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Drumthwacket to Be a New Jersey “Point of Pride”

IN NEED OF SOME TLC: Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor’s mansion, is being spruced up under the direction of First Lady Tammy Murphy and the Drumthwacket Foundation. From new parking areas to kitchen improvements, some changes are underway. (Photo by Virginia Hall)

By Anne Levin

With its six white columns and sprawling wings on either side, Drumthwacket is among Princeton’s most visually striking buildings. But the official residence of the governor of New Jersey, last occupied from 2002 to 2004 by former Gov. James McGreevey and family, is in need of some major TLC.

Since Gov. Phil Murphy took office last January, First Lady Tammy Murphy has made the Stockton Street property a priority. Working with the Drumthwacket Foundation, Mrs. Murphy plans to spruce up the building, inside and out. The house, which dates from 1835 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is regularly used for receptions and open to the public on a limited basis. But the upstairs family quarters has decades-old carpeting, loose plaster moldings, and a few electric sockets that are falling down.

The Murphys “would love to move in,” Tammy Murphy said during a phone conversation this week. “But this isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone. My goal is to fix up Drumthwacket so that my husband and his administration can use it for meetings, and it becomes a point of pride for New Jersey. I want to make it shine. I feel as though it has gotten a little bit rundown.”

It was the front lawn that first got Mrs. Murphy’s attention. “When I arrived here, I was struck right away by the fact that cars were parked on the lawn,” she said. “We can’t do that anymore. It’s bad for the neighborhood, the house, and the lawn. And it’s a waste of money because the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has to come in after each event and regrade the lawn.”

Creating a parking area involves fixing up the back driveway, which has lately been out of use. That work is underway. “We also want to open up the back gate, which hasn’t been used for years,” Mrs. Murphy said. “And the tennis court and swimming pool — it’s almost a dangerous situation and it has to be fixed.”

This summer, students from Rutgers University’s horticulture department documented plantings and helped develop a master plan for stormwater management. “So the students get real, practical experience, and we don’t spend a lot of money,” Mrs. Murphy said.

The downstairs kitchen, which is used to prepare food for receptions, has been neglected. “There are improvements here and there, but it hasn’t been well thought through,” she said. “No one has looked at the big picture. I want to make it a kitchen that not only will enable dinners and receptions, but will also enable chefs to have cooking classes. There could be classes focused on local ingredients, guest chefs teaching about meals that might have been made during Drumthwacket’s history, and so on. It’s a way to include people from the community so they can enjoy the house and get something out of it that’s a bit different.”

In the upstairs residential areas, carpeting that was installed in the 1980s was ripped out to reveal original flooring in a few places. “It’s beautiful and it needs to be restored,” Mrs. Murphy said.

A capital campaign that is in the beginning stages will help support the project, which will be done through the nonprofit Drumthwacket Foundation. Mrs. Murphy said other foundations, corporations, and individuals will be approached.

“Phil and I will help, but we can’t do it on our own,” she said. “A lot will depend on how the campaign goes. We’re going to donors who have given historically. This should not be a partisan thing. It should be about support for this wonderful, historic property. This is an opportunity to do some things that are not going to be over the top, but will be a basic step to bring Drumthwacket back to a level of sophistication. Because it is an incredibly important destination.”

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