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Christian Union
February 1, 2017

Christian Union Purchases Historic Building

by Catherine Elvy, staff writer

Christian Union is preparing to open the doors to the Robert L. Melrose Center for Christian Leadership, just a block from Princeton University.

The facility will provide office space for Christian Union's ministry team at Princeton, as well as meeting space for Bible courses, mentoring and prayer sessions, alumni events, and other gatherings.

"It will be a great place off campus for students to feel like they are hosted in a really warm, welcoming space," said Jon Nielson, Christian Union's director of ministry at Princeton.

In October, Christian Union purchased the historic home at 19 Vandeventer Avenue, a block north of Firestone Library. The home, a landmark in the Princeton community, was built on Nassau Street about 1780, before being moved to Vandeventer Avenue in 1887.

Nielson compared the inviting ambience of the living and dining quarters inside Melrose Center to the eating clubs that line Prospect Street.

Likewise, the Melrose Center is a short walk from Princeton University and helps alleviate the space crunch inside Christian Union's Wilson Center. The facility, which is located on Nassau Street, has served as the ministry's national headquarters and Princeton ministry headquarters for many years.

"Everyone understands the significance of having meeting space close to campus," said Nielson.

The purchase is emblematic of Christian Union's goals of providing practical resources to believers at top universities. "The idea is that the space would be as flexible and usable as possible," said Nielson. "There's a beautiful kitchen, which we will make good use of for student dinners and Bible courses."

The Wheaton College alumnus also envisions hosting training sessions and discussion groups for undergraduates inside Melrose Center, which has three stories plus a basement and fenced backyard.

Nielson expressed profound gratitude to retired lawnmower executive Ken Melrose, Princeton '62, for his role as the major benefactor behind the 4,100-square-foot center that now bears the name of his late brother, Robert Melrose, Princeton '54. The ministry is also thankful for another 126 donors to date who stepped up to make this center a reality.

"Ken has just loved the ministry for years," said Nielson.

Ken Melrose also saw this partnership as a way to honor his brother's life and faith.

The former chief executive officer of The Toro Company is fond of sharing his concept of "servant leadership" with executives, especially young and emerging ones. During a visit to Princeton in 2011, Melrose told students their ultimate purpose was to "serve God by serving others."

Melrose documented much of his faith-based corporate journey in Making the Grass Greener on Your Side: A CEO's Journey to Leading by Serving.

The Florida native graduated with honors from Princeton, where he majored in mathematics and lettered in track. He earned a master of science in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965 and a master of business administration from the University of Chicago in 1967.

Christian Union was pleased to honor the lead donor's wish to name the facility in honor of Robert Lumley Melrose. The history major was a member of Dial Lodge and participated in varsity track, the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, and the Student Christian Association.

After graduation, Robert Melrose served in the US Navy for two years and later entered graduate school at the University of Florida, where he also served as an assistant professor. Melrose's goal was to join Princeton's faculty, but tragically, he and his young wife died together in an electrical accident in 1959.

In addition to sharing appreciation for the Melrose family with students, Nielson also noted the privilege of gathering in one of Princeton's celebrated historic homes.

Originally on Nassau Street and across from the Bainbridge House, the Beatty House dates back to about 1780. Jacob Hyer, a former colonel in the Continental Army and Hudibras Tavern proprietor, is believed to have built the center hall colonial structure, according to the Princeton Historical Society.

Around 1815, Hyer reportedly sold the house to Erkuries Beatty, a Revolutionary War officer.

Notably, Beatty, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, also served as a trustee of his alma mater, Princeton, and member of the class of 1762. Erkuries Beatty went on to become a county judge, member of New Jersey's legislature, and father of yet another Princeton-trained Presbyterian clergyman, according to The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.

The house stayed in the Beatty family until 1875 when Jacob Vandeventer bought it and moved it to his namesake street, according to a newspaper account.

Over the years, the house functioned in a variety of capacities, including as a girls' school, boarding house, and antiques dealership. The Historical Society of Princeton purchased the property in 1991 and leased it to commercial tenants until private owners bought it in 2005 for a residence.

Renovations by the most recent owners resulted in the structure receiving an historic preservation award from the Princeton Historical Society. Highlights of the home include a brick, walk-in fireplace, an elegant, open two-story staircase, and hardwood floors.

"The Melrose Center will build community. It will be a place that will feel like home," Nielson said.
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