Fire damages historic house at Battlefield Park

November 24, 1992 (~estimated)

Fire damages historic house at Battlefield Park

By Charles Toutant

Staff Writer

An electric appliance being used to remove old paint started a fire Wednesday at the pre-Revolutionary Thomas Clarke House at Princeton Battlefield State Park, officials said.

The fire, which started just before noon, damaged the wooden clapboards outside the home and plaster walls in the first-floor living room. The entire house suffered smoke damage in the fire, which took about 15 minutes to extinguish, said town-ship Fire Official Ted Cashel.

The fire was started by an electric heat pad being used by contractors to soften old paint so it can be scraped away, said Barbara Derer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, which oversees the state park. The fire started because the contractors did not realize underlying woodwork was decaying and therefore more flammable, she said.

The remainder of the paint will be removed by sanding rather than use of the heating device, said Ms. Derer. The exterior of the house, which had been yellow, will be stained white, which is believed to be the original color, she said.

The museum located in the house will remain open during renovations, she said. The house was vacant when it caught fire, said Phillip Hayden of the Historical Society of Princeton. Park curator John Mills, who formerly lived in a portion of it, recently moved to another home at the park, which is off Mercer Street, Mr. Hayden said.

The home was built in 1770 by Thomas Clark, who was a prosperous Quaker farmer, said Mr. Hayden, and was used as a hospital during the Battle of Princeton.

“The battle ended up in his back yard, in his fields and in the fields of a neighbor,” said Mr. Hayden.

Lore of the period says the wounded Gen. Hugh Mercer was propped up against the nearby tree known as the Mercer Oak, said Princeton Township Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Lewandowski.

The general, for whom Mercer Street is named, was then taken to the Clarke house, where he died, she said.


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