The original settlers, Quakers mostly, came to this verdant stretch of West Jersey in the late 1600s to be planters. The settlement was called Stony Brook after the small stream that defined two sides of the town but was named Prince-Town in 1724 in honor of Prince William of Orange and Nassau. The main road from New York to Philadelphia came right through town, located approximately half-way between the key cities (45 miles to NYC and 40 to Philly) and Princeton evolved into an important coaching center. Some days as many as 15 coaches would start off each way on Nassau Street, the main thoroughfare.
In 1756 the College of New Jersey arrived from Newark and set up shop in the newly constructed Nassau Hall, the largest academic building in the colonies. After that, save for a few critical days during the American Revolution, the history of Princeton the town has been the history of the school. There was a brief flurry of industrial activity when the Camden and Amboy Railroad showed up in 1834 and the Delaware and Raritan Canal was dug nearby in the 1830s but by the end of the 19th century when the school officially became Princeton University the two would be marching practically in lockstep. Manufacturing is not permitted in the borough and as early as 1883 Major E. M. Woodward & John F. Hageman wrote presciently in History of Burlington and Mercer Counties, New Jersey, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Their Pioneers and Prominent Men: “Far distant be the day when the pure, bright atmosphere of Princeton shall be darkened and tainted with the smoky, dirty exhalations of a manufacturing city.”
So we will concentrate our explorations around Princeton University and begin right at the main gate. But we won’t go in straight away since as we’ll learn, we weren’t always welcome...
Nassau Street at Witherspoon Street
The FitzRandolph Gate was inhospitably constructed in 1905 to keep townsfolk off the Princeton University campus. Save for the graduation march through the gate into the real world, the incoming P-rade of freshmen and the occasional big-shot visitor the gate was kept closed and locked. In 1970 the gate was opened in a symbolic gesture of the school’s new-found desire to appear uncloistered. And just in case Princeton officials couldn’t trust themselves to re-open the door any time it was closed, the FitzRandolph Gate was permanently cemented open. After that a superstition emerged that while students could freely enter the gate at any time if they exited via the main gate before graduation they would be doomed never to graduate.
WE WON’T GO IN JUST YET. WITH YOUR BACK TO THE FITZRANDOLPH GATE, TURN RIGHT AND WALK EAST ON NASSAU STREET.
northwest corner of Witherspoon and Nassau streets
This exuberantly half-timbered Tudor Revival style building was constructed in 1898 as a gift to Princeton University from Moses Taylor Pyne. Pyne inherited an enormous railroad and banking fortune and spent his career in the upper echelons of business. According to one source Pyne was “a director of four banks, four steel and metal manufacturing companies, one gas company, one insurance company, eight railroads and president of one railroad, two hospitals, two secondary schools, two YMCAs; and a vestryman of four Episcopal churches.” His true passion was the school from which he graduated in 1872. He gave so much money to Princeton that the total is incalculable; it is said that he personally covered any year’s deficit in the operating budget with his own check. Pyne served for thirty-six years on the Board of Trustees and he did not miss a single meeting. This building was planned to provide space for shops at the street level, dormitory rooms for undergraduates in the stories above. there was actually an Upper Pyne at one time, both designed by Raleigh C. Gildersleeve. It was at 76 Nassau Street but was demolished in 1963.
158 Nassau Street
This Georgian brick-faced house should probably be called the Stockton House since it was built in 1766 by Job Stockton, a wealthy tanner and descendant of one of the earliest Princeton settlers. The house remained in the Stockton family for over 100 years, mostly as a rental property. One of the early tenants was Dr. Absalom Bainbridge whose son William was born in the house on May 7, 1774. William Bainbridge went to sea at the age of 14 in the merchant service and when the United States Navy was organized in 1798 he was given command of a schooner, the USS Retaliation. On November 20, 1798, Lt. Bainbridge surrendered the USS Retaliation to a French cruiser without opposition, the first ship in the nascent United States Navy to be surrendered. The action was not judged a mark against the young commander and he would rise to the rank of Commodore and be given five later commands, most notably to great distinction in the War of 1812 aboard the USS Constitution.
By the late 1800s the Bainbridge House was owned by the university and serving as a boarding house. It was put to use as a public library in 1910 and in 1967 it became the home of the Historical Society of Princeton. Today much of the nearly 250-year old structure remains, including original paneled walls and staircase.
Princeton Garden Theatre
160 Nassau Street
The Garden Theatre opened on September 20, 1920 with a screening of Civilian Clothes, a World War I yarn starring Thomas Meighan. On hand were a live orchestra while palms and ferns decorated the stage. The movie house operated into the 1990s, including a futile conversion to a twin theater to stave off extinction in the process. After closing for several years the Garden was saved early in this century with a million-dollar refurbishment.
CROSS NASSAU STREET AND BEGIN WALKING BACK TOWARDS THE TOUR STARTING POINT. MAKE YOUR FIRST LEFT THROUGH THE GATE INTO THE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY CAMPUS. THE FIRST BUILDING ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
Chancellor Green Library
Princeton trustees were so impressed with the designs of William A. Potter for the first dedicated library building on campus that they ordered the demolition of historic Philosophical Hall so it could stand next to Nassau Hall. The octagonal High Victorian Gothic building was considered a model of modern library design and President James McCosh ushered in a new age of library usage by having the building open every day but Sunday and hiring the school’s first full-time professional librarian away from the Library of Congress.
THE NEXT BUILDING ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
East Pyne Hall
This show-stopper of a building was the creation of William Appleton Potter in 1897 as an addition to the Chancellor Green Library - it would hold some 1.5 million items. The structure is credited with inspiring the collegiate Gothic style of architecture that not only would come to permeate the Princeton campus but was also adopted at many other colleges and universities around the world. The collegiate Gothic style deliberately reproduces the architecture typical of medieval English monastic foundations, institutions that developed into universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
ON YOUR LEFT IS...
After Harvey S. Firestone, Jr. graduated from Princeton he was placed in charge of the steel products division of his father’s company. I 1941, at the age of 43 he assumed leadership of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. The Gothic library building he helped fund opened in 1948. Firestone is one of the largest open-stack libraries in the world and Princeton librarians like to boast that the library has more books per student than any library in America. A far cry from the days when the College of New Jersey opened with 474 books stored in a single room when the school opened.
Construction of the Princeton University Chapel began in 1924, and the structure was completed in 1928, at a cost of $2.4 million. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, a leading enthusiast of the Gothic Revival style, it is one of the largest collegiate chapels in the world.
CONTINUE STRAIGHT THROUGH THE SMALL CIRCLE INTERSECTION AND WALK THROUGH THE GATE...
Prospect House and Garden
John Notman, a Philadelphia architect who was an originator of the Italianate style of architecture designed this Italian villa in 1851 for Thomas F. Potter, who was looking to update the Georgian farmhouse that had stood on the property since the 1780s. In 1878 the splendid stone house was given to the university to use the President’s House. Woodrow Wilson resided here between 1902 and 1910 before he shuffled off to the White House. The house has done duty as a faculty club since 1968.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS OUT TO THE INTERSECTION AND WALK LEFT. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
This campus religious center was constructed in two stages to honor a pair of Princeton men who died shortly after graduation. Murray Hall came first, on a bequestform Hamilton Murray who perished at sea in 1873 when the S.S. Ville de Havre sank scarcely a year after he left Princeton. Prophetically, he had penned his will the night before he sailed. The funds for the other half of the building, linked by a cloister, came from the Dodge family in the memory of Earl Dodge who died in 1884, five years after graduation.
Whig Hall/Clio Hall
These identical marble Neoclassical temples were built in 1893 to house the University’s two debating societies, Whig and Cliosophic. The two societies merged in 1929. Whig was seriously damaged by fire in 1969 and it took extensive renovations to re-unite the twins. The buildings form the southern wall of Cannon Green, so named because of a half-buried British cannon half-buried here by the victorious Americans.
The use of the tiger as a symbol of Princeton dates to the late 1800s as an outgrowth of the Princeton athletic teams’ use of the colors orange and black. The Class of 1879 donated the iconic bronze tigers guarding the entrance to Nassau Hall in 1911. These tigers, one male and one female, were sculpted by Bruce Moore and installed in 1969 - the year Princeton became co-educational.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF THE DRIVE. THE BUILDING IN FRONT OF YOU IS...
Architects William A. Potter and Robert H. Robertson were given to mandate in 1875 to create a dormitory that would attract wealthier students to the University. They delivered a High Victorian Gothic showcase that Harper’s Weekly declared as “one of the most commanding college buildings in the world.” The outside of the five-story building was crafted with bands of blue-gray Pennsylvania marble and Newark stone. Inside, students could avail themselves of the latest amenities such as water closets on every floor and their servants could bunk in special rooms. With the vagaries of tastes however Witherspoon went from the most desirable dorm on campus to one of the least popular in the course of a generation as the Collegiate Gothic style overtook the campus. By the 1970s the top three floors had been condemned as a fire hazard and Witherspoon flirted with the wrecking ball before it received a modernization.
TURN RIGHT. THE BUILDING UP AHEAD ON YOUR LEFT IS...
William A. Potter contributed this Richardsonian Romanesque building to the campus in 1894, adapting the trademarks of powerful arches, wide gable and contrasting rough-faced red granite and brown sandstone trim pioneered by legendary architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The 36 bas-relief allegorical figures on the south elevation were designed by J.A. Bolger and carved by J. Massey Rhind to represent various educational disciplines. Alexander Hall was intended as a convocation hall and was funded by Harriet Crocker Alexander, the widow of Charles B. Alexander, a New York attorney and Class of 1870. Hattie Crocker was the daughter of Charles Crocker of the Union Pacific Railroad “Big Four” that built half the Transcontinental Railroad and was one of America’s richest men. When the two married in 1887 the details of the much-anticipated wedding took up a full column in the New York Times and the ceremony was said to have featured the most elaborate floral display ever seen on the West Coast.
DO NOT WALK OUT THE GATE. TURN RIGHT AND WALK THROUGH THE GARDEN BEHIND THE HOUSE OUT INTO THE GREEN. THE BUILDING TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
This is the third oldest building on campus, constructed in 1803 to house the library, study halls and the two literary societies, Whig and Clio. A exact duplicate was built on the opposite side of Nassau Hall and that was the Princeton campus. This building would later be known as Geological Hall and its counterpart Philosophical Hall. Philosophical Hall became renowned as the place where Joseph Henry conducted pioneering experiments in electromagnetism and telegraphy; it was taken down in 1873 for the new Chancellor Green Library.
WALK OVER TO THE BUILDING DOMINATING THE CENTER OF THE GREEN THAT IS...
Nassau Hall was the College of New Jersey - Princeton University since 1896 - when it was completed in 1756. The 170-foot long four-story brownstone, the most impressive college building in the middle colonies, contained classrooms, eating and sleeping areas, and a chapel for the entire student body of 70. The British occupied Princeton in 1776 and used Nassau Hall as barracks. During the Battle of Princeton some redcoats took refuge here and were driven away by artillery fire. Americans treated wounded soldiers in Nassau Hall. Princeton became the nation’s capital in 1783 when mutineers surrounded Independence Hall to receive back pay. Congress adjourned in Philadelphia and assembled in Nassau Hall on June 26, 1783, remaining in session until November.
WALK OUT THE FITZRANDOLPH GATE AND TURN LEFT. STAY ON THE CAMPUS SIDE OF NASSAU STREET. THE BUILDING JUST PAST THE GATE IS...
This home was completed shortly after Nassau Hall in 1756 to serve as the President’s house. Robert Smith, who was designing and building Nassau Hall next door took on this job as well. Aaron Burr, Sr. was the first to move in. Ten Princeton presidents resided here and it captured the name of the ninth, John Maclean, Jr., head of the school from 1854 to 1868 and founder of the Alumni Association.
Nassau Presbyterian Church
61 Nassau Street
After years of traveling to either Lawrenceville or Kingston for church services the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton was founded in 1766 and the congregation has met on this spot ever since. The first two churches burned - in 1813 and 1835. This third sanctuary was dedicated in 1836. The Greek Revival core of the building was erected by Charles Steadman using a facade plan of architect Thomas U. Walter he purchased for $10.00. Walter would later re-design the dome for the United States Capitol.
TURN LEFT ON MERCER STREET THAT ANGLES AWAY FROM NASSAU STREET.
33 Mercer Street
An Episcopalian outpost was established in Presbyterian-dominated Princeton in 1833 and the small congregation built a modest Greek Revival meeting house. It was replaced in 1879 by a stone sanctuary designed by Richard Upjohn and his son, leading proponents of the style in America. It forms the core of the current building that was doubled in size, including a significantly heightened tower, in the early 1900s.
Albert Einstein House
112 Mercer Street
“I am very happy in my new home in this friendly country and the liberal atmosphere of Princeton,” wrote Albert Einstein in 1935 after coming to town for research in his “Institute for Advanced Study.” He bought this house but it would fill with unhappy members when his wife Elsa fell ill and died in December 1936. The house was built on Alexander Street just east of here in the 1870s and later moved to this location.
TURN RIGHT ON EDGEHILL STREET.
Detour: A little more than a half-mile down the street at 500 Mercer Road is Princeton Battlefield State Park. If you want to visit one of the few Revolutionary War battlefields that still looks much as it did in the 1770s continue down Mercer Street and then return to this point.
Princeton Battlefield State Park
500 Mercer Road
Having finally achieved an important victory at Trenton in late December 1776, General George Washington was in no mood to remain back to the western side of the Delaware River. He came across again just before the new year in hopes of surprising the British at Princeton. For his part,Major General Charles Lord Cornwallis avowed to drive the enemy back across the Delaware and reestablish control of New Jersey. He amassed 5,500 men and set out to meet Washington in Trenton. Washington was not waiting for such a clash. he put his ragged troops on the march, planning to outflank the British, destroy a rear guard at Princeton and capture a vital supply depot in Brunswick. Little matter that his troops had little food and some lacked shoes. Moving swiftly along a little known road through the frozen night, Washington was on the way to achieving his objective when an alert British rear guard spotted his army at daybreak through the leafless trees. British Lt. Colonel Charles Mawhood quickly retraced his steps and smashed into a detachment under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer. Mercer’s men were pushed back up a field of frozen cornhusks. Mercer himself was bayoneted seven times near the Thomas Clark House but, according to legend, he refused to be taken from the field and was laid under a white oak tree. He would die of his wounds nine days later in the Clark House. A crushing defeat seemed certain but Washington had ridden back upon hearing the musket fire and arrived to take command of the battle. joined by reinforcements from his main army, the Americans chased the British down the road to the town of Princeton. Washington would carry his brilliant counter-offensive no further. He moved his worn-out army to Morristown and the British skulked back to New Brunswick. Cornwallis had hoped to have all of New Jersey - and soon Philadelphia - under his control. Instead, Washington’s “Nine Days’ Wonder” had left him with just the ports around New York City. When Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in Yorktown he told him, “When the illustrious part that your Excellency has borne in this long and arduous contest becomes a matter of history, fame will gather your brightest laurels rather from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake.” The American Revolution was saved at Trenton and Princeton but little has been done to develop the sites historically. The terrain of the main fighting of the Battle of Princeton has remained virtually unchanged since the Revolution. The Clark House still stands at the crest of the grounds and in the distance are British and American graves, marked by the Ionic columns from the portico of an 1836 Philadelphia mansion.
32 Edgehill Street
This fieldstone house is presumed to be the home of Richard Stockton after he settled in Princeton in 1696 after purchasing 400 acres of land from John Gordon. The house stood near the western boundary of his estate. During the Revolution, and possibly the French and Indian War, it was used as quarters for soldiers. When Congress met here in 1783 James Madison and Alexander Hamilton stayed here as guests of owner Thomas Lawrence. Madison spent two years of study at the College of New Jersey in the early 1770s.
TURN RIGHT ON STOCKTON STREET AND TURN RIGHT. CROSS OVER TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE WHEN TRAFFIC ALLOWS. TURN LEFT AN WALK UP THE PATH TO...
55 Stockton Street
A tragic figure of the Revolution, successful lawyer Richard Stockton lived in this grand Georgian mansion beginning in the 1750s. Stockton was a moderate with mostly a cursory involvement in politics at the local level. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress on June 22, 1776, and arrived in Philadelphia just in time to vote for separation. He singed the Declaration of Independence on August 2. That winter the British seized Stockton. When it was revealed that their prisoner had singed the Declaration of Independence he was subjected to such cruelty in his New York prison that the Continental Congress protested to General Sir William Howe. Stockton was freed, but not before being forced to swear his allegiance to King George III and to sign the amnesty proclamation. He returned to Princeton to discover his estate pillaged and most of his wealth drained. An untreated lip wound, a souvenir from his prison days, festered into a tumor which spread to his throat and he died a broken man in 1781 at the age of 50. The yellow brick house set back from Stockton Street was twice devastated by fires but restored. Morven served as the official residence of New Jersey governors from 1953 until 1981. The house and gardens are now open for tours.
LEAVE MORVEN TO YOUR RIGHT ALONG THE HORSE CHESTNUT PATH BESIDE THE HOUSE.
Princeton Battle Monument
One Monument Drive
The imposing stone sculpture by Frederic MacMonnies celebrates Washington’s victory. Unveiled in 1922 by President Warren Gamiliel Harding, it is an unrealized copy of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris depicting Washington on horseback sternly refusing defeat at the Battle of Princeton and inspiring his troops to final victory. Nearby is a two-foot high stone and slate monument bearing a frieze that honors the marines of Washington’s troops.
The Princeton Bell
One Monument Drive
There have six ships in the United States Navy to honor the name Princeton. The first USS Princeton was a wooden slip of war commissioned in 1843, the first Navy vessel to be propelled by a steam-driven screw. On February, 28, 1844, while demonstrating a new type of cannon known as “The Peacemaker” to President John Tyler and numerous dignitaries, ten people were killed when the cannon burst. Among the casualties were the Secretary of State and two senators. Robert T. Stockton, the captain and under whose patronage the ship was constructed, was injured. The ship was decommissioned in 1849 and sent to the Boston Navy Yard to be dismantled. The ship’s bell was salvaged and returned to Princeton.
WALK OVER TO THE BUSY INTERSECTION OF STOCKTON STREET, BAYARD LANE AND NASSAU STREET. CROSS OVER TO WALK BACK TO NASSAU STREET.
1 Bayard Lane at Nassau Street
This house has connections stretching from the Declaration of Independence to the first modern Olympic games. Charles Steadman, a busy local architect, adapted the newly popular Greek Revival style in 1823-24 to create a house for Commodore Robert Stockton whose grandfather affixed his name to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. He stayed only a few years until inheriting Morven and moving up the street. He sold this house to his brother-in-law and it stayed in the family until the 1880s. At that time three Garrett brothers from the Baltimore & Ohio railroad family and the richest family in Maryland boarded in the house while attending college. Robert Garrett was Princeton’s first Olympic champion, winning gold medals in the 1896 games in Athens, Greece in the discus and shot put. He also brought home silvers in the high jump and long jump. Countries did not send teams; Garrett paid for the trip for himself and three teammates. He later purchased the home for the Garrett family. Edgar Palmer, who gave Princeton the square next door and the football stadium, acquired the house in 1923 and it too came to the University as a guest house when his widow died in 1968.
Princeton Bank & Trust Company
12 Nassau Street at Bank Street
This unusual Dutch Revival building was said to have been constructed in 1896 in deference to Amsterdam’s powerful financial markets. There was even talk of mimicking the style right down Nassau Street but when the Dutch markets went belly up the Princeton Bank & Trust building was the sole tribute to such architecture in Princeton. The flamboyant gabled-design was executed by New York architect William Stone.
Nassau Christian Center
26 Nassau Street
This building was the meeting house for St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, the second congregation to break away from the First Presbyterian Church. The cornerstone was laid on August 14, 1867 and the building was dedicated on December 14, 1868. The sanctuary, complete with an opera-style balcony across the end and along the sides, was constructed to seat 1,000 people. The Nassau Christian Center held their first service here in 1978.
TURN LEFT INTO PALMER SQUARE.
Edgar Palmer, who spread much of the New Jersey Zinc Company fortune around Princeton, including the university’s football stadium that was used for over 80 years, funded the creation of Palmer Square. Envisioned in 1929 as a collection of shops and restaurants and living spaces. Before construction began in 1936 it required the displacement of Princeton’s oldest black community to Birch Avenue. Architect Thomas Stapleton designed Palmer Square in a Colonial Revival style to blend in with the 200-year old campus across the street. Palmer Square would not be completely filled for another 50 years.
10 Palmer Square
The Nassau Inn traces its lineage back to an elegant townhouse at 52 Nassau Street built in 1756 by Judge Thomas Leonard. After Leonard died in 1769 he house became the College Inn and played host to a parade of Revolutionary luminaries. The historic inn, its name changed to Nassau Inn in the early 1800s by proprietor John Gifford, met the wrecking ball in 1937 in the name of progress. The current Nassau Inn was completed in 1938, designed to appear as if it had been built in stages, as an old country inn would have evolved over time.
WALK THROUGH PALMER SQUARE TO HULFISH STREET. TURN LEFT AND AFTER A FEW YARDS TURN RIGHT ON JOHN STREET.
First Baptist Church
John Street and Paul Robeson Place
The congregation formed in 1880 when it fit in the parlor of the Jackson home on Green Street. The small Prayer Band prospered until this property was purchased in 1885 under the name of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. The mid-1900s brought an expansion of the church, a re-design and a new name.
CONTINUE ON JOHN STREET. TURN RIGHT ON QUARRY STREET. TURN RIGHT ON WITHERSPOON STREET.
Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church
124 Witherspoon Street at Quarry Street
In 1837 black members of the First Presbyterian Church, after years of worshipping separately, departed to start their own congregation. The first communion of the First Presbyterian Church of Color took place in 1840. From the start church leaders spoke out against slavery and helped out on the Underground Railroad. A century later the church led the fight for Princeton’s first integrated housing development and were active in the Civil Rights Movement. For the last two decades of the 1800s the church was led by Reverend William Drew Robeson, father of Paul Robeson.
Paul Robeson Birthplace
northwest corner of Witherspoon Street and Green streets
Paul Robeson went to Rutgers University on a full academic where as a Phi Beta Kappa scholar he was the only black student on campus. His work on the football field as an end earned him All-American honors and eventually a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. After school he became a major concert star and popularized the singing of traditional Negro spirituals in the 1920s. When he turned to acting his portrayal of Othello became the longest running Shakespeare ply in the history of Broadway. In spite of this canon of achievement, Robeson’s enduring legacy is his political activism as he spoke out against fascism and racism despite, adopting positions that pitted him against powerful voices in the United States government. Paul Robeson was born in this house on April 9, 1898 and attended primary grades at the Witherspoon School for Colored Children.
CONTINUE ON WITHERSPOON STREET BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT NASSAU STREET.