Cantu said. “I think we’re focused on a small business without a lot of foot traffic.”
The building will also feature a large graphic designed as part of the township’s centennial to be permanently installed on one of the first-floor walls. The graphic traces the township’s history in both words and pictures, Cantu said.