Letters: Institute for Advanced Study Disregarding Important History, or Does Right to Build Need to Be Supported?

Institute Ignoring Fundamental Facts about Battle

Dear Editor:

I have been following the dispute between the Princeton Battlefield Society and the Institute for Advanced Study with great interest.  I have written many books about New Jersey’s Revolutionary history, including 1776: Year of Illusions, which deals with the battle. In 2007 I received the Gov. Richard Hughes award for lifetime achievement in writing about New Jersery.

There is no longer the slightest doubt in my mind that the Institute is ignoring fundamental facts about the battle. They are planning to build housing on a part of the battlefield which is vital to understanding the event — the site of George Washington’s climactic counterattack. This is like asking people to enjoy a famous play, minus the last act.

I am disturbed by the IFS’s cavalier and arrogant attitude toward the convincing evidence that the Princeton Battlefield Society has presented. It is especially troubling to discover they have space for the housing elsewhere on their acres, but they are simply not inclined to use it.


Thomas Fleming

Denying Institute the Right to Build Sets Terrible Precedent

Dear Editor:

I write to support the construction of the housing by the Institute for Advanced Study. Listening to the testimony so far, I have learned a lot about what we know about the Battle of Princeton and a lot that we do not know.

I have been an architect in private practice in Princeton for close to 40 years and this effort by the “Friends of the Battlefield” to block the Institute’s right to construct if successful would be setting a terrible precedent. The appropriate time to deny the right to construct would have been when IAS was about to buy the land. Denying their right now is tantamount to a taking by condemnation and in this case it would be without due compensation. It is terrible precedent since it erodes property rights and holds out the threat that any well-meaning group could challenge any owner’s right to continue to own or worse yet to continue to occupy their property. Suppose we finally locate that elusive saw mill road and noting that some unsuspecting homeowner’s house sits on it; ask that owner to abandon his house and move away? Could precedent be cited?

I was heartened by the compromise solution proposed by Professor McPherson. It surrenders part of the land to expand the current battlefield and sidesteps the terrible precedent of taking the land with or without due compensation. UC Berkeley Professor Mark Peterson helped the discussion when he testified about historic sites in the Boston area and demonstrated that it is less important to keep the land vacant than it is to find more meaningful ways to celebrate the history.

In closing, I wonder why the “Friends of the Battlefield” have spent so much time and money fighting the Institute’s right to their land, money that could have been spent helping to fund some of our historic sites in New Jersey (the crossroads of the American Revolution). I think of places near here like the barracks, Petty’s run and Washington’s Crossing Park, where there is a museum with a supply of artifacts. It is my feeling that the Institute should be congratulated for the sensitivity they have shown dealing with this controversy and their willingness to seek a solution that is balanced and fair.

Jeremiah Ford III, AIA