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Town of Princeton Wins State Historic Preservation Award for Mountain Lake Dam Project

Princeton Ice Company Artifacts, Mt. Lake Preserve, Photo: C.W. Zink.
Princeton Ice Company artifacts, Mt. Lake Preserve, Photo: C.W. Zink.

Princeton has won a 2013 Historic Preservation Award from the State of New Jersey Historic Preservation Office for the rehabilitation of the Mountain Lake dams. The award will be presented at a ceremony May 16 in Flemington.

The project team for the 2010-12 project included resident and historian Clifford Zink of CW Zink & Associates, Jim Lee of Hunter Research, Glenn Goebel of Compass Construction, William Pyontak of French and Parrello, and Bob Kiser, town engineer.

The rehabilitation of the historic ice pond dams at the Princeton Ice Company Historic District at Mountain Lakes Preserve involved a balancing of a complicated mix of historic preservation, conservation, dam safety, environmental, and engineering requirements, and the challenging coordination of the oversight of various government agencies.

The owner of a stone quarry and an ice harvesting company created the seven-acre Mountain Lake in 1884 to produce ice for Princeton homes and businesses. He built a lower dam of earth from the pond excavation along with a spillway, a drainage basin, retaining walls, and culverts all made of argillite stone from his quarry.

In 1902, he built an upper dam of stone and concrete to control sedimentation in the lake. The ice harvesting facility included a steam powered ice elevator for loading ice cakes into three ice houses, and it operated into the 1920s, when refrigeration came into use and the ice houses and elevator were demolished.

Princeton Township acquired the 80-acre property in 1987 with the support of a Green Acres grant and private funding from the Friends of Princeton Open Space and other private sources. The Nature Conservancy acquired an easement on the Mountain Lakes Preserve to protect the lake and the surrounding woods from development  in perpetuity.

Over the decades, much of the lake had silted in and the dams and other original features had deteriorated to the extent that both dams were in danger of failure. As the first step in planning the site’s rehabilitation, the Township’s Historic Preservation Officer, ChristineLewandoski, and the Historic Preservation Commission contracted with Hunter Research Inc. in 1990 to assess the site’s historic significance. Hunter Research reported that the property was eligible for the National Register as a rural industrial site.

In 2004, Lewandoski secured an historic site management grant from the state to start preliminary engineering of the dams rehabilitation and engage a preservation consultant. Bob Kiser then assembled a project team, and assistant engineer Deanna Stockton managed the project.

Princeton historian Wanda Gunning researched the history of the property, which was then nominated it to the State and National Registers and the Mountain Lakes Preserve Rural Historic District. It was listed on both the state and national registers in 2007.

During 2010-2012 rehabilitation of the dams, historic features and archaeologically sensitive areas had to be protected. All excavation work had to be monitored for the discovery of archaeological remains, and stones from the original construction that had washed downstream had to be retrieved for use in the rehabilitation.

Stone masonry work, which included extensive reconstruction, replication and rehabilitation, was monitored throughout the construction for historically appropriate stone laying, and mortar color and finishing. Historic masonry and concrete features discovered during construction were replicated in the work, including masonry. The archaeological monitoring uncovered and recorded portions of the original ice wall and building foundations, several well preserved ice tools including an ice plow and guides for marking and scoring ice, and a intact lower portion of the circa 1906 ice elevator apron. The project team preserved the ice plow and other ice harvesting tools for future display on site.

The rehabilitation project cost approximately $3 million. A donor whose wishes to remain private gave the $3 million to the town to cover the cost of the project.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Dan Preston

    It really is a beautiful restoration, adding to the already wonderful Mountain Lakes experience. Everyone involved deserves applause for an excellent job, sensitive to history and the environment.

  • Pat Palmer

    Well done, Krystal!

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