Sunday, August 31, 2014

Veblen Cottage in Brooklin, Maine

Late August is right about the time the Veblens would have been heading back to Princeton from a summer in Maine, at their cottage overlooking the ocean in Brooklin. Assumptions that the old cottage would have been demolished and replaced with an upscale structure (see below) fortunately proved wrong. Thanks to friends Scotia and Dick, who researched the cottage while visiting Brooklin this summer, we now know that, though the cottage was later winterized and added on to, it's still standing and in good repair, on its perch overlooking the ocean.
The one-story section is likely the original cottage. Gordon Davisson, the nephew of Elizabeth Veblen's niece, told me he remembered visiting the cottage as a child, and was very impressed by what seemed to him a massive wood stove.
The chimney is in fine shape.
Off in the distance is a shed with similar window treatments, suggesting it was originally part of the same property.
Here is the view of the ocean from the cottage. Thanks to Dick Blofson for the photos, to Scotia for all her sleuthing to track down the cottage, and the people at the Brooklin Keeping Society for their well-kept historical documents and memories.

(Below is an email I received a year ago from the Keeping Society's Richard Freethey, who has since passed away.)
"I asked one of our volunteers who knows more about Brooklin history than anyone. She is around 85. She says her grandfather Walter Crockett did some carpentry work on the cabin for the Veblens. She said they were very quiet and not at all public people who lived a very simple life while they were here. Of course the property was on one of the prettiest spots on Blue Hill Bay, with the lighthouse in the background and the mountains of Mt Desert Island in the background... None of us know but we all suspect that his cabin was replaced by something not as rustic.

June (the volunteer lady) said that some publication she remembered had a picture of Dr Veblen on the beach beside his cabin, but we looked in our files and couldn't come up with it. If we do, I'll let you know."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

William Albert Hiltner Turns 100

A bit of a personal note. My father, William Albert Hiltner, turns 100 today. (He's on the far left in the photo.) I wish he were still around to celebrate it, but even though he died 23 years ago, the day still has meaning.

Somewhat akin to Oswald Veblen, he became a prominent academic after growing up in midwest farm country, a descendent of farmers and carpenters. Whereas Veblen went to graduate school at the University of Chicago, my father got his first job there some 40 years later, first as an instructor and later as professor of astronomy. In the 1940s, that meant moving to Wisconsin, where U of Chicago had its world famous Yerkes Observatory, with its largest of refracting telescopes and clear, "photometric" winter skies making it a center of research. There's a Wisconsin connection for the Veblens, it having been where Oswald's grandparents first settled after immigrating from Norway. Also like Veblen, my father assumed leadership roles, first as director of Yerkes and later as head of AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

He loved the outdoors, sailing, and took us on whitewater canoeing trips in northern Wisconsin even though he didn't know how to swim. Some of my fonder memories are of volunteers working together to get the piers and tents ready each year for girl scouts at a camp in northern Wisconsin--the sort of hands-on group effort Veblen may have been getting at when he'd organize colleagues for ventures into the Institute woods to clear brush. Such group effort is rarer today, removed as we are several generations more from the barn raisings of America's rural past.

Among other parallels was the influence that work for the military had on my father's approach to science. This is described in an online bio at the American Astronomical Society website:
"During World War II Al was engaged in the production of front surface mirrors, and in military optics design and modeling, an experience which influenced his later interest in astronomical instrumentation." 
Veblen's vision for an institute for advanced study was influenced by the informal atmosphere he found while working at a military proving grounds to improve ballistics during WWI.

My father's passion for his work extended from research, to teaching, to the hands-on aspects of instrument design. He maintained a youthfulness and inquisitiveness to the end, learning to swim at age 64, and spending the last seven years of his life as project manager for the Magellan Project, designing twin telescopes to be built on a mountain in Chile. 

These qualities are shared by Veblen, who made important contributions to mathematics but also leant early support to computer research, at a time when the potential of computers was far from obvious. Quoting from Deane Montgomery's obituary for Veblen in the Bulletin of American Mathematics, 
"Veblen remained rather youthful in his point of view to the end, and he was often amused by the comments of younger but aging men to the effect that the great period for this or that was gone forever. He did not believe it. Possibly part of his youthful attitude came from his interest in youth; he was firmly convinced that a great part of the mathematical lifeblood of the Institute was in the flow of young mathematicians through it."
It's this forward looking point of view, this capacity to see a path forwards and willingness to take on all the obstacles in that path, that I most admire in these men, and those who are working together to preserve and repurpose the house and farmstead the Veblens left to the public trust.

The Origins of the Veblen House's Eastern European Elements

 Over the years, I've shown the Veblen House to quite a few architects and carpenters. All have commented on its unique style. None have seen anything like it. One recently said it reminded him stylistically of wooden houses built in eastern Europe. I usually explain its uniqueness by telling the fourth hand story that a Russian cabinet maker is said to have spent two years working on the house.


But who would have thought to bring a Russian cabinet maker to the States to labor long on refinements for this house in the woods on the outskirts of Princeton, New Jersey. Not Veblen, it turns out, but one Jesse Palmier Whiton-Stuart, who originally brought this prefab house to Princeton and lived in it with his family before selling to the Veblens. For six years since discovering the house and working to save it, I felt no curiosity about the house's original owner. Stuart remained a footnote, a warmup act for the main draw.
 The additive power of so many comments by professionals about the house's uniqueness finally prompted me to ask who was that "masked man" with the long name, who brought house and family to live briefly in Princeton, sold to the Veblens, then vanished. From the self-descriptions below, found only after searching far and wide (via google), Whiton-Stuart turns out to share many traits with Veblen. He was a world traveler, a fine marksman, with a strong interest in mathematics. He came from a prosperous family, thrived in cultural centers, took an interest in fine buildings, but also was drawn to the outdoors.

Harvard University published reports every five years on what its graduates were doing. Though JP Whiton-Stuart left Harvard after his first year, he continued to be considered a member of the class of 1898, and fortunately sent in a couple reports. Both reports predate his family's move to Princeton.

Harvard Class of 1898, 2nd Report (1908)

"After leaving Harvard I travelled all over the Continent and through the Far East, nearly always with a tutor or professor, and am one of the very few having crossed over- land through Persia, visiting missionaries and hermits who had not seen a traveller for twenty-five years. Between these travels I attended Williams College, Massachusetts, and Cambridge University, England, principally for the courses in mathematics. I also hunted as an avocation throughout the West, and won many important events pigeon shooting around New York. I then became associated with Douglas Robinson in real estate, and am now in business for myself as a specialist in selling large private residences."

Harvard Class of 1898, 3rd Report (1913)

"I left Harvard on account of illness, and travelled when not in or preparing for Williams and Cambridge, England. I saw Russia, Armenia, all of Europe, the Far East three times, the Holy Land, Greece and was one of few that crossed Persia to the Gulf, also West and Africa. I was a real estate specialist for ten years in New York, and am still president of the J.P. Whiton-Stuart Company, New York, where I saved enough to buy a herd of cattle in Arizona. I now live on a horse's back, riding over one hundred square miles of cattle range I rent from the United States government in the largest forest in the United States. Member: Union Club of New York, Yavapai Club of Prescott, Ariz."




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Veblen Summer Cottage in Brooklin, Maine, Reportedly Found!

Some friends who were visiting Brooklin, Maine, this summer report that they have tracked down the Veblen's cottage, down close to the beach. The Veblens would go to Maine during the summer. Last year I was told that the cottage had probably been demolished to make room for more upscale homes, so the discovery of what may be the original cottage is an exciting surprise. Brooklin is known particularly for its tradition of boat building, and also as the home of E.B. White and the farm he modeled Charlotte's Web after. Veblen is mentioned in the Wikipedia page on Brooklin as one of the local notables.

My friends took some photos, which will be very helpful not only as a portrait of the Veblen's vacation spot but also for comparing with their "cottage" farmhouse that still stands near the Veblen House. Here is Scotia's account of finding the Maine cabin earlier this week. The "Keeping Society" is the group dedicated to keeping Brooklin's history alive and well accounted for:
"We went today to the Brooklin Keeping Society, open one day a week, and met June Eaton, in her eighties, who called in Lorna, in her sixties, from the Town Hall. Lorna drew us a map, and told me that the building where the Veblens lived was very near the water. She said that the people who had bought it kept the original chimney and renovated the kitchen. So Dick and I went back down a lane that we had missed and found what we believe was the the original wood shingle house with an old stone chimney and the view described. The house also has windows with diamond-shaped panes, and a nearby small shed on what is now an adjoining property has the same kind of windows. The house, which has a beautiful garden, has been enlarged with an attractive two-story wing."
The Veblens are said not to have socialized much while up at their cabin in Maine, and the location of the cabin, far from downtown, helps explain that. Here's another quote from Scotia's email:
"June Eaton mentioned that Veblen was simple in his tastes and did not dress up when he was in Brooklin so she was surprised to learn at the time he lived there that he was a "big brain."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Green Fringed Orchid Blooms

In an uncanny way, the Veblen House and surrounding landscape have time and again rewarded curiosity and optimism. Both the Veblen and Stuart histories have proven richer than they appeared on the surface, so it shouldn't be surprising if a few gems pop up in the plain-looking field next to the house.

This spring, walking through the field, I noticed the first few leaves of a plant that looked out of the ordinary. I put a fence around it, since deer are all too fond of native wildflowers. There were more of the same kind of plant nearby, but I figured they all might be common lily of the valley, so only protected the one.

Once again, I had underestimated the richness of the Veblen site, because the one protected plant grew not into a run of the mill garden plant but a green fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera). It rates 8 out of 10 on the NJ Plant Stewarship Index, which measures the quality of a plant community. Not bad. Without protection, all the others in the field have been eaten down to the ground. Next year, if they still have enough energy in the roots to make another go of it, we'll know to protect them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Whiton-Stuart

This evening, on July 4, I happen to be researching Sylvia Whiton-Stuart, daughter of Jesse Palmier Whiton-Stuart, the original owner of what we now call the Veblen House. It turns out that she was born on July 4, 1906. What I've learned thus far is that she eloped at an early age with a writer by the name of Eric Hatch.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Eric Hatch: Eric S. Hatch (October 31, 1901 - July 4, 1973) was an American writer on the staff of The New Yorker and a novelist and screenwriter best known for his books 1101 Park Avenue, (which became a hit film under the title My Man Godfrey) and The Year of the Horse (which was adapted as a Disney comedy with the title, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit).[1]

She later remarried, still at an early age, according to a society article, to Lawrence Turnure, who has the same name as a very wealthy businessman from the previous generation. Lots of mysteries to explore.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Before Veblen, there was J.P.W. Stuart

Who was J.P.W. Stuart, and why does it matter? Well, the Veblen House was not built by the Veblens, but was originally brought to Princeton in pieces around 1920, by a man named Jesse Palmier Whiton-Stuart. Some reports say it was moved from Morristown, NJ, others mention New York. When I told a builder friend that the original owner was a Stuart, he said that there was a prominent New York City family by that name. Some preliminary internet research suggests that Stuart was indeed a man of means, with prominent friends and interesting pursuits.

Though the research is just getting underway, it's likely that J.P.W. Stuart was born into a prominent NY family, and may well have married into another. In 1905 (the year Oswald Veblen was hired by Princeton University), Stuart married Mary M. Ogden, daughter of John Ogden. Mary's wedding attire is described in detail in a NY Times article that also mentions what Mrs. Vanderbilt was wearing, at a different wedding that weekend. The Ogden name appears to date back to the Pilgrims.

When one account gave Stuart's father's name as Robert, there was the tantalizing possibility that his father was Robert L. Stuart, who made his fortune in the sugar business, and who with his wife and brother were deeply involved in philanthropy, including large donations to Princeton Seminary and Princeton College. There's a Stuart Hall over on Alexander Street. They collected Hudson River School art, and Robert L. was president of the NY Museum of Natural History for some years. But our Stuart takes his name from Robert Watson Stuart, whose background is as yet unclear.



In 1908, Jesse and Mary had a daughter, Sylvia Jean, whose christening was attended by some prominent-sounding members of NY society. In 1964, Sylvia pops up as Sylvia Olcott, living in Tucson, AZ.

Perhaps it would be asking too much for the poet Ogden Nash (Ogden was his middle name) to be related to both Mary Ogden and the brilliant mathematician John Nash, Jr, who came to Princeton when Veblen was still around. On the other hand, the Mrs. Augustus Juilliard mentioned as having attended the christening of Mary and Jesse's daughter may well be the wife of the founder of the Juilliard School of Music.

Other articles from that time document a J.P.W. Stuart who was an excellent marksman. He channeled his talent into winning pigeon shooting contests. If that was our J.P.W., then the dovecote shown as standing near the Veblen House in the 1950s (on the right in this photo) may date back to Stuart's time. It also suggests that the transfer of ownership of the house from Stuart to Veblen is symbolic of the shift in views of wildlife over the course of the 20th century, as birds became something to watch rather than to shoot.

Veblen excelled at both math and marksmanship while growing up in Iowa. He combined these two talents by leading U.S. efforts to improve the accuracy of artillery during the world wars.

All in all, this preliminary foray into the story of Stuarts suggests yet another rich vein of history awaits appreciation out at Herrontown Wood.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Native Chestnuts at Veblen House

From small seedlings, giant chestnuts grow. Thanks to local tree expert Bill Sachs for supplying four chestnut seedlings and the "grow tubes" to protect them from the deer. The seed he grew them from, obtained from Connecticut, is the product of decades of breeding to develop native chestnuts resistant to the introduced chestnut blight that devastated the American chestnut a century ago. Terhune Orchards provided Bill with room in their greenhouse to grow some 80 seedlings, which he has been planting at various sites in the Princeton area and in Pennsylvania.

The product of our labors doesn't really look like new trees. The "grow tubes" are experimental, designed to provide the seedling protection and sufficient light, while discouraging lateral branching.

For more posts on the initiative to reintroduce native chestnuts to Princeton, go to PrincetonNatureNotes.org and type in "native chestnut".

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Liberating House and Grounds from Vines

We had another highly productive and rewarding workday this past Saturday at the Veblen House, organized by the Rotary Club of Princeton as one of their service projects. The focus was on removing invasive vines from house and grounds. It was a real pleasure to have the help of Bob Wells, and hear his many stories about living there with his family from 1975 to 1998. Also in the photo are architect Ahmed Azmy and neighbor John Powell, both Rotary members and strong supporters of rehabilitating Veblen House.
 John was wielding loppers against the wisteria, which had begun back in Elizabeth Veblen's day as a pretty ornament for the trellis, but which has spread into the surrounding woods. You can see the strangle hold it takes on trees, in this case a dawn redwood planted by Bob decades ago.
Wisteria can also climb around itself,
forming a trunk almost as large as the flowering dogwood it was mobbing. We speculated whether the dogwood would recover now that the vines have been cut. I took the more optimistic point of view, noting various branches still showing healthy leaves reaching out beyond the smothering embrace of the vine.
This Pieris, now liberated, may live to grow another day.
Bob told us that Elizabeth's fishpond, now visible again with the vines removed, used to hold water and was stocked with goldfish.
 Meanwhile, vines have been showing interest in the house. This vine, possibly a Virginia creeper, has a stem growing up inside the wall. Not ideal. A snip with the loppers should have been applied years earlier, but at least that vine won't be growing any farther. It's reassuring at such times to remember that builders have consistently found the building to still be in solid condition and worth saving.
A much smaller vine, Japanese honeysuckle, had headed into the basement. You can see the white shoots that indicate the lack of sunlight. It took me back to 6th grade science class, when we grew one set of bean plants in a closet and another set on a windowsill. Several weeks later, everyone was surprised to find that the ones grown in the closet were much longer, and lacked any chlorophyll. The lack of sunlight stimulates the plant to invest what energy it has in length, the better to eventually reach a source of light.
The moist ground made digging soil away from the foundation relatively easy. A backhoe will be needed to do a more thorough regrading, but hand shoveling allows for some serendipitous discoveries, like a beautiful buried boulder that used to serve as a step for the side door.

We ended the workday with pizza, basking in the beauty of the day and the peacefulness of the Veblen House grounds.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Princeton for the support and talent it brings to the Veblen House project.




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Magnetic Rocks in Herrontown Wood

We call it Herrontown Wood, but this post is about Herrontown Rocks. What makes this nature preserve extraordinary is the layers of meaning to be found there. Begin with the soil, which was formed out of and influenced by the underlying diabase rocks. Add the woodland, of course, whose botanical richness is so well preserved in part because the many rocks discouraged any plowing back during Princeton's agricultural era. (Plows obliterate the roots, seedbank, microorganisms and complex structure that comprise a soil's biological memory.) Add the wildlife drawn to the long corridor of forest, where stubborn boulders discouraged development long enough for open space groups to achieve permanent protection. Add to that the cultural history that endures in rock walls, rock foundations, quarried stone, and the farmstead and house of Oswald and Elizabeth Veblen, with their multifaceted legacy of international import.

Along with the many roles the rocks have played in the past two hundred years, there is the story of how the rocks got there in the first place. It's told by the great majority of rocks and boulders never piled in rows or split apart. One important point to grasp from the get go is that the glaciers did not form the Princeton Ridge. The glaciers' southernmost extent coincides with where Manhattan is today, some distance to the north. What forces, then, created this long ridge of boulders?

A couple weeks ago, I joined my neighbor Jon Johnson on one of his morning walks with his dog Cocoa in Herrontown Woods. His expertise is in groundwater, but he's been studying the rocks he finds in the streams and along the trails, and sharing some of what he's discovered with students at Little Brook Elementary, where his kids go to school.

He begins by asking the kids a simple question. Why is one stepping stone along the trail rounded, while the one next to it is square?

Why are some boulders and pebbles magnetic, while others are not?
And why are some rocks rough textured while others are more smooth?
The story he tells goes back to the time of Pangaea, that is, when Africa and America were all one land mass. As the continents pulled apart, a basin expanded between them, received sediment from eroding land masses on either side, became interrupted by upwellings of molten rock that rose through the sedimentary layer, cooled into diabase and subsequently eroded to form the boulders we see today.


Jon showed how Herrontown Wood tells this story through the geologic transition visible in the park. If you walk west from the parking lot (the one off of Snowden Lane), then follow the main creek upstream, you'll see the rocks in the stream are at first squarish. This is the sedimentary rock. Some are rougher than others, suggesting that they may have contained fossils that lost their shape when heated by molten diabase.

Head upstream and you'll see the rocks getting rounder
and larger. This transition goes from sedimentary to metamorphic, to the big, round diabase boulders further up the slope. (A similar transition can be found at Witherspoon Woods, up the hill from Mountain Lakes.)
You can see in this photo a magnet stuck to a boulder. The magnetism comes from magnetite, which usually makes up only 2% of the diabase, but may comprise up to 20% of some rocks. Even different layers of the same boulder can differ in the presence of magnetite, which explains why a magnet may stick to one part of a boulder, but not another strata a few inches down.
To find the areas of the park with the most magnetite, Jon has played the role of prospector, walking up one or another tributary of the stream, testing the pebbles for magnetism.



When my kids were younger, we would go to Herrontown Wood and find joy in climbing the rocks. The main story we saw was how the rocks got bigger as we walked up the hill. Now, thanks to Jon, we can go beyond aesthetics and size, and more deeply appreciate these rocks that have served Herrontown Wood in so many ways.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Will the Real Veblen House Please Stand Up?


They're both still standing, but which is which? To tell the truth, people who leave not one but two houses in the public trust really should consider including an endowment for clear labeling.

On your left, dressed in black (it used to be a two-tone with the second floor a chestnut brown color), is Veblen House, the 1920s prefab in a lovely setting where the Veblens lived.

On your right is the cottage, more commonly seen because it's at the intersection of two main trails in Herrontown Wood. This 1870 Douer farmhouse was used by Veblen as a study, beginning in the 1930s. Though it isn't "Einstein's house", as one rumor had it, Einstein would visit his friend and colleague Veblen, and spend some quality time surrounded by nature and the simplicity of this rustic farmstead.

Veblen House in Trenton Times Article

The Trenton Times ran a front page article today, Sunday, on the Veblen House and the Rogers House--another county-owned historic building that has fallen into disrepair. (It's early morning, and I first wrote "fallen into repair". Wouldn't that be nice.) It's a well-written article with a big photo of the house in the print version. Note that the online version has one photo of the cottage that may still be labeled "Veblen House". The cottage is the 1870 Douer farmhouse that Veblen acquired in 1936 and used as a study. It's just a few hundred feet from the house, which they bought some years later. If you click on the other online photos--there's a series of twelve--you'll find photos of the house as well.

You can find information on this website about the Veblens, the house and cottage, and the initiative to save them by clicking on the various tabs. Below are a couple links to overviews of the site, and what it looked like when the Veblens were living there.

Historic Structures at the Veblen Site

The Veblen House in the 1950s

For more info, I can be reached at stevehiltner(at)gmail.com, or give me a call at 609 252 0724.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May Flowers Persist at Veblen House


The Veblen House garden, so loved by those who have lived in the house over the years, continues to bloom. Iris make a blue arc in the front of the house, perhaps a legacy of Elizabeth Veblen.

A Rhododendron was tall enough to elude the deer through the long winter.

A Fragrant snowbell (Styrax obassia) adds an oriental touch around back.

And a new planting at the edge of the field, part of a town-wide effort to bring back the native butternut, may need some watering if a drought comes along.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hooded Warbler in Herrontown Wood

This from a friend on May 26th, two days ago:

"I heard from Tyler Christensen (as I'd suspected a year or two ago) that he'd seen a Hooded Warbler in Herrontown Woods so I stopped by late today. It was singing up a storm and I got good looks at a very cool, mostly yellow warbler with a black "hood." It was singing two different songs, the alternate form supposedly is the "breeding" song which I hear later in the season at Baldpate Mtn, a "hot spot" for Hoodeds. I assume at least one or two pairs breed at the Institute Woods but none reported on eBird for 2 weeks. I consider myself lucky if I find even one in the Sourlands, a good place for them. I think the "Herrontown Hooded" is a testament to deer management and return of the understory. While not rare, they're not common either and Cornell was funding studies monitoring this species. Hoodeds nest low in bushes 3-6 ft off ground (dogs should not go off trail.)
(Correction: Hooded's are state-listed as a "Species of Concern" at the breeding level.)
I saw it along the uppér part of the trail (red one?) after passing the cottage and little barn (corn crib?) on my right. It was singing and looping around the rocks at the top between the gas pipeline, the rediscovered "cliff", and the stream going through the boulder field.
Also had Scarlet Tanager, 3 Veery, Ovenbird, 4 Wood thrush, Pileated, and 2 Common Yellowthroat Warbler."

Here is more info about the species, including a description of its preferred habitat: "Reaches highest densities in large tracts of mature, uninterrupted, deciduous forest with a dense shrub layer and scant ground cover." A sample of its call can be found here.

It's because of the Veblens' initial donation of Herrontown Woods, and the subsequent efforts of local and regional land trusts, with additional funding from the town and county, that species like this can be heard in the deep forest of Princeton Ridge East.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rotary Club Hosts Pancake Festival May 24

The Rotary Club of Princeton is one of those organizations that works quietly to do a lot of good. I've been getting to know the club's members through their efforts to help save the Veblen House.

They are a group with a can-do attitude, who find pleasure and satisfaction in serving the community, and have international service projects as well. Their annual Pancake Festival at Palmer Square makes it easy to support their work. Come by tomorrow, Saturday, May 24, for food and jazz, then catch the Memorial weekend parade down Nassau Street.

Learn more about the Rotary at http://www.princetonrotary.org/community.html.




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Old Fine Hall

Numerous sources state that Oswald Veblen largely designed the original Fine Hall, an innovative academic building that housed the Princeton University mathematics department from 1930 to 1969, and also served as home for the Institute for Advanced Study during its early years. Many will know Old Fine Hall as the location of Einstein's office when he first came to Princeton. When the math department (reluctantly) moved to the new Fine Hall in the 1960s, Old Fine Hall was renamed Jones Hall. It currently is home to the East Asian Studies Department.

In Old Fine Hall can be seen the merging of Veblen's vision for mathematics, his love of buildings, and his deep admiration for the legacy of Henry Fine, whose tragic death in 1929 had prompted the Jones family to donate funds for the building's construction. The building exemplifies the theme of "bringing together" found in many aspects of Veblen's legacy, and codified in a poem on this website.

From Veblen's own description: 'We have long felt the need for offices on the campus and now we have not only offices but actual studies, so attractive that many of us will be doing our private reading and research in these rooms rather than in our own homes. These rooms are going to be a godsend to young men on small salaries who find it hard to afford a house with a suitable study. The new building contains studies for all the permanent members of the staff and also for a certain number of advanced students. These quiet and comfortable rooms have already in two or three weeks, had a perceptible effect in drawing the group of mathematicians and mathematical physicists closer together and in promoting a spirit of cooperation."
"This increase of the solidarity of the mathematical group and its closer relationship to the physics group was definitely in mind in the planning of the common room a sort of club room and lounge for mathematicians and physicists, with a small kitchenette nearby. There is also another room of this sort reserved for professors. This is on the principle, not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students, that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity."
The next four photos are combined with text from George Dyson's book, Turing's Cathedral: Equations for gravitation, relativity, quantum theory, five perfect solids, and three conic sections were set into leaded glass windows, and the central mantel-piece featured a carving of a fly traversing the one-sided surface of a Mobius strip.

"Every little door knob, every little gargoyle, every little piece of stained glass that has a word on it, was something that Veblen personally supervised,” noted Herman Goldstine in 1985.
(The door to Einstein's office.)

“There are nine offices with fireplaces and fifteen without,” reported Veblen. “Overstuffed chairs and davenports take the place of chairs and desks and the classrooms are fitted out after the manner of private studies,” reported Science magazine. The rooms were paneled in American oak, with concealed chalkboards and built-in filing cabinets.

In April 1930, Veblen wrote to Albert Einstein requesting permission to inscribe a remark Einstein had made in Princeton in 1921—“Raffi niert ist der Herr Gott aber Boshaft ist Er nicht” (translated at the time as “god is clever, but not dishonest”)—above the fireplace in the Professors’ Lounge. “It was your reply when someone asked you if you thought that [Dayton C.] Miller’s results would be verified,” Veblen explained. “I hope you will not object to our using this ‘child of your wit.’ Einstein replied that “Lord” or “God” might be misconstrued, suggesting that what he really meant was “Nature conceals her secrets in the sublimity of her law, not through cunning.” (end of quote from Dyson)

The paneling, with its unusual and varied patterns, is built of quarter sawn oak.
Veblen describes the beautifully wrought library thus:

"The chief need was for a convenient library and suitable studies. This library was placed on the top floor so that it should be as far removed from traffic and noise as possible. In order to make it easier to enforce a rule of silence there are four talking rooms in the four corners, where we can go when we want to discuss what we have been reading.
It is very desirable that the books on physics and mathematics should be close together. The new building is next to the physical laboratory, and the mathematics and physical libraries have been combined."
Below are fuller quotes from various online sources, with links.

From a bio of Veblen on a British website:

In 1929 funds were provided for Fine Hall at Princeton and Veblen provided most of the ideas that went into its design. He wanted the mathematicians in Fine Hall to be able to:-
... group themselves for mutual encouragement and support. [It had to be a place where] the young recruit and the old campaigner [could have] those informal and easy contacts that are so important to each of them.
However he also wanted a room reserved for professors since:-
... not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students [is] that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity.

From Robert Nowlan's online biography

Veblen largely designed the original Fine Hall, named for the deceased educator. It is an architectural masterpiece with a common room on the first floor on the way to the library. Faculty did not merely have offices, they were given lavish suites to provide a comfortable place to meet and talk with students. Fine Hall served as home to the Princeton mathematics department until 1969 when the growth of faculty and students made it necessary to build a new home, also named Fine Hall.  The old building was renamed Jones Hall, to honor the family who had provided the funds for the original building. Veblen began the custom of an afternoon tea at the mathematics department, where faculty and students had the opportunity for informal contacts.


From World Scientific: Academic genealogy of Mathematicians:

Veblen took charge of this project. He visited Oxford University in 1928-29 and designed Fine Hall as “Oxford College Style”. For the interior he worked closely on the furnishings with a high-quality firm of decorators from New York. Faculty members had “studies”, not “offices”; some of those were large rooms equipped with fireplaces, carved oak paneling, leather sofas, oriental rugs, and concealed blackboards. Fine Hall included a first-class departmental library, common rooms, and other facilities.


From George Dyson's beautifully written book Turing’s Cathedral:

Thomas Jones and his niece Gwethalyn pledged an additional $500,000 to build (and maintain) a new mathematics building in memory of Fine. At the time of Veblen’s arrival in Princeton, the mathematicians shared a few small offices in Palmer Hall. “The principle upon which Fine Hall was designed,” according to Veblen, “was to make a place so attractive that people would prefer to work in the rooms provided in this building rather than in their homes.” Jones, believing that “nothing is too good for Harry Fine,” instructed Veblen to construct a building that “any mathematician would be loath to leave.”

Half a million dollars (equivalent to over $6 million today) went a long way in 1929. Fine Hall opened in October of 1931, with no detail overlooked: from the showers and locker room in the basement (“members of the department who wish to avail themselves of the nearby tennis courts or the gymnasium will not find it necessary to return to their homes to dress”) to the top-floor library with natural lighting, a central atrium, and a passageway to encourage mingling with the physicists in adjacent Palmer Hall. “There are nine offices with fireplaces and fifteen without,” reported Veblen. “Overstuffed chairs and davenports take the place of chairs and desks and the classrooms are fitted out after the manner of private studies,” reported Science magazine. The rooms were paneled in American oak, with concealed chalkboards and built-in filing cabinets. Equations for gravitation, relativity, quantum theory, five perfect solids, and three conic sections were set into leaded glass windows, and the central mantel-piece featured a carving of a fly traversing the one-sided surface of a Mobius strip. “Every little door knob, every little gargoyle, every little piece of stained glass that has a word on it, was something that Veblen personally supervised,” noted Herman Goldstine in 1985.

In April 1930, Veblen wrote to Albert Einstein requesting permission to inscribe a remark Einstein had made in Princeton in 1921—“Raffi niert ist der Herr Gott aber Boshaft ist Er nicht” (translated at the time as “god is clever, but not dishonest”)—above the fireplace in the Professors’ Lounge. “It was your reply when someone asked you if you thought that [Dayton C.] Miller’s results would be verified,” Veblen explained. “I hope you will not object to our using this ‘child of your wit.’ Einstein replied that “Lord” or “God” might be misconstrued, suggesting that what he really meant was “Nature conceals her secrets in the sublimity of her law, not through cunning.”
(For more on Dyson on this website, click here.)

Veblen's own description of Fine Hall, from the Princeton University website:

Professor Veblen made the final speech of the day. The text of his address follows: "The principal idea which has been built into Fine Hall is a very old one. It is nothing else than the idea of a university as a seat of learning. The first universities of Europe, such as Bologna, Paris, and Oxford were just loosely organized groups of learned men. The students who migrated from one of these centers of learning to another were very much the same sort of people as the graduate students and research fellows of today, poor material for the diplomatic service, but full of intellectual curiosity and sometimes having a spark of genius.

"The modern American university is a complicated organism devoted to a variety of purposes among which creative scholarship is sometimes overlooked. Those universities which do recognize it as one of their purposes are beginning to feel the necessity of providing centers about which people of like intellectual interests can group themselves for mutual encouragement and support, and where the young recruit and the old campaigner can have those informal and easy contacts that are so important to each of them.

"Such intellectual centers are provided in Princeton by a splendid group of laboratories for the experimental sciences and by McCormick Hall for the Department of Art and Archeology and the group of rooms devoted to the classics in Pyne Library. Now we have Fine Hall for the mathematicians and I hope that it will not be many years before we have analogous centers for other groups of scholars. I say analogous centers rather than similar ones, for I suppose that the historians or the philosophers will need something which differs from Fine Hall as much as Fine Hall differs from the Palmer Laboratory.

"It was a new problem to design a building for mathematics. Although there are such buildings at Chicago, Paris, Gottingen, and Jena, none of these had been finished before ours was begun. But it was not a very complicated problem in this case. There was no elaborate apparatus to provide. A pencil sharpener is about all the apparatus that a mathematician requires. There was no need for many classrooms or large lecture rooms, for there are plenty of these already on the campus. The new building has two small lecture rooms and two seminar rooms which can be used informally.

"The chief need was for a convenient library and suitable studies. This library was placed on the top floor so that it should be as far removed from traffic and noise as possible. In order to make it easier to enforce a rule of silence there are four talking rooms in the four corners, where we can go when we want to discuss what we have been reading. It is very desirable that the books on physics and mathematics should be close together. The new building is next to the physical laboratory, and the mathematics and physical libraries have been combined.

"We have long felt the need for offices on the campus and now we have not only offices but actual studies, so attractive that many of us will be doing our private reading and research in these rooms rather than in our own homes. These rooms are going to be a godsend to young men on small salaries who find it hard to afford a house with a suitable study. The new building contains studies for all the permanent members of the staff and also for a certain number of advanced students. These quiet and comfortable rooms have already in two or three weeks, had a perceptible effect in drawing the group of mathematicians and mathematical physicists closer together and in promoting a spirit of cooperation.

"This increase of the solidarity of the mathematical group and its closer relationship to the physics group was definitely in mind in the planning of the common room a sort of club room and lounge for mathematicians and physicists, with a small kitchenette nearby. There is also another room of this sort reserved for professors. This is on the principle, not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students, that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity.

"This building is not only a memorial to Dean Fine. It is a definite part of his work in constructing a great mathematical center here in Princeton. You know the outline of this story: How during a long of period of time Dean Fine seized each opportunity as it arose to strengthen his by calling in young men of promise. How its prestige gradually extended so that Princeton became known throughout the world as a center of mathematical production. How this work of construction was consolidated by the generous institution of the fund for research and science by the General Education Board and Mr. Thomas D. Jones, Miss Gwethalyn Jones, Mr. William Church Osborn, and others.

"When these things had been accomplished it became evident that a building was needed as a center for the mathematical interests of the University just as the various laboratories were headquarters for the various experimental sciences. This project Dean Fine discussed with the late Mr. Wickliffe Rose, then chairman of the General Education Board and a man who can be compared with Dean Fine and Mr. Jones for his insight into general university problems. Mr. Rose was then just at the point of retiring and the project went over to the new officers of the General Education Board who were considering it sympathetically at the time of Dean Fine's death. At this point Mr. Jones, who knew of his old friend's plans and hopes, came forward and asked President Hibben to allow him and his niece to provide the building and make it a memorial to Dean Fine.

"I believe that such a project has never been carried out in a more generous style. The donors decided that the building should be not only the matter-of-fact mathematical center which we had conceived but also a place which, as Mr. Jones expressed it, any mathematician would be loath to leave.

"In carrying out this purpose of Mr. Jones and his niece, the University was fortunate not only in having the services of an architect like Mr. Charles Z. Klauder, but also in the generosity of Mrs. John Alexander who freely contributed her trained skill and taste in the choice and arrangement of the furnishings. It is not only in providing so beautiful a building that Mr. Jones and Miss Jones showed their generosity, but in many unseen ways care has been taken and additional money spent to make the building more substantial and to reduce the cost of upkeep. Moreover, for the first time on our campus, the maintenance of the building and the renewal of the furnishings have been adequately provided by endowment.

"To return to the main point, Princeton now has a first-class home for its mathematical group. I hope that it will soon have equally good ones for the other academic groups which are not yet provided for. This is not merely because I like to see my colleagues comfortable, but because I think that it would greatly strengthen the University as a seat of learning if each natural intellectual group were so placed physically as to be automatically conscious of itself and of its relation to the University as a whole. I do not mean that this is our only great need at the present time. We need more endowed professorships right in the mathematical field. But at this moment, when we have been so generously favored, it is only just to point out that what has been done for us is of general significance and should not stop with us."