04/05: The State Dept. of Treasury has agreed to sell the 250-acre NPDC property to the Township of Montgomery for $5.95 million. PNJ is excited about this development and hopes that Montgomery Township will continue to proactively advocate for the site, taking prompt action to inhibit the continued deterioration of buildings and assess the potential of the properties for future reuse.
09/06: Somerset County awarded $71,500 to the Township for the restoration of Maplewood Farmhouse- a National Register listed building, and part of NPDC property. Maplewood was the first building where epileptic residents lived.
2007: In early 2007, Montgomery Township officially took ownership of the NPDC property. The Township envisions a new town center called Skillman Village on the NPDC property, incorporating the rehabilitation of approximately 10 buildings of historical significance, while demolishing the rest. As of August 2007, 92 of the buildings on site had been demolished.
5/2010: Montgomery Township proposes to sell the NPDC property to Somerset County.
6/2010: Local advocates have launched a new effort to save some of the remaining historic buildings on the NPDC site. Currently, these remain vacant and deteriorating. Efforts are focusing on the Smalley Theatre, which was built in 1916 and served as the Center’s theatre and social gathering hall. Local advocates indicate that Somerset County intends to demolish this theatre and all other historic buildings on the campus, save for the Maplewood House, which will be sold. The township may also be interested in selling the Smalley Theatre for rehabilitation.
11/2010: An agreement has been reached to transfer ownership of the entire site, excluding only the Maplewood House, to Somerset County. Eclectic Architecture is completing a Historic Structure Report for the Maplewood House and a Preservation Plan for the Smalley Theatre, funded in part by Somerset County and in part by a Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund from the NJ Historic Trust.
6/2011: Montgomery Township is moving forward with demolition of all buildings on the site, which they will fund via the sale of the property to Somerset County for use as a park. While the Maplewood and Pine Knoll farmhouses will be preserved, all of the other 18 buildings left on the site will be lost. Demolition is expected to be complete by September 2011.
11/2011: A November 19 fire has severely damaged the Maplewood House. Montgomery Township is in the process of determining the extent of the damage and potential for repair. They have announced their intent to hire a preservation architect for this assessment.
The North Princeton Developmental Center, formerly known as the New Jersey State Village of Epileptics, was established in 1898 to provide an appropriate setting for the care and treatment of epileptics. Theretofore epileptics were lumped among the “dependent, defective, and delinquent classes,” and many lived in lunatic asylums or alms houses.
The Village was designed to be self-sustaining, complete with agricultural, food processing, and power generating capabilities, with patients providing much of the labor. In the 1930s, the thousand-plus-acre Village housed more than 1500 patients and staff in more than 100 buildings. It was a model of progressive institutional care in the United States, and because the Village demonstrated that epileptics could lead productive and meaningful lives, it is a landmark in the treatment of epilepsy. Reflecting this importance, the Epilepsy Foundation has shown interest in establishing a museum at the site.
As treatment for epilepsy improved, the Village lost its mission. Its closure in 1952 inaugurated several decades of decline, during which the institution served patients with severe psychiatric or developmental problems. In the late 1990s, what was then known as North Princeton Developmental Center closed, the site declared “surplus property.” While some land has been sold, roughly 250 acres and more than 100 buildings at the heart of this site, which is significant in architectural, landscape, and medical history terms, remain vacant, unused, and without a clear future. Montgomery Township would like to buy the property and adapt it to “civic, cultural, educational, and recreational purposes as well as limited redevelopment.” But negotiations with the State of New Jersey have come to a virtual standstill while the condition and safety of buildings and infrastructure decline.