By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
On Quaker Road, a little past the Princeton Friends School, the Historical Society of Princeton is open for business in a part of town where the Stony Brook runs along the two-lane road in a place so quiet that passing cars make the loudest noise.
Inside a renovated farmhouse at Updike Farm, the organization looks to begin anew telling the story and history of the community. The Historical Society late last year relocated to what once had been a working, family-owned farm, a move some 12 years in the making.
In December, the Historical Society left Bainbridge House, its home on Nassau Street since 1967. The farmhouse, an older structure that dates to the 1700s, today holds the Society’s museum and administrative office.
“It’s newly renovated, it has all the comforts of modern construction. But believe it or not, it’s 18th century in some parts,” said Izzy Kasdin, the curator of collections and exhibitions for the organization.
In some ways, moving here was a way for the Historical Society to return to the roots of the community. The property and surrounding area originally were owned by Benjamin Clarke, part of the early group of Quaker settlers who came here in colonial times. According to the Historical Society, he had acquired the land from William Penn in 1696.
“This is really where Princeton started down here,” said Eve Mandel, director of programs and visitor services. “You weren’t from Princeton, you were from the village of Stony Brook.”
During the Revolutionary War, forces under George Washington passed through the area on the way to where fighting took place during the battle of Princeton in January 1777. The conflict, won by the Americans, was seen as a turning point of the war for independence.
Updike Farm, a much larger parcel at one time, had been in the Updike family for parts of three centuries beginning in the late 1800s. There are remnants of that agrarian past on the grounds: a windmill, farm buildings, including an old barn that will be turned into an event space.
The Society acquired the property in 2004, with the organization looking to eventually relocate there at some point. Restoration was extensive, with renovations starting in 2009 and the property opening to the public two years later. In more recent years, the organization has been able to have events and functions there, even as the museum and office remained on Nassau Street.
In having a place to do business in the 21st century, the Society left touches of the house from an older time. The cooking hearth, in what used to be the family kitchen, is from the 1700s, while the stove is from the 1800s.
“If you look at the size of that fireplace, that’s not just your decorative little living room fireplace,” Ms. Kasdin said. “I think the great thing about the way that this kitchen has been restored is that you can see the evolution of the building becoming useful in different time periods.”
“It’s really a signature of the room and the building,” Ms. Mandel said.
The Society made an addition to the house to have a handicapped accessible entrance, bathrooms and a kitchen space that could be used when rental events are taking place. “So I think having this space right here alone makes a huge difference compared to Bainbridge House, Ms. Mandel said.
The relocation gives the Society more room, she said. The property spans six acres, allowing the organization to do “so many more different types of activities and reach a wider audience.”
“We can do so much more out here,” she said. “This is a space that we own and can grow into.”
The Historical Society is on 354 Quaker Road, and can be contacted by at 609-921-6748 and on the web at www.princetonhistory.org.
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer