Paul Robeson House


  • Historic Name: Paul Robeson House
  • Address: 1108-110 Witherspoon Street
  • Tax Parcel: 1114_17.02_55
  • Historic District: Witherspoon-Jackson
  • Historic Style: Italianate
  • Historic Street: Witherspoon Street
  • Classification: Key Contributing
  • Number of Resources: 1
  • Number of Stories: 2
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Historic Function: Domestic
  • Current Function: Domestic


The house is a 2.5-story, 4-bay building facing east onto Witherspoon Street with a rear addition. Its key features are its cross-gable and thick molded eaves. The roof is clad with asphalt shingles and features a centered cross-gable on the east elevation. The eaves are clad with vinyl, and the frame walls are clad with aluminum siding. Fenestration consists primarily of replacement 1x1 double hung sash units, arranged mostly symmetrically. The main (east) elevation features a window in the cross gable, four second floor windows, and three wall openings on the first floor: a window, the main entrance (replacement door), and a picture window occupying the northern two bays. A set of concrete steps leads up to the entrance. The house was constructed a half level above the sidewalk, and a former entrance into the basement near the southeast corner has been converted into a window. The foundation is stuccoed. The end walls of the house feature two attic windows, two windows on the second floor, and one on the first. A 2-part, 2-story addition on the rear (west) elevation has a shed roof, aluminum walls, and a stuccoed foundation.

East (main) elevation (2015)

East (main) elevation (2015)

East and south elevations (2015)

East and south elevations (2015)

East elevation (2015)

East elevation (2015)


The house was constructed c. 1842. 

James S. Green sold the parcel in the year 1841 to Spencer Sauck. Sauck died c. 1844, and the property was sold to James Burton, who then died c. 1847. 

Anthony Simmons, a local black caterer, purchased the house from the Burton estate in 1847, and he lived here for 22 years. During his residence here, Simmons helped to found the Presbyterian school where Betsey Stockton taught. Simmons died c. 1868; in his will, Simmons left the property to the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church for use as a manse. 

The best known Presbyterian minister who lived in the house was Reverend William Drew Roberson, who lived here with his family in the late 19th century. His son, Paul Robeson (1898-1976), famous black actor, athlete, singer and political activist, was born here. Paul attended the segregated public school on Green Street. When Reverend Robeson joined the AME Zion Church the family moved first to Westfield, then to Somerville. The Robesons retained many friends in Princeton, however, and returned often to visit. Paul Robeson’s book, Here I Stand (1958), contains an account of the family’s experiences in Princeton. 

In 1936, the Presbyterian Church lost the title to the property, and it was auctioned in a sheriff sale. The Princeton Savings and Loan Association purchased it at the auction and owned it 1936-1949. Later owners were Millie Ellerbe (1949-1965) and Gladys Taylor (1965-2005). The Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church purchased the property in 2005.

The basement at the corner was a lounge for African Americans who worked at the university. It served as a place for the Colored YMCA and was the location for Mr. David Graham’s Barber Shop. (Sources:The NJ Historical Commission, "Black Historic Sites in New Jersey," 1984; HPC information)

Deed Research

  • Reference: 5238-127
  • Date: 11/14/2005
  • Grantor: Gladys Taylor, 110 Witherspoon Street
  • Grantee: Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church
  • Price: $ 435,000
  • Size:
  • Notes: Lot 35x94 ft; Same as the following

  • ‍Reference: 1750-899
  • Date: 5/27/1965
  • Grantor: Millie Ellerbe Estate
  • Grantee: Gladys Taylor (resident)
  • Price: $ 10
  • Size: N.S
  • Notes: Ellerbe had died 8/1/1954; same as following property

  • Reference: 1081-221
  • Date: 11/15/1949
  • Grantor: Princeton Savings & Loan Assn
  • Grantee: Millie Ellerbe, widow
  • Price: $ 1
  • Size: N.S
  • Notes: Same as the following property.

  • Reference: 744-581
  • Date: 1/8/1936
  • Grantor: Trustees of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church
  • Grantee: Princeton Savings & Loan Assn
  • Price: $ 100
  • Size:
  • Notes: Sheriff sale to recover mortgage of $4,831; part of following.

  • ‍Reference: 73-334
  • Date: 2/18/1869
  • Grantor: Anthony Simmons Estate
  • Grantee: Trustees, First Presbyterian Colored Church
  • Price: $ 1,700
  • Size:
  • Notes: Lot 60x90. Part of the following.

  • ‍Reference: M-199
  • Date: 6/8/1847
  • Grantor: James Burton Estate
  • Grantee: Anthony Simmons
  • Price: $ 425
  • Size:
  • Notes: Lot 120x60. Same as the following.

  • ‍Reference: H-241
  • Date: 9/1/1845
  • Grantor: Spencer Sauck Estate
  • Grantee: James Burton
  • Price: $ 795
  • Size:
  • Notes: Lot 120x60. Same as the following.

  • ‍Reference: D-153
  • Date: 9/4/1841
  • Grantor: James S. & Isabella Green
  • Grantee: Spencer Sauck
  • Price: $ 90
  • Size:
  • Notes: Lot 120x60. Part of the following.

  • ‍Reference: A-392
  • Date: 2/6/1839
  • Grantor: William & Sarah Cruser, Somerset County
  • Grantee: James S. Green, Mercer County
  • Price: $ 200
  • Size: 14.15 acres
  • Notes: Entire Ferguson Tract.