By Pam Teel
Who can say that they have never heard of Princeton, NJ? Surely not those living on the east coast. Best known as the home base for Princeton University, Princeton‘s worldwide popularity goes beyond its historic campus with a great downtown for strolling, great restaurants, historic buildings, cultural events, and more.
Thousands of tourists descend on the town yearly just to take in the sites of the stately Campus buildings with some of its earliest structures draped in old English ivy in the midst of the bustle of students scuttling to and fro to classes.
The University itself offers organized tours of the historic buildings and the guides provide a stealthy wealth of information about Princeton’s role in early American Independence. The Princeton area itself began in the late 17th century when European travelers crossed the narrow “waist” of New Jersey between the Delaware and Raritan rivers along paths created by the Lenni Lenape Indians. One former path became the King’s Highway and central New Jersey’s main road for well over a hundred years.
New Englander, Henry Greenland, built a house on the highway in 1683, and is believed to be the first European to settle within the present Township boundaries. He opened his home and offered it up as a tavern. (Portions of his house survive within the Gulick House, at 1082 Princeton-Kingston Road.) Around 1685, Greenland’s son-in-law, Daniel Brinson, settled along the highway on the land where the house known as “the Barracks” stands at 32 Edgehill Street. East Jersey and West Jersey representatives met in 1683 at Greenland’s tavern to establish their common boundary. George Keith, a prominent Quaker, surveyed what became known as the “Keith line,” which also became the boundaries of several Counties and Townships, including the western border of Princeton Township in East Jersey. In the 18th century settlers developed the “province line” into roads in several places, including portions of the present Province Line Road. East Jersey proprietors established four counties in 1683, including Middlesex County, which extended to the province line and included the Princeton area as part of Piscataway Township. In 1688 the proprietors created Somerset County, which included the northern portions of the Princeton area.
Princeton has always played an important role in American history. It was originally named Prince-Town after Prince William III of Orange and the House of Nassau. The University was chartered in 1746 and was first known as the College of NJ. The University was in Elizabeth for a year and then in Newark for nine years before moving to Princeton. The entire college was housed in Nassau Hall for fifty years. It was officially renamed Princeton University in 1896 when it expanded its program offerings. Princeton has been home to many famous scientists, scholars, writers, and statesmen. In 1930, the building for Advanced Studies was built and Albert Einstein was one of its first professors.
The Battle of Princeton was fought close by in a field in 1777 and was a victory for George Washington and his troops. Two of Princeton’s leading citizens signed the declaration of independence and in 1783 the Continental Congress met in Nassau Hall, making Princeton the country’s capital for four months.
The town was an overnight stop on the Trenton- New Brunswick line until the mid 19th century. The building of a nearby canal and railroad encouraged more businesses to the area and a lot of real estate development.
Today Princeton is a hustling happening town saturated with great places to eat, from finer dining to Main street sandwich shops, from trendy stores to eclectic quaint shops throughout the borough. Some of the favored eateries in Princeton include: the Forrestal Grille, the Salt Creek Grill, the Blue Point Grill, Agricola Eatery, the Peacock Inn, and the Despana restaurant.
This town has so much to offer in ways of safety, spectacular schools, a wide variety of dining options, and endless entertainment, to name a few. Financial website, WalletHub, recently named this Central New Jersey neighborhood “Overall Best” in their ranking of over 1200 smaller-sized cities throughout the United States. It was also ranked as the best college town to live in, which included one of the top-ranked high schools in the nation.
Stroll through Palmer Square, a downtown area with New England style buildings, where you will find an abundance of different stores to browse through. Walk down Nassau Street and you’ll find more eclectic stores to browse; stores that include second hand clothes shops to antiques to jewelry. One of my favorites is the Record Exchange, located in the historic downtown, where you can buy used CDs, used DVDs, and used records at their music store.
Historical places to visit include: Princeton Battle Monument, The Princeton University Art Museum, McCarter Theater Center, The Princeton University Chapel, Morvan Museum and Garden, Nassau Hall, The Westminster Choir College, just to name a few. Take a tour of the Governor’s Mansion at Drumthwacket or walk through the town’s historic cemetery where famous people like President. Grover Cleveland and V.P. Aaron Burr are buried.
Visit the Triumph Brewing Company or spend the day at the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park where you can rent canoes and kayaks. You can even plan on taking guided tours of the town.
To help plan your day, go to: www.virtualtourist.comprinceton. On this site you will find detailed descriptions of the attractions at hand. For a list of upcoming events, go to princetonol.com.