Thursday, November 30, 2023
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
One of the curiosities to be found on the newly exposed walls inside Veblen House are these slats.
The return address on the crate's top left is 543 Madison Ave, New York City. We couldn't make out the name, though, until I showed it to Clifford Zink. "Demarest," he said without pause. He also pointed out the tiny "&" symbol after Demarest. "Demarest & Cook?", I ventured, before later settling on "Demarest & Co."
Demarest proved to be J.C. Demarest, later fleshed out to James Cleveland Demarest, president and treasurer of an interior decorating firm. His ads appeared in these 1925-26 issues of Arts and Decorations, alongside articles about anything from bathroom adornments to the latest in literature, music, and art. A sophisticated critique of Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln rubbed shoulders with Demarest's conception for a well appointed dining room.
son and daughter.Views and Maps of Old New York."
Another article in Arts and Decorations featured the home of prominent architect Grosvenor Atterbury, who in 1909 designed sophisticated prefab homes for Forest Hills in Queens. According to wikipedia, "each house was built from approximately 170 standardized precast concrete panels, fabricated off-site and assembled by crane." Whiton-Stuart would have been up on the latest trends in architecture--an engagement that may have led to his experimenting with the prefab construction now fully on display at Veblen House.
Thursday, June 1, 2023
While most of the wallboard in the house was hauled to a landfill as part of the asbestos removal, we were able to save some. Fortuitously, the asbestos had been found not in the wallboard but in the skincoat applied thereon, presumably to make the wallboard look more like plaster. Since no skincoat was applied in closets, we convinced the town to save those sections of the house's "fabric."
And there, between the studs on the back of the wallboard in the vestibule closet, was a label, upside down near the floor.
This quote, believed to come from a book entitled Twentieth Century Building Materials: History and Conservation, serves as a good description:
"Fiberboard is a composite hardboard material made from pressure molded wood fibers. It had early precedents in the late 18th century, but was first manufactured in large quantities in the 1920s, with its use expanding in the 1930s and 40s. Fiberboard (or wallboard, as it is commonly known) was marketed by various companies, such as Masonite. It was used as sheathing for roofing and siding on the exterior, for insulation, and for interior walls."
Another excellent online source comes from the U.S. Forest service, entitled Early 20th-Century Building Materials: Fiberboard and Plywood. It describes what at that time were innovative products just beginning to come into widespread use.
At the bottom of the partially torn label on the Veblen House fiberboard was just enough information to track down the manufacturer, Oswego Board Corp, NY. That name in turn stirred up a few fragments on the internet about that company, which had just formed a few years earlier, with its newly elected president, Floyd L. Carlisle.
Saturday, May 20, 2023
I decided to google J.P.W. Stewart, and got some interesting results. One was a page from a newspaper called the Weekly Journal-Miner, dated Feb. 12, 1913 This dates back to the Whiton-Stuarts' time in Prescott, AZ, when their two kids were young and Jesse left his real estate business in Manhattan to spend his days on a horse, herding cattle in Arizona.
I love newspapers, which used to cause problems back when I'd save them, to read another day. Now that they are digital, the love can be unfettered by matters of storage.
Monday, May 15, 2023
Herrontown Woods has long been home to arrowwood Viburnums--a native shrub--but on Mothers Day we added an "arrow tree," with arrows pointing to some of the significant places associated with the Veblens' lives and legacy. The arrows were beautifully crafted by Girl Scout Troop 71837, and our caretaker Andrew Thornton scavenged the tree post from among the many rot-resistant trunks of red cedars that still linger in the surrounding woods, long since shaded out by larger trees.
Old Fine Hall was the original mathematics building at Princeton University, now called Jones Hall. Oswald Veblen is said to have designed the building, down to the stained glass mathematical equations in the windows.
Valdres is the valley in Norway from which Oswald's grandparents immigrated to the U.S.. Oswald's father wrote a book about that valley and the Norwegians who came from there.
Einstein's house is included because Einstein would come to Herrontown Woods to visit the Veblens. Einstein would not have moved to Princeton without the work and presence of Veblen, who did so much to help European scholars escape Nazi oppression and come to the U.S.
The yellow arrow facing away from the photo says "Iowa City," where Oswald grew up. His father was a professor of physics at the University of Iowa.
The Institute for Advanced Study is included because it was originally going to be located in Newark. Oswald reached out and successfully made the case that it should be located in Princeton, where it could benefit from synergy with the university. Oswald was the IAS's first faculty member, quickly followed by Einstein. Oswald was instrumental in choosing subsequent faculty members, such as John von Neumann. During its first three years, the Institute was located in Old Fine Hall, along with the Princeton University mathematics department.
The next two arrows point towards Veblen Cottage and Veblen House, which the Veblens acquired in 1936 and 1941, respectfully, and later donated for public use. The buildings have long sat empty (disrespectfully), but the Friends of Herrontown Woods is working to renovate them so that they can finally be utilized as the Veblens originally conceived.
The last arrow points towards York, England, where Elizabeth Veblen grew up. She moved to Princeton to help her brother Owen, who had a visiting position in the Princeton University physics department. Owen later was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work. Elizabeth was an avid gardener, and her central role in Princeton social circles is mentioned in the book, A Beautiful Mind.
Thanks to Danielle Rollmann and her girlscout troop for creating these most enjoyable and informative arrows!
Thursday, April 20, 2023
an early form of insulation called Balsam Wool. Unfortunately, that, too, needed to be removed, even though it didn't contain asbestos, due to a risk of contamination from asbestos in the air during the operation.
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
I think that might stand for “ South River Brick Company.” I’m not sure, but it may. There was once a company in South River N J that made enameled bricks. It’s near the town that I come from, Sayreville n j which is known for Brick Manufacturing as well. Bricks from Sayreville are embossed S&F B C. ( Sayre and Fisher Brick Company).
Also in this photo are two square-shaped impressions in the wall, behind which is the chimney. It will be interesting to see what's behind those two squares.
Friday, March 3, 2023
It's been nearly four years since I discovered the old septic tank for Veblen House, some fifty feet east of the house. A combination of the tank's thick concrete lid and a whole bunch of distractions had kept us from following up, until yesterday.
Thursday, February 2, 2023
There are some aspects of my role in adopting Veblen House as a longterm project that border on the uncanny. Coincidence has accumulated as I've researched the people who lived in the house. The Veblen House itself, I realized at some point, has much in common with the house I grew up in.
Oswald Veblen came to Princeton after growing up in the midwest, as did I, and after having lived in a progression of university towns, as did I. His grandparents emigrated from Norway to Wisconsin, where I spent my childhood. His father's father built houses and barns, as did mine. His father was a physicist, mine an astrophysicist. Veblen got his PhD at the University of Chicago, where my father would later spend most of his career. It's likely that Veblen as a boy of 13 saw the 40 inch refracting telescope my father used--the world's largest refracting telescope--on exhibit at the 1893 world's fair in Chicago. I almost went to Carlton College, where Veblen's father and all of his aunts and uncles got degrees. I spent my childhood roaming the expansive grounds of Yerkes Observatory, where brilliant scientists lived on the outskirts of a small town with school colors orange and black, not unlike the circumstances of the Institute for Advanced Study, which Veblen helped to found on the outskirts of Princeton.
As if these coincidences aren't enough, there's also the first owners of what would later be called the Veblen House, Jesse and Mary Whiton-Stuart, who lived their last years in towns I have familial connections to--San Luis-Obispo, CA and Tucson, AZ, the latter being where we'd go as part of my father's work at nearby Kitt Peak Observatory.
And then there's the uncanny coincidence that came to light when I began researching the origins of the house in Ann Arbor where I lived for many years. It was built and lived in by Walter Colby, a nuclear physicist who in many ways played the same role at U. of Michigan that Veblen played in Princeton, bringing brilliant scholars from Europe to raise the level of science and math in the U.S. They had parallel lives, born in the same year, retiring the same year, their legacies largely forgotten and in need of rediscovery. Neither had children, and both played important military roles in World Wars I and II. Both were married to women who also led singular lives, and tended to beautiful gardens.