Friday, October 26, 2012

More Evidence That Veblens and County Envisioned a Museum

Further evidence has come to light that the original vision for Herrontown Woods was to include preservation and utilization of the house and cottage the Veblens donated with their land. In an article (or here) published July 26, 1957 in the New York Times, which reports on the Veblens' donation of 81 acres to the county, the Mercer County director of parks and rec, Richard J. Coffee, says of the new arboretum: "Eventually, we envision a nature museum, a system of trails through wooded areas, with trees and other plants labelled." He said that the county hoped to provide lectures and opportunities for nature study.

Elizabeth Veblen states in the article, "There is nowhere around here that you can get away from cars and just go walk and sit." "Princeton when we came here in 1905 was a lovely village." She explained that the donation was made "in hope that a little bit of this outdoor atmosphere can be preserved." The Veblens' donation was valued at the time at $154,000.

I should think the Veblens, if they were able to return to see how things are going, would be delighted at how open space advocates have preserved hundreds of additional acres east and west of Herrontown Woods, but would also be wondering when the buildings are going to be fixed up and put to use.

Veblen House and the Princeton Ridge Corridor

This map shows the corridor of greenspace that extends east and west from the Veblen House site. Part of the proposal for restoring the house and cottage, recently submitted to the county for consideration, is to take advantage of this strategic location to provide a destination that could help draw people to this extraordinary greenspace corridor along the Princeton ridge.

What the Veblens began, by donating 81 acres for Herrontown Woods in 1957 and 14 additional acres in 1974, has been expanded on by conservation organizations, including recent acquisition of three of the parcels listed below.

78 acres: Autumn Hill Reservation
142 acres: Herrontown Woods
14 acres: Ricciardi Tract
35 acres: All Saints Church tract
17 acres: former Lowe property, donated by J. Robert Hillier

286 acres total, which then extend into the SOC and Gulick tracts, in turn connected to the long DR Canal State Park corridor.

Andrew Appel on Veblen's Role in Early Computers

A friend at Princeton University's Keller Center pointed me to a talk by Princeton computer science professor, Andrew Appel, with reference to old Fine Hall and Oswald Veblen. The talk is entitled "Turing, Godel and Church at Princeton in the 1930s". The references to Veblen occur about eight minutes in, at 8:30 and 9:30 respectively in the video.

The Keller Center, by the way, has as its mission to "Educate leaders for a technology-driven society." Its archived videos start with a snappy little musical number I composed and recorded on sax and piano--my thirteen seconds of fame.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Veblens' Desire for a Library and Museum

While the Veblen House has been sitting boarded up since 2000, there has been debate about what the Veblens' intentions for the house had been, having bequeathed it to Mercer County after Elizabeth's death in 1974. I had heard that they had wanted it to be used as a nature center, but there was nothing in writing to prove it.

Finally we had the brilliant idea of looking in the Veblen papers at the Institute archives, where we found their wills. Both the 1960 will of Oswald and the 1974 will of Elizabeth's contain the following language:

"I give and bequeath all of my pictures, radio receivers and phonograph records to the said County, to be kept by it in the house herein devised as a part of the proposed library and museum of Herrontown Woods."