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

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Photographing The Brewer House (Sunny Gables) in Lawrence Township, NJ

A landmark house has been altered from its original form

There’s another house on my front burner as of last week—a beautiful and very unique gothic revival Victorian in Lawrence Township near Princeton. I actually discovered it last year at this time on my trips to The Gulick House, which is nearby. It sits alone on a rather large tract of land and is both enchanting and impressive. One can only imagine the 12-foot ceilings and tall arched doorways within. I was there two days in a row last week but only got some cursory pictures pending speaking with the owner. I’ve posted one of one here. I needed to get up a bit closer than the road to get the tree branches up and out of the way and frame a good composition. This required standing on the edge of property at the end of the driveway, so I wanted to get the owner’s permission.

However, it appeared they didn’t want to talk to me, and I guess I can’t blame them. If I had strangers walking up my drive I think I would prefer not to talk to them…but if you own a landmark historic house I guess it should be expected to some degree. In one of the photos I hastily made (I felt out in the open and like a thousand neighbors’ eyes were on me) there appears to be a historic registers plaque next to the front door. Anyway, I always respect the owner’s right to privacy, so I’ll try and shoot it from the road.

brewer house in lawrence, NJ
The Brewer House in Lawrence, NJ 2014

The house appears in a book of historic Lawrence houses, which states that it was built in the 1870s and renovated in the 1990s. I’m still hopeful I may yet be able to photograph the interior…I’ve written a professional letter introducing myself and describing my project which I’ll leave in the mailbox of each house I need closer access to. The owner can then choose to contact me or not.

UPDATE – November 2019

This house has since been sold to a new owner who has made some dramatic alterations and additions to the house. A new wing has been added on the left side, thereby negating the original historic plan and possibly affecting its historic registers status…I’m not sure about the latter but I was shocked to see what was done. The beautiful windows and the fenestration on that side of the house (and possibly the dormer windows? I don’t remember…) have been lost forever as a result. It’s really a shame to alter a house like this from its original form if it’s not necessary for preservation. The addition, in my opinion, is just ostentatious and unnecessary. If you’re going to purchase a house like this then it should be preserved as is. The house has been well cared for and its condition as of 2014 when I photographed it looked to be in fine order.

Unfortunately, this means that Lawrence has lost one of its very notable historic houses. I’m surprised the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) allowed the changes, but I think their concern and oversight is with the Route 206 corridor, the historic preservation zone. And legally, you can’t tell an owner what to do with their property.

I will drive by there and get a new photo of the alteration.

The 19th Century House Project

This site is the home of The 19th Century House Project, where I post my photography of 19th Century houses along with writing about my preservation and advocacy work. The project features my photography of large Victorian houses, my work in preservation consulting, raising awareness and advocating for historic preservation.

In 2013 The Project’s first accomplishment was to secure a certification of eligibility for the William Gulick House in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for inclusion in the state and national historic registers. My current activities involving the house include direct participation in efforts to prevent demolition and to advocate for adaptive reuse and 100% preservation. (Read my blog post on it here.)

Victorian mansion at West End Ave. and Middaugh Street in Somerville, NJ

I’m interested primarily in large Victorian houses built (in the U.S.) between 1850 and 1900. My current area of concentration is in Central New Jersey where there are many of these fine structures still standing. Some are finely restored and maintained, some are a little worn, while others are in need of restoration. While there are still large numbers of these houses in existence both large and small, especially in the small historic towns I photograph, I’m drawn mostly to the enigmatic subjects; those situated away from the others. Freehold and Flemington have very fine collections of Victorian era houses lining their streets but I prefer the lone house on a large lot or tract of land. They’re not always easy to find like that, and where you have more or less free access. Most owners I’ve spoken to have been very accommodating with regard to letting me photograph their houses.

Project Beginnings

My first experience was with a large Victorian style house at the age of 11 in my hometown of Holmdel, New Jersey. One of my friends lived in the converted carriage house of a Victorian mansion which the family called, “The Big House.” The date of construction, judging by he arched windows and wrap-around veranda was probably 1860s, when such elements began to appear. The large old house mesmerized me and from then on I was hooked. 20 years or so later a developer demolished it and I’ll never forget how I felt seeing it reduced to a huge pile of rubble. It seemed a terrible thing to destroy something that had stood for so long and that was an important part of the town and its history. It was built by a family with a prominent name synonymous with Holmdel: the Stillwells. Maybe it had significant water and/or termite damage that prevented rehabilitation. I know the structure was not maintained at all by the owners.

At any rate, springing forth from my connection with that house my passion has since become manifest through my photography, writing and preservation work. I want to preserve these fine old houses, wherever they still exist through my work, and with that involvement I hope to raise awareness. I believe it’s important to save our history for future generations.

Old South TIME-LIFE book

I have also studied the architectural elements and aspects of 19th century monumental house building styles through observation in the course of my photographic work, in discussion with architects and through online research and reading. Much of that has been on Louisiana plantation houses as they are the most ornate and eclectic in style of the Antebellum southern mansions. This is also a significant source for my interest. We had a TIME-LIFE series of books when I was growing up called the Library of America and one of them, “The Old South,” (pictured, right) sparked my interest with its stories and photographs of then 120-year-old mansions from a long gone era of languid opulence and sophistication. I know so many of them from the several books I’ve had on the subject, and it is one of my strongest desires to travel the Great River road north out of New Orleans and photograph, in my own unique style, these giant ghostly and magnificent remnants of the past.

Flemington veranda
Flemington veranda

I made the photo at right in Flemington, NJ in the summer of 2012, and it is directly influenced by one of those TIME-LIFE pictures I first saw as a kid. This veranda is so perfectly preserved and maintained and looks to be mostly original; and it appears much as it probably looked 130 or so years ago.

So, that is where my interest in 19th Century houses comes from. I’m going to have my studio in a large old Victorian house in the near future, as soon as I can find someone who has the right space and will give me a start with my business there. If you or someone you know has any ideas I would love to hear them. In the meantime, please take a look at my studio plan and proposal HERE.