7/2010: The PBA has completed a mapping project funded by the National Historic Battlefield Protection Act that confirms not only the probable location of Saw Mill Road, the long-forgotten path Washington used, but also confirms that the location of Washington’s attack sits on the 22-acre parcel of land the Institute owns.
12/2010: The Institute has resubmitted their application to the township Planning Board for approval of their proposed housing development plans.
2/2011: The results of the mapping project discussed herein, completed in July 2010, have been released to the public. The results provide new evidence that the site of the Institute’s proposed housing project was the location of a crucial Revolutionary War battle.
3/2012: After months of testimony and hearings, the Princeton Regional Planning Board on March 1 voted unanimously to approve the application of the Institute for Advanced Study to build 15 units of faculty housing on the previously undeveloped site of Washington’s victorious counter-attack, directly adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park. The Princeton Battlefield Society continues to oppose the application vigorously and expects to take further action.
The Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, was the final engagement of the “Ten Crucial Days” during the American Revolution from December 25, 1776, to January 3, 1777. The “Ten Crucial Days,” which includes the Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River, the 1st and 2nd Battles of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton, was a major turning point in the war. At the opening of this period, the American Army was in near collapse and Washington was facing possible dismissal. Both the Army and Washington found their fortunes completely reversed by the events of this period.
One of the most historically-significant sites related to this period, Princeton Battlefield itself, is now threatened by the potential of encroaching contemporary development. Approximately 35 acres within 200 feet of the eastern boundary of Battlefield State Park, on land that, as noted by the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the site, was very significant for battle activity itself, is currently proposed for residential development by the Institute for Advanced Study (the Institute). While this acreage is outside the boundary of the National Register Historic District that encompasses the battlefield, it is part of a view shed that is integral to the park’s integrity. In addition to the possible housing construction by the Institute, Princeton Township has the right, under the terms of a 588-acre conservation easement called the Institute Woods, to build public soccer fields and a parking lot on approximately 40 acres of land that has been under agricultural use for 300 years and is between the two avenues of approach used by the American Army during the Battle of Princeton.
Contemporary development would greatly diminish the hstoric integrity of Battlefield State Park. In their present condition, the threatened properties contribute greatly to the historic rural landscape of the battlefield, but that contribution would be erased by the potential development. The proposed housing development would create a modern visual intrusion on the battlefield’s eastern boundary and would destroy any archaeological remains on the proposed development site, which to date has undergone only limited investigation, while the recreation fields would directly affect the view shed of the historic approach roads. If undertaken, the two projects would diminish the historically-significant relationship of the protected battlefield lands to their surroundings and the public’s understanding of the terrain of this engagement, which played an integral part in how the battle developed.
A comprehensive mapping of the battle is being undertaken this year by the Princeton Area Battlefield Preservation Society with a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service. This will enable more accurate assessment of the potential impact of contemporary development, and a decision as to whether revision of the National Historic Landmark and National Register Historic District boundaries is warranted.
Full comprehension of the Battle of Princeton may very well depend on a comprehensive archeological study of the site proposed for housing development, as it has been noted as the location of significant fighting during the conflict. It is likely that the 40 acres held by the township could also provide similar invaluable information. Development of these areas would therefore not only adversely impact Battlefield State Park via intrusion on its view shed, but could forever destroy further opportunity to fully understand one of the most significant battles of the Revolutionary War. PNJ encourages all parties involved to work together to permanently preserve these, once again, embattled lands.
Anne Weber, Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society