January 8, 2006
Living In | Lawrence Township, N.J.
Heading Into the Future by Reclaiming the Past
by Dith Pran/The New York Times
Lawrenceville's Main Street, financed by the town and private donations, helped
to recruit businesses to fill empty storefronts.
By JERRY CHESLOW
The bricks that fringe the sidewalk on the three-block-long Main
Street in Lawrenceville, N.J. - part of Route 206 - tell the story of how
residents of Lawrence Township are helping to reclaim their 19th-century
clapboard downtown, one greeting at a time.
For $50 to $250, their anniversaries, birthdays and political messages
are being engraved on red pavers that create a broad apron onto which the
district's eight restaurants pull their umbrella tables during warm weather.
For example, one anonymous donor had "Viva Che" etched onto one line of a small
brick, and a short distance away, on a three-line eight-by-eight-inch surface,
Mimi and Scooter created a permanent greeting for their grandson Drew Harold
"Ten years ago, there were a lot of boarded up buildings, and the
people decided to do something about it," said Ann Garwig, executive director
of a civic improvement organization called Lawrenceville Main Street, which was
founded to clean up and promote the downtown. Its $90,000 annual budget,
financed by the municipality and by donations, has helped to recruit new
businesses to fill the empty storefronts and to organize events like street
fairs and free concerts in the summer.
From its business district to its schools, open space, affordable
housing and bike trails, the 22-square-mile Lawrence Township, which includes
Lawrenceville, combines private initiatives with public policy for the good of
Founded in 1697, it is one of the oldest municipalities in New
Jersey. Yet about a third of the Mercer County township is still open
space, largely because its farmers were willing to sell the development rights
to their land to the state's Farmland Preservation Program.
Today, 15 active farms grow apples, peaches, vegetables and organic
beef and chicken. The town is in the third year of a development of a $7
million, 20-mile bike trail, financed by the township's two largest
corporations: the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and the educational testing
company ETS, which have campuses at the northern end of town and provide nearly
Although Lawrence abuts wealthy Princeton and has many houses that
sell in the millions of dollars, Mayor Pamela H. Mount, who owns the 200-acre
Terhune Orchards, proclaims that Lawrence is one of the few townships in
central New Jersey that has exceeded its state mandated quota for affordable
housing. "We have 200 more units than we have to, and it makes our community a
more interesting place," she said.
Making friends in Lawrence is also easy, according to Jacqueline
Giulliano, who moved from a three-bedroom house in Dunellen, N.J., to a
five-bedroom colonial in July with her husband, Joe, and their two children,
ages 3 and 5.
"We wanted more space, a better school system and closeness to
Princeton," Mrs. Giulliano said. Her husband works for GE Healthcare, which is
based in Princeton. Mrs. Giulliano says that the local Moms' Club helped her to
network and develop her home-based gift business, which prepared 250
Thanksgiving baskets for Bristol-Myers Squibb.
"There's a nice cultural and income mix," Mrs. Giulliano said. "And,
with two community pools, great parks and the McCarter Theater nearby, it
offers a lot."
What You'll Find
Housing options are generally governed by proximity to neighboring
towns. Homes at the southern end have a Trenton postal code and are smaller and less expensive than those at the northern end,
along the Princeton line.
"The closer you get to Princeton, the more expensive," said Buz
Donnelly, a broker associate at Re/Max Premiere Properties. "And those homes
within the Princeton ZIP code command more."
Single-family homes range from small one-bedroom bungalows to newer
five-bedroom colonials. In general, newer homes tend to have small lots of
one-eighth to one-quarter acre, often with less than 20 feet between houses.
This reflects the township's successful open space program, which has placed
more than one quarter of the buildable land off the market.
Colonials that are 20 to 50 years old tend to have a third of an acre
to a half. There are dozens of historic homes on varying lot sizes, many in the
historic district of Lawrenceville's Main Street, and more than 2,500
condominiums in a dozen complexes.
What You'll Pay
Housing on the market ranges from a one-bedroom condo in the
30-year-old Meadow Woods complex, off Route 206 near the Trenton line, listed
for $129,900, up to $2.65 million for a four-bedroom home on nearly four acres
with a swimming pool and tennis court.
The largest of 12 condo complexes is the 820-unit Lawrence Square
Village off Lawrence Square Boulevard on the east side of town near the West
Windsor line. In that complex, 11 units are listed at prices ranging from
$214,900 for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, to $273,888 for a two-story,
three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath town house.
The least expensive single-family units are duplexes, small ranches
and bungalows in the Slackwood or Colonial Lake neighborhoods in the southern
part of town, near the Trenton line, which can go for as little as $200,000.
Newer colonials in newer developments scattered throughout the township sell
for varying prices, up to about $950,000 for a five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot
home with a three-car garage along Cold Soil Road, which has a Princeton ZIP
Lawrence Township has an abundance of schools. Its 4,200-student
public school system consists of three elementary schools for prekindergarten
to Grade 3, Lawrence Intermediate School for Grades 4 to 6, Lawrence Middle
School and Lawrence High School, which offers 33 advanced placement and honors
classes in the sciences, history, German, Spanish, government, music and
English literature. The school system also runs four adult education English
courses for its many Eastern European immigrants and an after-school tutoring
program at Eggerts Crossing Village.
On the 2004 SAT scholastic reasoning tests, Lawrence High School
students scored 543 in mathematics and 520 in verbal, compared with state
averages of 516 and 500 respectively.
The township's most famous educational institution is the
Lawrenceville School, a college preparatory high school on a 700-acre campus
that fronts on Main Street. Its alumni include presidents of foreign countries,
governors, Saudi princes, Nobel laureates, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists
and captains of industry.
Founded in 1810 and long considered a feeder for nearby Princeton
University, it now has 780 boarding and day students from 34 states and 29
countries. Annual tuition is $34,570 for boarding students and $28,180 for day
Also in Lawrence are the Princeton Junior School for prekindergarten
to Grade 5 and the Chapin School for prekindergarten to Grade 8. The two
parochial schools are St. Ann's, an elementary school, and Notre Dame High
Rider University, founded in 1865, has a 280-acre campus off
Lawrenceville Road on the southwestern edge of the township.
What to Do
The most interesting area for strolling through Lawrence is the
two-mile-long Main Street Historic District, which is on the National and State
Registers of Historic Places. In all, 56 buildings, many going back to the
early 1700's, are designated as "key" structures.
It includes the 19th-century commercial strip and an area of the
Lawrenceville School known as "the Circle," with a half-dozen 19th-century
dormitories and landscaping designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a designer of
Central Park in New York. The Circle has also been designated a National
Historic Landmark, the highest national historic designation.
The township has four major parks. The most widely used is the
107-acre Central Park off Eggerts Crossing Road. It has four baseball diamonds,
four soccer fields, one football field, five basketball courts and three tennis
Founded in 1697 as the town of Maidenhead - named for a London suburb
that was eventually incorporated into that city - Lawrence was the scene of a
crucial Revolutionary War engagement on Jan. 2, 1777. General Cornwallis was
marching his British troops from New Brunswick to Trenton to crush Gen. George Washington's army.
The outmanned Washington ordered Col. Edward Hand to keep the British from
entering Trenton before nightfall.
In a clash that began at the Shabakunk Creek, just south of the
current campus of the Notre Dame High School along Lawrence Road, Cornwallis
was stalled for the night just outside Trenton. Washington sneaked his
beleaguered troops out of the city and defeated Cornwallis's rear guard in the
Battle of Princeton, which became known as the turning point of the Revolution.
On the closest Saturday to Jan. 2 - this year, Dec. 31, 2005 -
township officials wearing Colonial garb lead a march from the municipal
building on Lawrence Road to the site of Colonel Hand's attack, where a
re-enactment is held.
In 1816, the Rev. Isaac V. Brown, founder of the Lawrenceville School,
petitioned the New Jersey Legislature to change the town name because of the
association of the name "Maidenhead" with virginity. The township was renamed
for Capt. James Lawrence, a naval hero in the War of 1812, whose final order,
"Don't give up the ship," became the motto of the Navy. Lawrence died on the
deck of his frigate, the Chesapeake, as it was captured by H.M.S. Shannon in
Dannielle E. Pearson, a sales associate with Prudential Fox &
Roach Realtors, says that many of the people buying homes in Lawrence Township
are transferring business executives who have taken jobs in Manhattan. The New
Jersey Transit train ride from nearby Hamilton or Princeton Junction to
Pennsylvania Station is 69 minutes or 63 minutes, respectively.
What We Like
Lawrence combines preservation with convenience. Along with its 19th
century downtown and farms, it also provides abundant shopping. Options include
two regional farm markets; the Lawrence Shopping Center on Princeton Avenue,
which is anchored by an Acme supermarket; the Mercer Mall; and the 1.1
million-square-foot Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1.
What We'd Change
Traffic through Lawrence during rush hours is congested, especially
along Business Route 1, a section of the highway that was bypassed a generation
ago by a beltway to Trenton. Local officials say they have petitioned the New
Jersey Department of Transportation to convert the highway into a boulevard by
replacing the concrete barriers in the center with a grassy median. Their
objective is to calm traffic and to encourage the development of local
businesses, much like what happened on nearby Main Street.