20 February 2021

John F. Kennedy International Village, 1965

John F. Kennedy spent about four months in New Jersey in the fall of 1935 as a freshman at Princeton. Although an illness forced the future president to leave Princeton in December, can we imagine that on at least one weekend that fall he and his buddies took a drive out to the country? Maybe even to the Sourland Mountain?


JFK as a Princeton Freshman, 1935

Thirty years later - about a year after Kennedy's assassination - the International Student Research and Development Council Inc. (ISRDC) began making plans to bring the spirit of JFK to Hillsborough. John F. Kennedy International Village would have been a massive cultural exchange center for young people from around the world covering a minimum of 45 acres on Montgomery-Zion Road. 

What the JFK Village would have looked like

The Hillsborough Township Committee was first made aware of the plan in January 1965 when 15 homeowners showed up at a committee meeting. They had become aware of the ISRDC when they were approached with offers to buy their property. The village was designed by Tectonic Associates. As reported in The Courier News, the property would include:

"an administration and information center, a chapel for all faiths, a theater and museum, three classroom buildings, a food service building, a gymnasium, an athletic field, a guest house, eight male housing units, five female housing units, five parking lots, a heliport, practice fields and a summer campground."


The initial 45-acres was gifted to the ISRDC for Christmas of 1963 by C. Benjamin Curley. Curley and his wife Alma had owned a summer home in the Sourlands since the 1930s and had even run a summer camp for black children called  Rainbow's End. You can read more about the Curley's and the camp here. Over the years the Curleys added to their property and were actively involved in attempting to acquire adjacent properties for the proposed center even after their donation.

C. Benjamin Curley as a student at Howard University in 1910

The finished $3.5 million project - essentially a conference center for young people - was expected to encompass 100 acres and also include a swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, a cultural exchange center, and "50 units of small buildings that will bespeak the lands they represent in every aspect and detail." This final revelation caused planning board member James Older to wonder aloud who would issue the building permits for "thatch huts and Arab tents"?

13 October 1965 Courier News

Local residents initially had more questions than complaints - would there be enough water for the center? how would sewage be handled? would the roads need to be improved? how would this affect zoning on the mountain? These were the questions being considered by the township officials even as the Curleys' summer home was being renovated as the JFK Village information office and 5 acres in the immediate vicinity were being cleared for use as a summer camp.

Robert and Ted Kennedy in 1965

What eventually turned public opinion against the ISRDC was the fact that the Kennedy family had no knowledge at all about the village. Senator Robert F. Kennedy replied to an inquiry about the project from the Hillsborough Township attorney in October 1965:

"I don't personally have, and as far as I know, no other member of my family has any knowledge of this organization. Our approval or sanction was neither given nor ever requested."
In January of 1966, the ISRDC officially dropped the project.

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