Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stone Hill Church Volunteers Clear Old Barn Site

One of Herrontown Woods' neighbors is Stone Hill Church. Back when they were located on Westerly Road, their kids helped me periodically with habitat restoration at Mountain Lakes. Now that they've moved up to the ridge in northeastern Princeton, they've started helping in Herrontown Woods. Last year the Friends of Herrontown Woods helped them build a spur trail from the church into the preserve. Their trail is graced this time of year by spring wildflowers--trout lilies, wood anemone and rue anemone--with the fiddleheads of ferns just beginning to emerge.

This past weekend, I led thirty kids on an expedition from the church into the woods and over to the Veblen House to clear some invasives.

 On the way, we visited the cliff, then passed by the 19th century Veblen farmstead, then through the gate over to the Veblen House. This is the first year we could actually see the daffodils in front of the barn, after Sally Curtis cleared all the multiflora rose that had kept them hidden.

The goal for the kids was to clear privet and multiflora rose from the footprint of a larger barn that used to stand next to the circular horse run. The premise here is that if people can actually see the features around the Veblen House--the horse run, the remnants of the English garden Elizabeth Veblen tended, the barn footprint--it will be easier to appreciate the history and potential of the site. There's a curious story that a public employee used to sleep in the barn. After the barn burned down in the 1950s, they found a metal box containing his paychecks, which he apparently never cashed. That would have been an interesting lifestyle.

One of the more rewarding aspects of working with youth on invasive shrub removal is that they learn to work together. One will use a garden rake to push the thorny branches of a rose bush out of the way so another can duck under with loppers and cut the stems near the ground. Another then drags the branches off to the edge of the worksite. The roses grow in a very gangly way, so everyone has to be alert and aware of each other, to avoid getting accidentally pricked by a thorn. The aim is to get back to a more gentle nature--the expanse of ferns and wildflowers they saw next to their church, or the garden that once embellished the Veblen House.

One of the teenagers climbed a dogwood tree to liberate it from the clutches of a wisteria vine. The vine had originally been planted for a trellis next to the house. No doubt it was lovely, and fragrant, but when the house was boarded up, the wisteria undertook a kudzu-like expansion into the nearby woods.

Everyone approached the challenge of invasives removal in a different way. These girls used a bucket brigade method to transfer cut multiflora rose to a pile.

After several hours, and with half the barn's footprint now visible, the kids headed back through the woods to the church.

Thanks to everyone at Stone Hill Church for lending a hand at the Veblen House!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Veblen House History and Raingarden Tutorial at Updike Farmstead on April 4th

The Friends of Herrontown Woods and the Historical Society of Princeton are teaming up to present an indoor/outdoor program this Saturday, April 4, at the HSP home base: Updike Farm on Quaker Bridge Road. Come learn about the latest research on the Veblen House's history, the ongoing adventures of restoring Herrontown Woods over the past few years, and the logic of raingardens. And you can check out the Updike Farm, where renovation of the big barn is underway.

Here's the press release:

The themes of history and nature are featured in the special events offered at the Historical Society of Princeton’s April 4th Community Day at Updike Farmstead. Steve Hiltner, local naturalist, musician, writer and editor of the blog, Princeton Nature Notes, will lead three different programs to educate and inspire visitors.

At 1:00 PM -- Siting a Raingarden in Your Yard -- Raingardens are a popular, creek-friendly and attractive way to create habitat while filtering runoff from your house. Join a tour around the Updike farmhouse as Steve Hiltner discusses factors to consider when deciding where best to put a raingarden in your yard. Downspouts, sump pumps, air conditioners -- all will be discussed as potential sources of water to sustain a wildflower garden through droughts.

At 2:00 PM -- Preserving Oswald Veblen's Historic House and Legacy -- Oswald Veblen was a famous mathematician and visionary who was instrumental in bringing Einstein and the Institute for Advanced Study to Princeton. A "woodchopping professor,” he loved the woods, and founded Princeton's open space movement in 1957 by donating 100 acres for Herrontown Woods, Princeton's first nature preserve. He and his wife also donated their home and farmstead for a public purpose. A new nonprofit, the Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW), is seeking to acquire and restore this unique, historic house, and realize Veblen's vision. FOHW's president and co-founder, Steve Hiltner, will talk about the passion, sweat-equity and serendipity that has made the restoration of Veblen's Herrontown Woods such a rewarding experience.

At 3:00 PM -- Tree and Wildflower Walk --Learn about plants on this informal walk around the Updike Farmstead grounds to learn about the stately trees and plants growing along the fence lines of the property, including the giant red mulberry tree that bears delicious berries in June.

All programs are included with $4 museum admission. Updike Farmstead is located at 354 Quaker Road, Princeton. For questions, contact Eve Mandel, Director of Programs and Visitor Services, at (609) 921-6748 x102 or eve@princetonhistory.org.

ABOUT THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF PRINCETON – Founded in 1938, The Historical Society of Princeton (HSP) is a museum and research center dedicated to interpreting the history of Princeton, New Jersey. Home to a vast collection of artifacts, manuscripts and photographs, HSP offers a wide array of exhibitions, lectures and public programs each year to schools, adults and families at its two locations, Bainbridge House and the Updike Farmstead. Visit us at www.princetonhistory.org.