Wednesday, September 28, 2022

FOHW Hosts Its First Nighttime Concert at Herrontown Woods

History was made at Veblen House on Thursday, September 22, as the Friends of Herrontown Woods hosted our first evening concert. 

String lights were bought, the driveway, front walk, and trails leading to Veblen House were improved, and word was sent to local media as we prepared to host the Chivalrous Crickets, an inventive Celtic-based band with glorious voices and a mix of modern and vintage instruments.

There was considerable suspense as a storm passed through Princeton earlier in the day, early enough as it turned out to make the performance a go. Luminaries were placed along the path up from the overflow parking at the main lot. Our assortment of adopted chairs was dried off, the new lights turned on.

The result was a magical evening for all involved. We learned of the Crickets when two of its band members moved into a house across the street from one of our supporters in Princeton Junction. Encouraged by their new neighbor, Shefali, they visited us at Herrontown Woods and the idea of a performance was hatched. Thanks goes in particular to board member Nicole Bergman, who guided the event to fruition. 

The Chivalrous Crickets are spread across several states, and it just so happens that the one date they were available happened to be when I, as president of FOHW, was out of town. 

While the Crickets were bringing British and American folk music to Herrontown Woods, I was bringing American music to England, touring with a latin/jazz band called the Lunar Octet. The photo is from our performance in Kent.

While traveling in England, where Elizabeth Veblen was born and where the Veblens were married back in 1908, I met with the grandson of Elizabeth's brother Owen, who won the Nobel Prize in physics long ago. The grandson expressed great enthusiasm for our work at Herrontown Woods. This added to the thrill when news came, while driving up to Scarborough to perform in a jazz festival, that the first evening music concert at Veblen House had been a great success.

Thanks to the Chivalrous Crickets, to the FOHW board, and to all who came, for making history and magic next to Veblen House.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Accomplishments in 2021

It's some indication of how busy we've been in 2022 that a compilation of achievements in the year prior isn't getting posted until September. Our battle cry is "Incrementalism!" Listing accomplishments is one way to see how far you can get through persistent effort.

  • FOHW volunteers continue to care for 220 acres of public land at Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation, removing downed trees and adding stones and boardwalks. Lots of help from arborist Victorino Pineda.
  • A beautiful new map of Herrontown Woods trails, thanks to graphic artist Alison Carver, who also developed maps of the Barden and Veblen House grounds.
  • Updated trail maps on regional and national trail websites.
  • Additional trail markers -- With help from a girlscout troop 
  • Red Trail Rerouted--after installing many rocks and boardwalks, the red trail is now fully navigable for the first time in its history
  • Orange trail to Veblen House created 
  • Invasive species control -- collaborated with town contractors to catch invasions early
  • Concept of cultural and natural zones developed, with the Barden, cottage and house comprising the cultural zone of Herrontown Woods
  • Began working with town on better public access to the preserve
  • Met with town's new open space manager


  • FOHW hired a highly skilled carpenter, Robb Geores, to repair the house's framing, inside and out, assisted by volunteers. 
  • Electricity -- Veblen House now has electricity, helped along by the initiative of board member Peter Thompson.
  • Existing conditions drawings--board member Ahmed Azmy prepared detailed drawings of Veblen House and Cottage
  • Recontouring keeps Veblen House and Cottage dry -- Berms, swales and raingardens now keep the structures dry, even after  heavy rains.
  • The basement was cleared of old ductwork, furnace and water heater
  • More accurate measurements and additional analysis of the Veblen House's systems
  • Research on asbestos removal
  • Some initial repairs of cottage with help from volunteer Robert Chong
  • A scope of work for the Veblen Cottage prepared by architect Max Hayden

  • The tranquil setting next to Veblen House has proved ideal for hosting community events. To that end, we have created a stage and expanded parking in the driveway.
  • Yoga on Saturdays -- Began hosting classes by Gratitude Yoga during warmer weather
  • Among Trees -- Collaborated with professional actors and the Princeton Public Library to host a reading of locally sourced nature writings. \
  • Treepedia -- Collaborated with Princeton Public Library to host a talk by author Joan Maloof about preserving old growth forest.
  • Other events hosted -- a "flying pig" dedication of the Barden's gazebo, a fourth annual Veblen Birthday BBQ Bash, and a volunteer appreciation party


  • During the pandemic, the newly nicknamed Barden has become a popular place to safely gather, learn, explore, and socialize, with its gazebo, native plants, fairy garden and other delights
  • The Veblen Circle -- Girlscouts helped create attractive labels on wildflowers encircling the gazebo, along with bird houses.
  • May's Barden Cafe becomes a thing -- A new tradition began this year at the Barden, with coffee and delicious pastries now served on the first Sunday morning of each month. 
  • Ongoing Sunday morning workdays -- this productive and social tradition continues, led by Keena Lipsitz and Andrew Thornton.
  • Solar-powered lighting installed in the gazebo--thanks to Forrest Meggers
  • Portapotty installed


  • Paintings traced to renowned artists -- Research traced the remarkable origins of paintings that once hung in Veblen House
  • Many connections revealed -- Research revealed the Veblen House's connections to a historic mansion in Jersey City, an artist who lived among the Hopi Indians in Arizona, a prominent ceramist, a movie starring Michael Douglas, the Dogwood Garden Club, and early 20th century Princeton horse culture. 
  • Interviews with relatives -- With help from Alison Carver, we were able to contact and interview a granddaughter and grandson of the Whiton-Stuarts
  • Barden's gazebo's history learned
  • Einstein's Begonias -- We found and are now growing begonias descended from those Einstein had in his Princeton home.

  • Articles about Herrontown Woods- In Tap Into Princeton, Princeton Family Living, and the ECHO
  • Fall nature walks -- FOHW collaborated with the Princeton Public Library to host multiple nature walks at Herrontown Woods. 
  • Veblen Circle of Wildflowers completed -- Board member Inge Regan collaborated with Girlscout Troop 71837 to create interpretive signage for the Veblen Circle of 30 native wildflowers around the gazebo
  • Ongoing research and website posts about nature, FOHW's activities, and the fascinating history of Veblen House at, and
  • Opened instagram account--thanks to board member Adrian Colarusso
  • Many students participated in workdays at the botanical garden
  • Seasonal displays on kiosk about plants in the preserve
  • Progress on developing a new website, working with Pilar Castro-Kiltz of MoreCanvas.

  • Continue to acquire donated stepping stones, centuries old wood, a pottery wheel, chairs for event seating, and many other items

  • New board members and many new volunteers.
  • Progress on developing a master plan

  • All donations go to paying for the skilled labor and materials needed to repair the Veblen House and Cottage, and maintain the Barden and Veblen grounds.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Visionary Mathematician Speaks To His People of Math and Love

Here's a taste of the Among Trees event we hosted next to Veblen House earlier in the summer. Organized by actor Vivia Font, many local writers, including kids from an elementary school class, submitted poems and other nature writings, which were performed by local actors. Music was provided by some excellent local musicians. 

In this video, actor Yuval Boim performs a piece that channels mathematician Oswald Veblen. The Veblens donated Herrontown Woods to the public in 1957, and the Friends of Herrontown Woods formed 56 years later to restore Herrontown Woods and realize the Veblens' vision. Exemplifying the Veblen tradition, Among Trees brings people in the community together to make beautiful things happen.  
The Visionary Mathematician Speaks to His People, of Math and Love 

By Steve Hiltner, president, Friends of Herrontown Woods 

We're going to do a lot of things. Lots of really small things. And they're going to add up, to something. Something larger than ourselves. It's called addition. Yes. And we're going to subtract things, too. Resentment. We're going to subtract resentment from our repertoire. Resentment corrodes relationships. And hate. We're going to subtract that, too. Because it takes way too much energy to hate. Wasted energy. We don't want to waste. In nature there is no waste. 

People ask us: Are we going to divide? No! We're going to bring people together. Love them just as they are. Because this is that kind of place, and that's what we do here. Love is additive. Totally additive. The more of it you give, the more of it you feel. The more you spend of it, the more you have to give. It's a miracle! Love is its own miraculous economy. 

Some people subdivide, but we're going to undivide. We're going to bring parcels of land together, and share them. Then bring people together, to enjoy nature and each other's company.Yes, and we're going to multiply. Probably not sexually. That's way too slow. We're going to multiply asexually, like some plants do, until there's a zillion of us, all doing good things, little things, quintillion zillion little things that add up. To something. Something good. 

Thank you.