In 1815, the triangular piece of property that now includes Perkins Center for the Arts in “Western Moorestown” was established by Joseph French and John Perkins as the Fairview Nurseries. It later became known as Tan Yard Farm and then Pinehurst Farm. The property was utilized as a nursery specializing in ornamental trees. Some of the specimen trees on the property today are believed to be from this time. Learn more about Perkins Center's arboretum here.
Directly across Kings Highway, the Perkins Homestead was built in 1832 by John Perkins. The property is now known as Strawbridge Mansion. Thomas Haines Dudley Perkins, John’s grandson was born in the Perkins Homestead. T. H. Dudley and Alice (Sullivan) Perkins were married, October 16, 1909 during a double wedding with Alice’s sister, Mable and Francis (Frank) D’Olier.
The home on the former nursery property was built in 1910 by Herbert C. Wise, a noted Philadelphia architect, as a wedding gift to Alice and Dudley Perkins (from Dudley's parents) for the approximate cost of $12,000. Wise is also known as one of the three founding editors of House and Garden Magazine and as an author of books on Colonial Architecture and college campus design. The home, named by the family as, Evergreen Lawn, is built in the Tudor Revival style inspired by English manor homes of the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a 2 ½ story house with a fieldstone ground floor, timber frames and rough troweled stucco in the upper stories. The front porch tie beam is inscribed with, D & A P 1910, for Alice and Dudley Perkins and the date the house was built. At or around 1930, the carriage house was built behind the home toward Camden Ave. The carriage house is built in the Craftsman style, the lower level served as a garage and the upper level an apartment. The same year, the second level porch at the original home was enclosed into a sleeping porch.
Dudley died in 1918 of influenza during the epidemic that occurred soon after the Great War (WWI). The couple had one son, Thomas Haines Dudley Jr. Soon after T. H. Dudley Sr.’s death, Alice Perkins invited her sister, Mable (Sullivan) and husband Francis D’Olier to live with her at Evergreen Lawn. The extended family had many years together at Evergreen Lawn. For a good period of time, the family bred dogs at Evergreen Lawn, first St. Bernards and later Cocker Spaniels. Frank’s main hobby involved homing pigeons and maintaining a small Victory Garden/Farm on the property that included vegetables, chickens and turkeys. He built a house on the property specifically to house his pigeons and it was affectionately referred to as the Pigeon House. Today the house is a residence.
After Alice’s and Frank’s death and the tragic death of Dudley, Jr. at the age of 48, Mabel (Sullivan) D’Olier was the sole occupant in the home. Mable purchased the home from Dudley Jr’s estate. Upon her death, the property and home were bequeathed to the Township of Moorestown to be used in perpetuity as a park or other suitable township purpose, Mable stipulated that the point of property between the house and where Kings Highway meets Camden Avenue be maintained as Open Space for the community and no buildings or structures should be placed on it, she stated that it be referred to as the Perkins Lawn.
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 21, 1982
The Moorestown Department of Parks & Recreation made their offices in Evergreen Lawn (then also known as the Perkins Memorial). However, in the early 1970’s, the township was contemplating the sale or demolition of the historic building. Responding to this situation, a group of concerned Moorestown citizens including Sally Harrall, Jean Gaasch, Frank Keenan and Louis Matlack fought to save Evergreen Lawn and had the buildings listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places in 1975. Thanks to community involvement and support, the township’s Recreational Advisory Committee recommended that the building be retained for use as a self-sustaining cultural arts center. Perkins Center for the Arts was created and was officially incorporated in 1977 as a non-profit community arts center serving the residents of Moorestown and the entire southern New Jersey region. Around this time, the remainder of the property was also designated as Open Space and in 1981, the 5.5 acre property was designated as an Arboretum. Perkins Center is currently operating under its second 25-year lease with the Township of Moorestown. The maintenance and upkeep of this historic site is solely dependent on public support and tax deductible donations.
In 2002, Perkins Center expanded to a satellite facility in Collingswood, Camden County. Plans are underway to fully renovate the building to include quality art studios, classrooms and exhibition spaces within an environmentally sensitive "green building." Working in partnership with the Borough of Collingswood, this expansion allows us to develop new programs in the visual, performing and literary arts, reach new audiences, and maintain the warm and intimate atmosphere of a community arts center.