Planet Princeton

Historic Preservation Commission Recommends Creation of Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District

The Princeton Historic Preservation Commission voted Monday night to endorse the creation of a historic district in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, the first African-American neighborhood in New Jersey.

Now a proposed historic district ordinance will go to the governing body for the municipality of Princeton and the Princeton Planning Board.

The proposed historic district ordinance was amended by the commission Monday to exclude the Terra Momo Bread Company at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place. The property was removed from the proposed district because of its location. The property is not located next to any other properties in the proposed district or any historic buildings.

A consultant studied the Witherspoon-Jackson area last summer and fall and recommended in November that the neighborhood be designated a historic district.  The consultant recommended that the historic preservation commission understand the complexities of the architecture within the district and be flexible when considering changes to buildings and demolitions, and that the municipality develop visual design guidelines based on individual architecture and streetscapes.

The consultant surveyed 395 properties. Four properties, including community landmarks and buildings that are considered excellent examples of a particular architectural style, are considered key contributing properties for the historic district designation. The four properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are eligible for the National Register, or are resources that the consultant believes may be eligible for the National Register. The four are the Paul Robeson House, the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, the Witherspoon School, and Dorothea’s House.

About 71 percent of the properties are considered contributing properties for the historic district designation. Contributing properties contain buildings, structures, or sites that are more than 50 years old and retain their integrity. Contributing buildings do not appear to be individually eligible for the National Register, but contribute to the overall setting and significance of the historic district.

Nineteen percent of the properties are considered noncontributing properties. Noncontributing properties are buildings constructed within the past 45 years, and buildings that have been enlarged or altered within the past 45 years to such an extent that they no longer exhibit the historic appearance of other buildings in the neighborhood.

The council can then reject the commission’s recommendation or adopt an ordinance creating the district. The ordinance would be introduced early next year if the council decides to move forward with the historic district.

The boundaries originally proposed for the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district. The Terra Momo Bread Co. (far right lower corner) has been removed from the proposed district.
The boundaries originally proposed for the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district. The Terra Momo Bread Co. (far right lower corner) has been removed from the proposed district.

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.

  • princetonresident

    What is the difference between the black and blue lines? I know, one is black, the other is blue …

  • Jim Jenson

    Well written. But that’s what Historic Commissions do.
    They couldn’t care less about the live-ability or property rights of owners.
    .
    Preserve the telegraph wires and the stables on Jackson St. for their historical value!

  • SFB

    I’m disappointed but not surprised that the Commission has pushed on with this. The only hope is that Council sees sense and puts limits on this audacious and over-ambitious plan. The modest, balanced step would be to apply historic designation to the Robeson House, churches, and African-American cemetery. It would be radical and regressive to place cost-generative restrictions on hundreds of homes in the only neighborhood in Princeton that has significant numbers of low- and middle-income households.

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