Donating a beautiful piece of parkland with a collection of rare trees for the public to enjoy should be straightforward, especially when the recipient, the Princeton Borough, does not have much open spaces within its boundaries. However, the gifting of part of the Marquand estate for the purpose of creating a public park has an intriguing history and involved a reluctant Borough Council, a maneuvering Planning Board, a neighborhood group determined to save the area from real estate developers, and finally current and past owners of the property with their own private interests.
In February of 1950, Eleanor Cross Marquand died after a short illness. She had married Allan Marquand in 1896 and lived in Guernsey Hall on the Marquand estate for more than 50 years. Mrs. Marquand was survived by three daughters, Eleanor Douglas Delanoy of Princeton, and Mary Marquand Hochschild and Sarnia Marquand, both living New York City.
Almost immediately after Mrs. Marquand’s death rumors about the future of the estate started to fly. Some people assumed the land would follow the course of the nearby Pyne and Armour properties and be subdivided in smaller residential lots. This assumption was somewhat strengthened when the Planning Board approved a road across the Marquand Park property to connect Elm and Springdale Rd. This new road would split the estate into two sections. The plan, however, seemed too far in the distance to really worry about. (1)
The first indication the property was going to be subdivided occurred in May of 1950 when Mary Marquand and her husband Harold Hochschild claimed exclusive ownership of a section of the estate in the north-east part near Hibben Road. With the intention to relocate to the Princeton area, they submitted plans for building a new residence on this parcel and by November the foundations for a large house, now known as The Marquand House, were being laid. No opposition to this plan has been found. (2)
More than a year after the death of Eleanor Marquand, the remainder of the estate was sold by the Marquand sisters to William Garrigues, an industrialist from New York, and his wife Helen. According to the agent handling the sale the couple (their names were initially kept confidential) planned to live permanently in Guernsey Hall and had no intention to subdivide the property. While the mansion was being renovated, they would temporarily reside in another house on the estate that was located on the corner of Elm and Stockton. (3)
However, a year later Mr. Garrigues had already changed his mind about living in Guernsey Hall and tried to sell the mansion and three acres of the land to Van Nostrand, a publishing company of scientific books in New York. The company wanted to find offices for 30 to 45 employees in “pleasant more solicitous” surrounding and Guernsey Hall seemed the perfect place. Besides major changes to the original house, the publishing company planned to build an additional wing for more office space and a parking lot to accommodate 20 to 30 cars. To realize the project, an exception to the residential zoning restrictions in the area was required and requested. (4)
Not surprisingly, property owners in the neighborhood strongly objected to the plan. In recent years other research companies had attempted to take over large 19th century mansions and residents had successfully opposed this commercial development afraid the residential character of their neighborhood would change. In June of 1952, at one of the best attended meetings of the Zoning Board in years, the appeal for a variance in the zoning code for Guernsey Hall was unanimously voted down by the Planning Board.
Shortly thereafter, Oliver Spaulding, Vice-President of the Princeton Bank and Trust company together with two friends purchased Guernsey Hall. The sale included a small tract around the building and an additional strip of land for a new access road to Lovers Lane. The remainder of the property remained in the hands of William Garrigues. (5)
On January 31, 1953, the Princeton Herald reported that a proposal to subdivide the remainder of estate into residential parcels was being submitted to the Planning Board on February 2, 1953. The plan called for the creation of three streets with 45 lots. One street would be the earlier proposed continuation of Elm Street connecting Stockton and Mercer Street and the other two streets would run parallel with Mercer Street across the estate. Wholesale removal of all the old trees on the property was mentioned as part of the plan. (6)
A day later when asked about the plan, the real estate agent of Mr. Garrigues tried to counter negative sentiments by stating that his client was primarily interested in selling the house on the corner of Elm and Stockton Street which he had temporarily lived in and extensively remodeled. A subdivision plan necessary for this sale could not be finalized until the Planning Board had approved the boundaries of all lots and fully worked out the development of the streets. “Parceling off additional property may be years away.” (7)
Not convinced subdivision would be years away, neighbors went into action, and, at the Planning Board meeting the next day, Mr. Edmund Delong, who lived on Mercer Street across from the Marquand estate, presented a different proposal to the Planning Board on behalf of a group of anonymous citizens. Among the neighbors present at this meeting were Mrs. Marquand Hochschild, Oliver Spaulding, and Fredrick Milholland. The new proposal called for larger lots to conform to the size of the existing properties in the neighborhood and the purchase of part of the estate by a group of donors to be turned into a public park, thus preserving the estate’s rare collection of trees and bushes. The neighborhood group requested a delay to further develop their proposal and negotiate a deal with Mr. Garrigues. This request was granted by the Planning Board. (8)
On March 4, 1953, a more detailed plan for the Marquand estate was revealed by the neighborhood group now including William Garrigues as well. As part of the deal, Mr. Garrigues would retain ownership of his house on Stockton street, a strip of land on the east side along Stockton Street, and a lot situated on the corner of Mercer Street and Lovers Lane. Mr. Spaulding, who had recently purchased Guernsey Hall, would buy another strip of land to obtain access to Mercer Street, and the remainder of the property would be purchased with a fund raised by the neighborhood group and then donated to the Borough of Princeton. Mr. Garrigues agreed to sell the property at cost and contribute to the fund as well.
The Planning Board postponed a final move on the plan until April because, before recommending the gift for Council to approve, it wanted a study done to justify the belief that the cost for services provided to families residing in the proposed subdivision would be higher than the additional taxes collected from the owners of the new subdivided lots. Also, included in these calculations would be the cost for the upkeep of a park estimated at $5000 per year. To make the donation more attractive to the Borough, the Planning Board suggested that the neighborhood group consider part of the gifted property to be used for building a school or other public facility at some future date. (9)
The fate of the Marquand Park estate was supposed to be settled at the April 9 meeting of the Planning Board. The Board had been engaged in informal discussions with the owner of the property and a consultant Dobb McHugh had inspected the land. A final proposal seemed imminent. But on April 8, the Princeton Herald reported that two alternate plans for subdividing the property proposed by Mr. Hugh would be considered by the Planning Board. These proposals included plans for a park but with a much-reduced acreage. After a long discussion at the April 9 meeting, the Planning Board apparently still favored the 17-acre park plan but scheduled and extra meeting for the next Monday to give the neighborhood group additional time to confer with Mr. Garrigues on the restrictions they intended to place on the deed. At the same meeting the Planning Board also advanced a new solution for the location of the connecting road though Marquand park further away from Mr. Garrigues’ property. The next Monday the plan was submitted to Council. (10)
When Council finally deliberated the proposal a couple of days later it requested clarifications on the restrictions placed by the donors on the deed because these restrictions might present legal complications. Council also told the Planning Board that it wanted a binding decision for the Master Plan on the location of the connecting road which involved the preservation of a row of evergreens and apparently still was a stumbling block for Mr. Garrigues who wanted it moved even further away from his house on Stockton street. (11)
By May, negotiations abruptly came to a standstill. The newspapers reported that the prospective donors could not come up with the money because the owner had raised the asking price. Mr. Garrigues denied these allegations and said his original offer still held. He also indicated that he still intended to contribute to the fund to cover the gift. Nonetheless, the Planning Board renewed discussion on subdividing the Marquand estate and the disagreements over the location of the connection road stayed on the agenda as well. (12)
What subsequently happened to the negotiations is unknown. But, on June 10, mayor MacKay Sturges suddenly announced the acceptance of a donation of 17 acres of the Marquand Park estate for public use pending final negotiations concerning restrictions on the gift in the first 20 years of ownership. He described the donation as a $50.000 plus bonus to the town at a cost of a $2000 loss in property taxes and some nominal future upkeep of the park. (13)
A month later, more details about the transaction were disclosed, and the names of the donors revealed. They turned out to be the three Marquand sisters, Eleanor Marquand Delanoy, Mary Marquand Hochschild, and Sania Marquand. To realize the gift, the Marquand sisters would buy back from Mr. Garrigues part of the estate after having sold it to him a few years earlier. (14)
The final deed, signed on August 8, 1953, detailed the division of the property among the Borough of Princeton, William Garrigues, and Oliver Spaulding. It was the same arrangement as had been proposed to the Planning Board on March 4. The deed also called for the protection of trees and the creation of an advisory board for the park. It placed some restriction on the use of the land. Besides the three Marquand sisters, Harold Hochschild, was also listed as a donor.
Whether the Marquand sisters were part of the neighborhood group involved in the early negotiations is an unanswered question. The names of the members of the neighborhood group remained anonymous but we know that Mary Marquand Hochschild was present at the meeting of the Planning Board when subdivision of the estate was first discussed. It is hard to believe she was not involved. She and her husband would benefit the most from preventing an extensive subdivision of the estate because the proposed tracts of land would directly border the property where they had just built their new house. Most likely, the couple was involved from the beginning and decided together with Mary’s two sisters to make the donation possible. In the end, Mr. Garrigues did not seem to have contributed to the gift. The much-debated road through Marquand Park never happened but that is another story.
- Town Topics, 2 April 1950
- Town Topics, 28 May 1950 and Town Topics, 3 September 1950
- Town Topics, 17 June 1951
- Princeton Herald, Volume 29, Number 67, 28 June 1952
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 4, 15 November 1952
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 24, 31 January 1953
- Town Topics, 1 February 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 25, 4 February 1953 and Town Topics, 7 and 8 February 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 33, 4 March 1953 and Town Topics, 8 March 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 42, 4 April 1953, Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 43, 94 April 1953, Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 44,11 April 1953, Town Topics, 12 April, 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 45, 15 April 1953 and Town Topics, 9 April 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 51, 6 May 1953 and Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 54, 16 May 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 60, 10 June 1953 and Town Topics, June 14 1953
- Princeton Herald, Volume 30, Number 68, 11 July 1953