Saturday, May 26, 2018

Oswald Veblen Featured in the Princeton Alumni Magazine

Note: We're planning a birthday picnic in honor of Veblen's 138th birthday on Sunday, June 24, 2pm. Details upcoming.

Oswald Veblen made the cover of the May 16 Princeton Alumni Weekly, looking confident and ready to change the world. At Herrontown Woods, we know him as the man who with his wife Elizabeth acquired and then donated 100 acres for Princeton's first nature preserve back in 1957. But while Veblen was acquiring and preserving open space in Princeton, he was also saving lives and careers, and in the process helping to make the U.S. ascendent in the world of mathematics. The feature article, written by Elyse Graham of Stonybrook University, tells of his tireless work in the 1930s and 1940s to find positions in the U.S. for European scholars whose careers and lives were imperiled by the Nazi rise.

Graham alludes to Veblen's many other contributions to Princeton and the world--his key roles in designing the extraordinary (Old) Fine Hall for mathematics on campus, bringing the Institute for Advanced Study to Princeton, and supporting the construction of early computers.

This photo was taken in 1936, the same year Veblen acquired the farm cottage at Herrontown Woods to use as his study. That acquisition could be considered the beginning of Princeton's open space movement.

There's been a gradual rediscovery of Veblen's quiet but deep legacy, beginning with the recognition at the 2012 Turing Centennial Celebration of his role in early computer development. George Dyson devoted a chapter to Veblen in his book, Turing's Cathedral, and delivered a talk entitled "The Institute for Advanced Study: the First 100 Years," in which he gave emphasis to the visionary influence not only of Oswald Veblen but also of his economist uncle Thorstein Veblen.

In 2013, the archive room at the IAS had an exhibit about Veblen's legacy,

and in 2017, a History Working Group at the Institute published an article crediting Veblen with overcoming director Flexner's hesitation and making the IAS a sanctuary that would welcome displaced foreign scholars.

An exhibit by the IAS History Working Group was placed in the hallway of Fuld Hall, including Veblen's role in finding a position for the great female mathematician, Emmy Noether.

These are welcome though likely temporary additions to the exhibit at Fuld Hall, which has long offered a simplified narrative that focused on founder and first director, Abraham Flexner.

The cover story in the Princeton Alumni Weekly is the second article written by Elyse Graham about mathematics at Princeton, the first being "Adventures in Fine Hall" back in January, which tells of Veblen's role in designing Old Fine Hall, and also as one of the main architects of "math's golden age."

That article offered an opportunity to write a letter to the magazine, and let Princeton alumni know about our work at Herrontown Woods.

Still more about Veblen's mulitfaceted legacy can be found in a PAW article from 2012 entitled "Before Turing, There Was Veblen, " by Jon R. Edwards.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A New Botanical Garden at Herrontown Woods

The native plants of Princeton will be featured at a new installation next to the Herrontown Woods parking lot. A clearing was created near the parking lot when an old pine grove blew down in storms over the past few years.  Invasive species moved into the gap, but as volunteers with the Friends of Herrontown Woods began removing these over the past year, we gradually realized we had a lovely setting for introducing visitors to Princeton's diverse native flora, and the pollinators so in need of summer wildflowers in this densely forested corridor.

The site's mix of wet and dry, sun and shade will provide the varied habitat needed to support a wide range of native wildflowers, shrubs, grasses, sedges, and rushes. Identification signs are already going up on trees that survived the storms. Most of the downed trees are being left to tell the story of their long lives and the winds and ice storms that finally brought them down. In a way, this is a Phoenix Garden, growing out of the ruins of the pine grove likely originally planted by Dr. Veblen himself.

As more species are planted, some are already blooming, like this bladdernut, a rarely seen shrub whose seeds will be encased in what looks like a green Chinese lantern.

A purple blossom found on the ground turned out to be from one of the few nonnative species being left to grow--a Princess Tree. The tree's early spring flowers attracted the attention of a hummingbird seen perching nearby.

Some seeds planted by pre-schoolers from the Jewish Center have already sprouted. At the end of that workday, we saw a bald eagle soaring by, high overhead, and decided to take it as another good omen.

One of the species given to the kids to plant is rose mallow, Princeton's native hibiscus, which flourishes along the canal and now is taking root in the botanical garden.

Seeds from a native swamp rose were tossed on the bare ground left by an uprooted pine.

Though the site is likely a couple acres, weeding has thus far been manageable, with scattered garlic mustards and the ubiquitous Japanese honeysuckle getting pulled as we plant natives.

The cool, wet spring has helped ease the weeding and sustain the plantings, with additional water coming from a nearby creek or the back of a Prius.

Spring Nature Walk, Saturday, May 12, 2pm

Update: Nature walk is on, though may be shorter due to potential rain later in afternoon. Be ready for some mud here and there.

On Saturday, May 12 at 2pm, the Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) will host a nature walk at Herrontown Woods in Princeton. The walk will include a brief intro to the native botanical garden being created at Herrontown Woods by FOHW volunteers, a walk up through the boulder fields of the Princeton Ridge, and end with refreshments.  Showy orchid and other rarely seen wildflowers of the Princeton ridge should be in full bloom.

The walk will be co-led by botanists John Clark and Steve Hiltner. John L. Clark teaches at the Lawrenceville School, and recently gave a talk at DR Greenway about discovering new species in Equador. Steve Hiltner is a naturalist who writes about nature at, and is president of FOHW. 

Meet at the Herrontown Woods parking lot, off of Snowden Lane, opposite Smoyer Park.