History Signage for Skillman Park

History Signage for Skillman Park

Posted on March 5, 2020

Township planners initiate inclusive process for development of historic interpretive signs for Skillman Park

Montgomery Township has announced plans to consider, in cooperation with Somerset County, interpretative park signage focusing on the history of the Skillman Park.  The park is located off Burnt Hill Road and Rt. 601 in Skillman, Montgomery Township.

“I support the idea of helping those who visit the park to know about its complex history, including the village for those with epilepsy, which was designed by noted Landscape Architect/Engineer Charles W. Leavitt in 1901,” said Mayor Sadaf Jaffer.

Montgomery Township purchased this property from the State of New Jersey in 2007.  While ultimately unable to salvage the many former State buildings, Montgomery preserved much of the property’s features, including its main allays, contours, natural areas, plantings, and landscaping.  Somerset County, which took ownership and developed Skillman Park in 2013-5, continues this conservative approach. Montgomery Township’s Open Space Committee has been partnering with the County to provide materials and volunteer labor to reforest the Rock Brook stream corridor and floodplain along the park’s southern border.

Skillman Park was initially the site of six large family farms in the 19th century.  Around the turn of the 20th century these were purchased and joined to develop a then state-of-the art medical residence facility, the “New Jersey State Village for Epileptics” at Skillman, which later became a neuropsychiatric center and then the North Princeton Developmental Center (NPDC).  The State closed the facility in the late 1990s and it remained empty for many years.  There are cemeteries of former resident patients which continue to be maintained on the property.

“There is a great deal of fascinating information that could be shared about this property’s natural and human history,” said Township Planner Lori Savron, when she recommended to the Township Committee that the town should seek the advice of an historical interpretation expert on sign development process and outcome.

Hunter Research of Trenton, a consultant which provides support services for historical restorations and historical education projects, is the expert Montgomery has begun working with. Hunter Research has some examples of other area historic interpretation projects posted online. See: http://www.hunterresearch.com/new-page-33.

“Historic signage would ideally explain the property’s former uses, highlight the significance of the people and place, as well as touch on cultural heritage, and create a narrative.  Signs might also include content on the natural and landscaped environments, agricultural uses, stewardship projects, and which educates about epilepsy, for example,” Ms. Savron explained.

Montgomery Township would like to consider creative ways to display Skillman Park’s historic highlights for the education of park-goers. Audience, site conditions, available historic information, and project budget would need to be considered to determine appropriate messages and sign design and placement.  An aspect of the development of this project includes identifying grant sources which could support it.

Ms. Savron recommended an inclusive process, in cooperation with Somerset County.  A sub-committee has been formed, including resident-volunteers on the Recreation Committee, Landmarks Commission, Open Space Committee, Van Harlingen Historic Society, and the Skillman Park Advisory Committee, to gather ideas and feedback.

The Planning Department would like to reach those who have photos or a story to tell about the original village or other part of the property’s history.   Email Planning Director Lori Savron at lsavron@twp.montgomery.nj.us or call (908) 359-8211 ext. 206.