The William Gulick House – Saving a Lawrenceville Icon

My first encounter with the William Gulick House was several years ago, around 2011. My wife and I used to drive her son down to Cherry Hill to see his friends who had moved there from Hillsborough. Our route took us down US 206 through Lawrenceville where the house sits at the intersection with Provinceline Road. In the 19th century this crossing was known as Cox’s Corner. The house caught my eye one trip as we drove just south of the intersection where it comes into view. Obviously abandoned, the house looked forlorn yet beckoned me as a perfect subject. My radar is always “on” for large Victorians; especially those in a state of distress…it means there’s lots of exploration, photography and preservation work to be done. As a photographer these houses are some of my most foremost subject matter. You can see them on my website under Fine Art/19th Century House Project. It’s an interest I’ve had since late childhood and seeking them out, exploring and researching them is a big part of my work.

Gulick House
The William Gulick House in December 2012

My photography of The Gulick House, then, began in December of 2012, with the photo above being the first formal picture I made of it.

A Big House for a Large Farming Family

Second floor hall
Second floor hall and door (at left) to the service wing hallway

William Gulick was a prosperous local farmer whose family name is synonymous with the area, including Hillsborough where I live. Even streets bear the name. Gulick is a Dutch name, having originally been Van Gulick and the Gulicks were not unlike other farming families who owned large tracts of land in New Jersey during the 18th and 19th centuries, like the Craigs of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. William Gulick was preceded by Dirck Gulick whose house is 100 years older and sits on Route 601 several miles north in Montgomery.

The house has been designated as one of the few large ‘high style’ houses built in the area in the 19th century.

William built his house in 1855 for his growing family. It’s a large 5-bay Victorian in the Italianate style, which had become very popular by the mid-nineteenth century. Even by today’s standards this is a big house and it has been designated as one of the few large ‘high style’ houses built in the area in the 19th century. By 1860 Mr. Gulick had fathered 7 children—Almyra, Lewis, Franklin, William, Jacob, James and John. An eighth child, Fannie Belle, came along later but she died in infancy. In fact, the other youngest three didn’t live to see age 30. There were also single servants who lived in the house over the years. According to the census records, they were typically young adults in their late teens. There is one named Elizabeth in the 1860 census, and another in the 1870 or ’80 record, a young man from New York State listed as a farmhand. That 4 of the children died so young is strange; perhaps it was tuberculosis, a big killer in the 1800’s. I learned all of this information through census and online research.

William died in December 1890, and his wife Mary (known as Fannie, a popular name of the day) 4 years later. It is not known who the house passed to after the 1890’s; there isn’t any information on the family members after the 1880 census. More research is still needed.

Architectural Style Changes

Front gable and pediments
Front gable and pediments

Around 1920 the house underwent some major stylistic alterations. The Colonial Revival style was then in vogue and whoever owned the fine large house decided that they needed to keep current with architectural style trends. Luckily, most of the Italianate details were retained except for the front porch, which was removed. Pediments were added (right) above the arched window in the front gable and over the front entry. The mantels in the upstairs bedrooms also reflect the Colonial style. The existing mantels on the first floor have been removed by vandals.

The blending of the two styles was articulated so well that they manifest in a unique blending of architectural styles, and that is the criterion—architectural significance—that earned The Gulick House its certification of eligibility (COE) for the historic registers. More on that below.

The Present and Certification for the Historic Registers

front entrance
The front entrance of The Gulick House in 2013

After 1920 there is nothing of note in the house’s history until the mid-1990’s. That’s when it was sold out of its last private ownership and into the hands of a corporate entity, E.R. Squibb and Son, which soon after became Bristol Meyers Squibb. They, in turn, sold the property in short order to Care One, LLC, an assisted living company. To make a long and complicated story short, two plans were submitted that called for incorporating the house into the proposed facility; and then finally one for demolishing it after the pervious two went to court over disagreements on the size of the proposed new facility. That 3rd use-variance plan was submitted in 2005 with no hearing ever held on it, and the house languished again until I discovered it around 2010-2011.

I wondered if anyone had done anything toward its preservation and thought that the historic registers would be a good place to start. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Trenton said they did indeed know of the house and its saga but that nothing had ever been submitted. I thought that was an incredible stroke of good luck for me, so I obtained the pre-application packet and began preparing the materials in June 2013. Since my graduate school semester had just ended I had some time to work on it. By mid-July, after a lot of work visiting the property, writing descriptions and making photographs, I had completed the necessary materials and mailed the packet in. A couple of weeks later I got the certification of eligibility from SHPO (dated July 26, 2013) saying that the state recognized my assertion that the house was eligible for a historic registers nomination under criterion ‘C’ for architectural significance. This was a major positive milestone in the recent history of The Gulick House.

My radar is always “on” for large Victorians…

Not much happened for the next couple years except for the occasional contact from someone who had seen my press release on obtaining the COE. Eventually, about two and a half years later, I was contacted by Anthony Pizzutillo, a public relations consultant who is active in historic preservation and politically connected in the Princeton-Lawrenceville area. He expressed great interest in my work and we discussed our hopes of preserving the Gulick House in detail. He informed me that the Lawrence Planning Board would be hearing renewed arguments from the owner for a demolition permit application; this was in 2015. The application was first denied by the Lawrence Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) and was appealed to the Planning Board. Those hearings ended with the permit again being denied in 2016.

During the time when the hearings were being held, Mr. Pizzutillo, Pamela Frank, also a historic preservation advocate, and I formed Friends of The Gulick House, a non-profit organization whose mission is to effect the preservation and restoration of the house. I also got my good friend Max Hayden involved as architecural consultant. Max is an architect in Hopewell who specializes in historic preservation.

A Brighter Future

With The Friends of The Gulick House assembled we began working in earnest towards a solution to the demolition threat problem. We were able to get the beginnings of a very promising proposal on the table that provides for 100% preservation. At present, the negotiations appear to have have been shelved while other more important matters are being pursued. So far it’s been another 2 years but hopefully things will get moving again soon.

For access to the historic registers pre-application files and updates on the house you can email me at james@jamestcallahanphotographer.com.

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