Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Letter About the Veblen House in Princeton Packet

Tying in to the Pi Day celebrations in Princeton this past weekend, I sent a letter to the Princeton Packet about a close associate of Einstein and his still-standing home and cottage in Herrontown Woods:

"As Princeton celebrates Einstein's birthday with various permutations of pi(e), both edible and mathematical, it's worth remembering a close associate of Einstein's, Oswald Veblen, who can be found standing alongside Einstein on the cover of the new book, the Institute for Advanced Study. As a mathematician who joined the Princeton University's faculty in 1905, Veblen was a visionary who had much to do with bringing the Institute, and Einstein, to Princeton. He largely designed the original Fine Hall, where Einstein first had an office. A "woodchopping" professor who loved the woods, Veblen and his wife Elizabeth later donated nearly 100 acres of farmstead and forest for preservation in eastern Princeton--what is now known as Herrontown Woods.
Though Einstein's Princeton home is a private residence, the Veblen house and cottage at the edge of Herrontown Woods are publicly owned and have long awaited a public purpose. Einstein and other great intellectuals were frequent visitors there. Given the condition of the buildings, this year will likely determine their fate. A case can be made, given the extraordinary contributions the Veblens made to the Princeton community, that we owe to them and to ourselves a better fate than to see their historic farmstead torn down. 
The farmstead has several things going for it, including its central location along an extraordinary corridor of greenspace extending from the Princeton Ridge at Bunn Drive down to River Road. Just as the Veblen legacy brings together a love of intellect, nature and physical work, the farmstead itself stands at the border between preserved woodland and the tradition of microfarming once common in eastern Princeton. Surely we can wed these enduring themes to more recent movements of sustainability, biodiversity and local food, and put the farmstead to creative reuse.
More information about the Veblens and ideas for the long-slumbering house and cottage can be found at

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