The Veblens left behind two buildings of particular significance for public use: the 1920s Veblen House and an 1875 farm cottage that includes a small barn and corncrib. They are located on a lovely wooded site in northeastern Princeton, NJ, on the edge of several hundred acres of preserved open space along the Princeton Ridge. 100 acres of this extraordinary forested corridor were donated by the Veblens to create Princeton's first nature preserve, Herrontown Woods.
In close proximity, the house and farm cottage bring together histories that extend from great wealth to hardscrabble farming.
An early prefab, the House was moved from Morristown to Princeton in the early 1930s by a very wealthy Manhattan couple, Jesse Paulmier Whiton-Stuart and Mary Marshall Ogden. Jesse's ancestors made their fortunes in railroads and banking. Mary's ancestry extends back to Chief Justice John Marshall and the 17th century pilgrim John Ogden. They sold the house in 1941 to the Veblens, who had already acquired 80 acres including the nearby farm cottage.
Like Whiton-Stuart, who was both an avid outdoorsman and an aristocrat, the Veblens maintained a down-to-earth sensibility while traveling in elite academic circles. Oswald Veblen and Einstein were the first faculty members appointed to the Institute for Advanced Study, yet Veblen was also drawn to nature, and said he did his best thinking while chopping wood. Elizabeth's brother and brother-in-law won Nobel Prizes.
After Elizabeth Veblen's death in 1974, the house was donated to Mercer County with the expressed desire that it become a nature museum and library. The county then rented it out to local arborist Bob Wells and his family until 1998, at which point it was boarded up.
European elements such as the ornate balcony speak to the strong links both the Whiton-Stuarts and the Veblens had to Europe.
Near the house were a hay barrack and a so-called dove cote, which was meant to house pigeons. I've heard that the dove cote was likely installed by Whiton-Stuart, who was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. The "hay barrack", serving as a woodshed in the background, was a European design typically used to store excess hay after the barn was filled. Its four corner posts allow the roof to be raised to accommodate more hay. There are only a few such structures remaining in New Jersey. Though this hay barrack was torn down by the county in 2008, the goal is to rebuild it on-site.
The living room, with chestnut paneling, was a lovely green color enhanced by light streaming in the large, semi-circular windows. Einstein and others of considerable fame frequently visited the Veblens. The painting was one of two the Veblens owned by Charles Oppenheimer, a British painter. Many of the Veblens' furnishings evoked the 1920s.
Even the garage looks attractive in this 1950s photo, ornamented by azaleas, mayapples and other spring flowers.
Born in York, England, Elizabeth Veblen brought to Princeton a love of English gardening. She hosted meetings of a local garden club, members of which continued to care for the grounds even after she died.
Elizabeth particularly loved daffodils, which she would propagate and plant in circular clumps in the field. This field east of the house borders a five acre privately owned pasture where two head of cattle grazed each summer until recently. Most of the pasture has been preserved as a new addition to Herrontown Woods.
Max Latterman was the Veblens' faithful groundskeeper, continuing to work there even after they had died. He appears in this photo to be as enthusiastic a wood splitter as Oswald Veblen was reputed to be.
In 2001, a local architectural firm determined that the "Veblen House and Cottage are eligible for listing as an historic district, for their association with the nationally significant mathematician and scholar Oswald Veblen." That listing was not made, but attests to the historical importance of the buildings.