NEIL’S HISTORICAL TOUR OF PRINCETON
1. Enter Princeton Circle (Route 1) from Washington Road. This is the heart of Penn’s Neck, an offshoot of William Penn’s community, now part of West Windsor. Baptist church on right claims to have been first church in America to oppose slavery. House next door now used by minister was Red Lion Inn, a halfway stop between Philadelphia and New York in 18 th century, featuring a horse-racing track. Later, the house was turned around, to face Washington Road.
2. Take Washington Road into Princeton, through the elm allee, with the long forsythia hedge at right. Pass Delaware & Raritan canal. Note boathouse at left, on Carnegie Lake, dammed up by Andrew Carnegie so his Princeton student son could row, and often used by US Olympic rowers. Crossing Faculty Road, note new football stadium on right, built to replace second oldest college football stadium in US (after Harvard’s).
3. Campus buildings include Carl Icahn lab (with Frank Geary cave in middle of lobby) and Lewis Thomas lab on left, and Woodrow Wilson school on right, designed by Yamasaki (World Trade Center). Dig at right is for new building designed by Santiago Calatrava. Library is final building on left, at Nassau Street.
4. Turn left onto Nassau, Princeton’s main drag. The street and town are both named for Prince William of Orange-Nassau, who became King William III of William and Mary. At Witherspoon Street, past the formal entry gate to the campus, the dome of Nassau Hall is visible. At the time of the War of Independence this was the largest building in the colonies. British soldiers were bivouacked here when attacked by Washington’s troops at the Battle of Princeton. Alexander Hamilton commanded a small artillery force that lobbed shells into the building. After the war, the Continental Congress was sitting here, and received word here that the British had signed the Treaty of Paris guaranteeing independence.
5. Turn right onto Witherspoon. John Witherspoon was a signer of the Declaration of Independence president of the university, teacher of John Madison, student of John Locke—and opponent of theater (because it shows human depravity). Turn right onto Spring Street.
6. Chuck’s Spring Street Café on left was owned by Kyle and Eric Menendez, before they shot their parents to death. Turn left onto Vandeventer, and left onto Wiggins (which, to the right, is Hamilton Avenue, but it was felt that the street going by where Aaron Burr is buried should not be named Hamilton). Princeton Cemetery at right is where Burr is buried near his father, Aaron Burr, Sr., who is buried with the other presidents of the University. Across the street is the new community library.
7. Turn right onto Witherspoon again. At the end of the gray house, if you look right through the cemetery, you can see a stone urn atop a small monument. This is the grave of the only President buried in New Jersey, Grover Cleveland. He’s buried here with his wife Frances—he was the first President to marry while in office—and their daughter, “Baby Ruth.” Cleveland was born in a church manse (now open to the public) in West Caldwell, became governor of New York, and retired to Princeton. Also buried in the cemetery are most of the family of Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen Axson; they appear to have drowned when their carriage went off the road.
8. The simple church at left, Witherspoon Presbyterian, was where Paul Robeson’s father, an ex-slave, was minister when Robeson was born. The church is the African-American offshoot of the large Presbyterian church with pillars that faces Nassau Street on the university campus. Robeson was mistreated by Princeton, and attended, and starred at, Rutgers when Princeton wouldn’t admit him. But, Robeson’s parents are buried in the cemetery, across the street from the church. Turn left onto Quarry, and right onto John Street. This is the long-time African-American neighborhood. Princeton was a Southern school, and many students brought their slaves and then freed them upon graduation, allowing them to settle here. Turn right again, and right again back onto Witherspoon.
9. The house on right at the corner of Green Street is the Robeson house. Turn right onto Robeson Place, which had been Wiggins and before that, Hamilton. Pass the Paul Robeson YWCA on right, and cross 206. The second house on the right (first in from the corner) was owned by West of West Law Publishing, who passed it on to his friend, Grover Cleveland, as his retirement home.
10. Turn left onto Morven, and right onto Boudinot. “Jaws” author Peter Benchley and his wife, Freeholder Wendy Benchley, live on this street. Turn left onto Library Place. Up the street the Tudor house on the right was the residence of Professor Woodrow Wilson, before becoming university president, governor, and President. (He also lived in Prospect House, on campus.) Cross Stockton Street (206).
11. Just as the street ends at Mercer Street, the large house on the right is where Einstein first lived upon moving to Princeton after escaping Nazi Germany. Turn right onto Mercer Street (583). At left is the campus of the Princeton Theological Seminary, including the president’s house. The seminary trains scholars, missionaries, and ministers, and is considered progressive. Stop across from the second house after that. This simple house (although it goes far back and is larger than it looks) was the home of Albert Einstein (Time Magazine’s “Person of the 20 th Century”) for many years until his death in 1955. His study is at the second-floor window of the addition at the right. The Institute of Advanced Study owns the house ultimately and uses it to attract faculty.
12. Stay on Mercer Street up to Princeton Battlefield Park. The three columns at right are a memorial. The small tree enclosed by a fence at left is a seedling from the Mercer Oak, under which one of Washington’s top generals, Hugh Mercer, was shot and then stabbed several times with bayonets during the battle. (Mercer County, including Princeton and Trenton, is named for him.) Just ahead, and farther back on the left, is the Clark house that stands in the same state as during the battle. Mercer died in this house several days later. The battle was fought ten days after Washington crossed the Delaware and surprised the Hessians in Trenton on Christmas night, 1776. The British then sent reinforcements and had Washington’s back to the river. He eluded them and marched north to Princeton and surprised the British again. The battle was turning against the Americans when Washington himself appeared on the battlefield on his white charger and rallied the troops, at great personal risk to himself, and won the day.
13. At the corner turn right onto Parkside. Follow this pretty street all the way to a home almost at the very end, with two towers, at left. This was originally the stables for Drumthwacket, the biggest house in the area, and later a model farm. Now it’s owned by the Frischettis; he chairs the university architecture department. At the end turn right onto 206. Note the stone bridge on the left, an important conveyance for the Americans marching up to the battle.
14. Just past the Olden House, slow down and stop at the black fence in front of Drumthwacket, New Jersey’s
Governor’s Mansion since 1981. Only two governors have lived here, though—Democrats Jim Florio and James McGreevey. Republicans Tom Kean and Christie Whitman lived on their own estates in horse country. The house, sometimes open on Wednesdays, has a really nice dining room, with Chinese-design wallpaper and silver from the USS New Jersey, and octagonal study, and garden in rear.
15. Proceed up 206. Shortly before Nassau Street is Morven, the house at left with an off-white fence. This was the Governor’s Mansion before Drumthwacket, but wasn’t big enough for three governors—Hughes, Cahill, and Byrne—who had huge families, so it was decided that the state needed a larger residence. Before that, Morven was the home of General Robert Wood Johnson, head of J&J. Originally it belonged to Richard Stockton, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who renounced his signature (after being mistreated by Tories, and then went back to the American side). Just past that stands the Princeton Battle Monument with a large frieze and then the ugly Princeton Borough Hall.
16. Turn right onto Nassau, then right onto University Place (after Mercer Street). Pass the University bookstore on the left—good spot for memorabilia. Turn right onto College Road just before McCarter Theatre. The 1,100-seat theater was built in 1929 (one of the first great actors to perform here was Jimmy Stewart), and the 350-seat Berlind was added in 2003. The university’s drama department shares the space with the great Tony Award-winning regional theatre led by Emily Mann. Turn left onto Alexander Street.
17. Stay on Alexander for quite a while. The golf course on the right was another scene of skirmishing during the battle, although Washington was not himself a golfer. Cross Route 1 and keep going, past the Hyatt Regency on the right and all the way across the old, infirm bridge to the end. You’re now in Princeton Junction. Turn left onto Post Road.
18. At the end of the block on the right the old, brownish clapboard-style house is the home of John Nash, the Nobel laureate and schizophrenia patient portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.” Turn left onto Wallace Road.
19. Pass the Princeton Junction train station on the left. This is the busiest commuter train station in the entire country. Cross 571, as the road becomes the Cranbury Neck Road. After almost a mile, note the red Grover’s Mill Company on the left and then the pond at right. The pond is where the Martians landed in the Halloween 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles’s “War of the World,” causing major unrest across the nation and especially in the Princeton area. Turn around in the parking lot of Van Nest Park on the right. Take the same road back to 571, then turn right, bear right after the bridge, and return to the intersection with Route 1 (or not).