Saturday, May 20, 2023
Clues on the Walls of Veblen House
More Vignettes from the Whiton-Stuarts' Days in Prescott, AZ
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.
The page's politics section also includes mention of George Babbitt, who was likely one of the ancestors of former presidential candidate and environmentalist Bruce Babbitt.
Monday, May 15, 2023
Arrows Point to Veblen History
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
Asbestos Removed From Veblen House
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
This Old Brick--What Do the Initials Mean?
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
Inside a Very Old Septic Tank at Veblen House
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
Historical Research Can Uncover Uncanny Coincidence
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.
Saturday, January 28, 2023
The Emanns and Einstein at the Cottage
Claire Emann, 82, of Longwood, Fla., formerly of Princeton, died December 19 in a nursing home in Longwood Born in Trenton, she lived in Princeton most of her life before moving to Longwood 10 years ago. She was employed by Educational Testing Service, retiring as a supervisor after 20 years of service. Wife of the late Harry Emann, she is survived by three sons. William of Kingston, Walter of Princeton and John Emann of Flemington; two daughters. Ruth Rowley of Longwood, Fla , and Marion Martin of Orlando. Fla.; 19 grandchildren and 17 greatgrandchildren.The Historical Society of Princeton's staff did some helpful research, finding the Emanns living (apparently renting) on Herrontown Road in 1936. We had hoped a historical address would be found, but the address was "RD" for Rural Delivery.
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Found: Original Plant Inventory of Herrontown Woods
Occasionally, artifacts from the early days of Herrontown Woods come to light.Rogers Bird Room, contacted me last month:
I was at the University yesterday and came across two small metal boxes filled with index cards. They had “Herrontown woods” printed on the side and contained index cards listing plants alphabetically by Latin names.
I don’t know when they were made or who made them. If you would like them, please let me know."
She continued: "They were stored in an Eno Hall basement room known as "The Bird Room." They came to light when the Bird Collection was moved from Eno to Green Hall. They were probably in a niche along with other historical items (such as bird journals from W.E.D. Scott) and were put there when the collection was moved from Guyot to Eno. I think that was in the '70's." - Betty
The index cards must have been the official inventory that was then transferred to the book. How they ended up at Princeton University's Eno Hall is not clear.
Thanks to Betty for giving us this artifact from Herrontown Woods' early days.