The National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its latest list of most endangered sites in America, and on that list is the Princeton Battlefield.
I’m of two minds on this. While I like preservation of historic sites and open spaces, the development that’s threatening part of that battlefield isn’t a new strip mall or factory or interstate highway. It’s faculty housing for the Institute for Advanced Study, which helped to create the battlefield park in the first place. The institute likes to provide peace and quiet and a level of rusticity for the scholars working there. I can’t help but see that use of land as a Good Thing. (For full disclosure, my uncle spent several months at the I.A.S. a few years ago, though it wasn’t a big change of scene for him since he lives on the other side of Princeton.)
I also think the Battle of Princeton isn’t quite as important as it’s often made out to be. It looms larger in American memory because it was a rare battlefield victory for Gen. George Washington, and because it was so close to the campus of an influential college. Indeed, the Princeton buildings that existed then, including Nassau Hall, were used by both armies. But since the campus and nearby neighborhood have already been developed (and people are fond of the result), there’s no preservation outcry. Of course, such an outcry would be far too late.
I’ll let you make up your own (two?) minds. For folks in the region, on 29 September the Princeton Battlefield Society is sponsoring:
A full day of activities including Battlefield and Clarke House Tours, Children’s Scavenger Hunt and games, Colonial Demonstrations, Soldiers of the Battle, and book sales, giveaways, and prizes.I believe there‘s been some recent questioning of that last statement, but there’s no question that Washington quoted from Cato in his letters from the start of the war.
Programs start at 10:00 A.M. and go to 4:00 P.M. At 4:00 P.M., Colonial Music by THE PRACTITIONERS OF MUSICK and at 5:00 PM, a performance of CATO A TRAGEDY, by Joseph Addison, by the Princeton Shakespeare Company at the Columns. (George Washington requested a performance of CATO during the encampment at Valley Forge.)