Monday, January 14, 2013

Historic Structures at the Veblen Site

This post contains an informal inventory of the structures the Veblens donated to Mercer County, to be used to complement the 95 acres of open space they also donated, known as Herrontown Woods. The structures have been empty for many years, but the roofs have protected the interiors to some extent.

The Veblen farmstead is really two separate sites next to each other. What is known as the cottage, acquired by the Veblens in 1936, is actually a farmhouse dating back to the 1870s. On a map of the microfarms in the Herrontown area of eastern Princeton, it is labeled as the Dauer farm. Local legend has it that Einstein once lived here. More likely is that he was a frequent visitor back when Veblen used the cottage as a study. There's also a story, told to me by a woman whose ancestors rented the cottage back in the 1930s, that her great grandmother would occasionally see Einstein strolling by, and invite him in for a sandwich.

A small barn still stands near the cottage, kept in decent shape by the tin roof.
Next to the barn is a small corn crib, which in this photo looms much larger than it is.
Here, in three photos from the 1950s, one can see how the two homesteads connected. Heading from the cottage down a short path through the woods, following along one of the many stone fences left from the farming era,

one would have encountered these intriguing structures standing next to the Veblen House. On the left is a hay barrack, a structure whose design may have originated in Holland and spread to other parts of Europe. The roof is designed to rise and fall on the four corner posts, to accommodate hay as it was stacked. You can see how the four corner posts extend up through the roof, which slides up and down on them. Very few remain in the U.S., and this one was torn down by the county in 2008 or so.

The metal structure on the right is a dove cote, meant to house pigeons. Whether the pigeons were for eating--a delicacy--or for carrier pigeons is unclear. I've heard that the dove cote was likely installed not by the Veblens but by the previous owner. A recent article describes the historic and possible future uses of carrier pigeons in the French army. It would be interesting to know if the Veblens used the dovecote, and if the past use of carrier pigeons in the military might have given it special meaning for Oswald, who used his mathematics and leadership skills to improve the U.S. military's ballistics during the two world wars.

Just behind where the hay barrack stood, shown here in another photo from the 1950s,  is a circular wall, about 50 feet across, built of large stones. (Beyond the circle is where a barn once stood.)

The stone wall must have been well built, given that it has kept its form all these decades, though now grown over by Elizabeth Veblen's still-thriving wisteria vine. There are two openings into it, at roughly "one and three o'clock", if the circle were a timepiece.
An internet search yielded something called a "sheepfold", which is described as one of the oldest types of livestock structures. According to an entry in Wikipedia, "In British Engish, a sheep pen is also called a folding, sheepfold, or sheepcote." My understanding is that the Veblens built it. Elizabeth may have used it for growing a garden.

This 1950s photo shows another circle of stones, unstacked, which I've been told is a funerary circle where the Veblens' ashes may have been placed. The Veblen House is in the background.
Thanks to the above photo, I was recently able to find the circle amidst dense invasive shrubs.
Also hard to reach through all the fallen trees and dense undergrowth are a couple wells, with water still visible in the bottom, located south of the house.

Continuing the theme of stone circles, the Veblen House, too, was surrounded by an oval of stone, reminiscent of an Ark. The 1950s photo shows the southern end of this oval.
The Veblens had quince trees planted around the house, and this photo from the 1950s may show one of them in bloom. The redbud behind it still stands.

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