As part of the recent discussion about the King’s Road (Route 206) bridge over the Stony Brook and its historic relevance, historic preservation advocates have also looked at the road that slashes through the center of hallowed ground at the Princeton Battlefield and reevaluated its proper place.
The Princeton Battlefield Society is calling on the town of Princeton to consider the history of the road and make some changes that respect Revolutionary War history.
“Trenton-Princeton Pike was built 40-plus years after the battle, ignoring the history that happened here,” Battlefield Society President Jerry Hurwitz said in a statement. “We simply want to restore the land that way it was in January 1777.”
According to “History of Princeton and its Institutions, Vol I” by John Frelinghuysen Hageman, Princeton Pike was financed by investors who were paid back through tolls, which was a method to build highways for horse-drawn passenger and freight traffic before railroads became ubiquitous in the 1840s. With the windy King’s Road becoming busier and no room to expand, the Trenton-New Brunswick turnpike was chartered in 1804 as the new straight line route through New Jersey. Concerned that it would bypass Princeton, an alternative straight-line route was needed and the Princeton and Kingston branch turnpike was incorporated shortly afterwards in 1807, and built in sections 10-15 years afterward.
“It was built for profit, and didn’t take into account the sacred history of the Battlefield,” said local activist Kip Cherry.
Since the road is not a county or state highway, the Society needs only Princeton’s permission to close the portion between Quaker Road, and Lovers Lane/Olden. Hurwitz acknowledged it would require some traffic diversion, but, said it was worth the cost. “The historic preservation of our Nation’s history outweighs any modern convenience,” he said.
Mayor Liz Lempert, when contacted by this reporter and
asked for her opinion, said she would have to recuse herself from any discussion, as her great uncle once studied at the Institute for Advanced Studies, an institution facing a separate dispute with the Battlefield preservationists.
Because the plan would strand some homeowners and the Institute from access to the rest of Princeton, it was suggested that connecting College Road West to Battle Road, and then to Veblen Circle, would be the best solution, as it would require the demolition of only a portion of Princeton University’s Graduate College and a few homes by Institute.
“Princeton University has plenty of money and they can rebuild
their Graduate College somewhere else,” said Bruce Afran, a Princeton attorney who represents the Battlefield Society.
The alternative would be to improve Quaker Bridge Road between US 206 to support two-way traffic between US 206, Parkside Drive to and from the shopping centers along Route 1, said Robert V. Kiser, outgoing municipal engineer.
“I am glad I won’t be around for this one. Besides another traffic light on US 206 near the Stony Brook bridge, which would require state permission, we would have to acquire five to 10 feet of land from existing homeowners and regrade the hill, because there’s no room to widen the road on the Stony Brook side,” he said.
Whether the town is ready for the Battlefield Society’s latest efforts to preserve history will be seen over the next few months.
Lempert said she would form a historic infrastructure subcommittee to research the issue. She speculated that the town could possibly win points towards platinum Sustainable Jersey certification with such a project. She also wondered if the town could win a Preservation NJ award for the move.
She said expected the subcommittee would report back to the governing body on its findings at a June work session of the council.
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