J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Preservation Breakthrough in Princeton

Last week, just before I traveled to Princeton, there was a breakthrough in the long-running controversy over new construction on part of the Princeton Battlefield.

Of course, a lot of Princeton was involved that battle, especially if we include troop movements, but some portions of the area had never been built on.

One of those sections is owned by the Institute for Advanced Study, which famously provided a home for Albert Einstein after he had to leave Europe. The I.A.S. had contributed much of the land for the current Princeton Battlefield State Park, but was planning to build more housing for its faculty on adjoining property it retained.

The Princeton Battlefield Society was convinced that acreage was also historically significant. It opposed that plan, using nearly every tactic short of civil disobedience.

A number of public reports trace the controversy. In 2010 John Milner Associates assembled a report for the Princeton Battlefield Society with funding from the National Park Service’s battlefield preservation programs (P.D.F.). It argued that a road crucial to the battle, now lost, crossed that land.

The I.A.S. asked historians to review that argument. We can read the skeptical responses of Fred Anderson (P.D.F.) and Mark Peterson (P.D.F.).

The I.A.S. later commissioned an archeological review of the area in question by the Ottery Group, released in 2015 (P.D.F.). That reported that the area designated for housing contained some signs of the battle:
Hunter Research was successful at identifying 41 Revolutionary War artifacts from surface soils within the faculty housing area. Their finds include 15 lead balls in various sizes and conditions of deformity, 14 grape shot, lead flint wraps, a short bayonet fragment, a brass ramrod holder, a portion of a cartridge box, and other militaria.
I don’t know how that compares to other parts of the town. Nonetheless, that news seems to have changed the situation, though it may have taken a while for the parties to privately work through possibilities.

This month the parties announced a compromise:
Under the plan, the Civil War Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative to protect Revolutionary War battlefields, will purchase 14.85 acres of land from the Institute for $4 million, to be conveyed to the State of New Jersey as an addition to the existing Princeton Battlefield State Park. The acquisition includes approximately 2/3 of the Maxwell’s Field property, along with an additional 1.12-acre tract north of the property that has been identified by historians as part of the battlefield.
For the I.A.S., the housing will change from seven single-family homes to eight townhouses; that new plan still needs approval by a couple of local boards. Campaign 1776 is now raising money for the purchase.


Naomi said...

Glad to know there is a group trying to protect the Battlefield. In my experience having grown up there, the town has a very casual attitude towards Historical preservation.

Roger S. Williams said...

Hi Naomi ~ On behalf of the Princeton Battlefield Society, thank you for your kudos. Indeed, we at the PBS are working to change those "casual attitudes about historic preservation". We would love to have you join us. Please visit www.pbs1777.org and consider joining our mailing list, or perhaps membership! All best, ~ Roger Williams roger@pbs1777.org