Two-alarm fire leaves Princeton home uninhabitable

Firefighters battled a blaze at a Princeton home in the early morning on Saturday, July 31. No one was injured in the fire that destroyed a garage and cars and left the house at the corner of Armour Road and Campbelton Road just off Stockton Street (Route 206) uninhabitable.

Just after 4:10 a.m., a resident of the home at 1 Armour Road called the Princeton Police Department to report that the family’s garage was on fire. The Princeton Fire and Police departments, along with the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, were dispatched to the address.

When police arrived, they saw that the garage was “fully involved in fire” and the fire was spreading to the house. Ladder 60 requested the full first alarm assignment. Ladder 60 arrived at 4:18 a.m.

The fire reached two alarms. A two-alarm fire means help from other fire departments is needed for a couple more pumpers and ladder trucks. Fire suppression efforts were led by Princeton Assistant Chief Dan Tomalin. Mutual Aid was received from Plainsboro Fire and EMS, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Lawrenceville, Princeton Junction, Montgomery #2, Rocky Hill, East Windsor #1 and West Windsor Emergency Services.

Police blocked off the area for several hours on Saturday as firefighters worked to make sure the fire was contained, assessed the damage, and began an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Princeton Fire Marshal Joseph Novak is leading the fire investigation. The origin and cause of the fire remain under investigation, officials said.

Officials said the occupants of the home are staying with friends.


  1. One Armour Road is one of the lesser known “famous” houses in Princeton. Designed by architect Frannie Comstock for John C. Cooper, Jr., Esq., it was built in 1940, using the pre-Revolution brick from the original Nassau Tavern torn down to make way for Palmer Square. Cooper was the founding corporate attorney for Pan American Airways, for which he acquired the land for both Shannon, Ireland and Orly, France airports. Cooper was a 1909 graduate of Princeton from Jacksonville, FL, who came north to take this new position at the request of his younger brother, Merian C. Cooper, Pan Am board member and Chief of Production for RKO Pictures, writing and producing the original 1933 movie “King Kong.” The house’s tall living room was designed as a double cube in accordance with Baroque music performance spaces as Cooper was a classical music enthusiast who owned the first FM receiver in Princeton, and had an early version of a Hi-Fi system in one end of the living room with a huge wall-mounted 18” speaker. After WW2 Cooper became the legal officer for the newly created International Air Transport Association (IATA), with his office in Princeton, and as such 1 Armour Road hosted the heads of virtually every “western” international airline (Air France, BOAC, Quantas, Air India, Alitalia, Lufthansa, etc,) individually over more than a decade who came to discuss international travel regulations with Cooper. He was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the early 1950s, becoming good friends with permanent Fellow Albert Einstein over their common love of classical music. In the late-1950s Cooper was a faculty member at the McGil University Law School, where he taught his newly created discipline of Air-Space Law for one semester each year. Due to Russia’s launching of Sputnik in October of 1957, Cooper was called by President Eisenhower at 1 Armour Road during Sunday dinner (Sputnik was launched on Friday) to ask whether the United States could shoot Sputnik down when it passed over the U.S. Two days later Cooper delivered an international IATA regulation still in effect today which stated that an object in space which could maintain its orbit was in “International Space” (similar to international waters) and protected by that stature. Princeton University bestowed an Honorary Doctorate upon Cooper in 1959 on the occasion of his 50th Reunion with the citation as “The Father of Air-Space Law.” Cooper was a US Navy WW1 veteran, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves during the war, author of the book “The Right to Fly” which became the authority on his particular legal discipline. He earned his law status by “reading law” in his uncle’s law firm in Jacksonville rather than attending law school making him the first in his class to hang up his “shingle.” The telephone number for 1 Armour Road was issued to Cooper when he came to a Princeton in 1932 renting a house on Bayard Lane, “0162”, this the hundred and sixty-second telephone number issued in the town. In 1963 the house was doubled in size after Cooper’s wife passed away, and his daughter’s family, the Richard W. Bakers on Edgerstoune Road, built the new north wing and garage which were damaged by the fire. The design to match the original house by architect Hans Sanders included analysis of the original brick to discover that the 1760 brick came from the Sayreville, NJ clay pit, and the new brick had custom blended clay colors to match as close as possible the pre-revolutionary brick. Cooper passed away in 1967 with the Baker family finally selling the house in 2003, marking the end of sixty-three years of family occupancy.

  2. Amalia, as is the norm of my family, the house was plain, practical, unassuming, and virtually hidden. The sister of my grandfather’s Princeton Classmate Norman Armour, Barbara Lowrie, had decided to split up the Armour/Lowrie estate which went from the immediate Lowrie House property all the way to Elm Road, encompassing what is now Campbleton, Alison and Armour Roads, in 1940 for tax reasons. She called my grandfather who was living in “the Barracks” on Edgehill Street, asking whether he wanted to buy a parcel of land and build his house. My grandfather John Cobb Cooper went across Stockton Street and after examining the estate picked the apple orchard which was very close to Lowrie House, pacing off and marking what he wanted, which became the corner property of Armour and Campbelton Roads. The rest of the new development was then created around his initial property. My grandfather was a thrifty and conservative man, and found out that the “used” brick from the original Nassau Tavern was less expensive by a great deal than new brick, thus purchased that lot to build the outer walls of the house. As I wrote originally, into that house would come world leaders in aviation, and his Academy Award-winning younger brother many times (once with Director John Ford, his partner in National Pictures), some heads of state, but I do not know exactly who, and a myriad of others, including Albert Einstein. He was a Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, his wife Martha also at Smith(unusual for the early 1900s), his eldest daughter Rachel (Vassar junior year), my mother, and his second daughter and future Poet Laureate for New York State Jane M. Cooper. His middle child, son John C Cooper III, left Princeton in 1942 to become an officer in the Army Air Corps, and was a navigator on a B-17 in the Eighth AF out of England, serving 30+ missions, coming home to finish his education at Columbia and Columbia Law becoming a lawyer. His son-in-law, my father Richard W. Baker, Jr., was also PBK junior year at Yale, and after our family moved into 1 Armour Road, his son, R.W. Baker, III, also was PBK junior year at Yale, and attended Princeton for graduate school at the School for Foreign Affairs, then becoming a career Foreign Service Officer at the State Department. The eldest Baker child, Eileen, graduated from Vassar than to Oxford University, Somerville College for a master’s degree, married a Lord and thus became a titled lady, and in the 70s becoming the staff administrator for a member of Parliament who ultimately became the Deputy Prince Minister of England under John Majors in the 90s, with my sister becoming his Chief of Staff, and being made an Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.) under the 1999 Honors List when John Majors resigned his office. This unassuming house has had much history attached to it. I sincerely hope the current owners, wonderful people, are able to salvage the house and rebuild where necessary.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear of the damage to this historic home and more importantly, the trauma suffered by this lovely family.
    Hans Sander, the designer of the ill-fated addition, was a partner of the Nassau Street architectural firm of Walker, Sander, Ford, and Kerr (“WSF&K”). I knew him as not only a distinguished designer, but as a dedicated volunteer to the underserved neighborhoods of Trenton, via the Trenton Design Center (“TDC”).
    I worked with Hans, first as a draftsperson at WSF&K one summer at the age of 13, and then the following year when I was the special assistant to the executive director of the TDC. He and his Princeton brethren convinced me to study architecture and planning in one of the first classes of women at Princeton University.
    The current owner is an architect that I know well and have worked with on several community projects. I trust that he will restore and recreate the home respecting its history, yet extending it into a bright future.

  4. Yina, thank you so much for this added information. I have not met the current owners but my brother met them at the house years ago once their own remodeling was complete, and took to them instantly. I was given their phone number to call and arrange a new “tour” but we could not find a weekend which was convenient to both early on as my self-employment involves mostly weekends and I did not call after the first couple of times. I am so very pleased to hear he is an architect, and therefore I am now better convinced that restoration will be a possibility. Again, thank you so much for this info. As both my older brother and I worked for the Bregenzer Brothers of Hopewell over the summer of 1963 building the new wing, we saw and spoke to Hans frequently, who was a wonderful man. Did not know of his history, but knew that he took such care about the fact that the newly remodeled house would be a comfortable three-generation house serving all three extremely different generations, me playing rock and roll back in the “kids’ living room, my grandfather (to whom I owe my current career’s focus) listening to classical music upstairs in his study and watching the occasional baseball game on a B&W TV, and my parents in the main large living room (the “double cube”) watching TV of no particular account but mostly the NBC network on a Sony Trinitron color TV. We all gathered for dinner every night in the dining room looking across the lawn at Armour Road. Hans design was both exquisite and perfect. Thank you again.

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