Op-Ed: Institute Should Abandon Plans to Develop Princeton Battlefield

State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.

By Senator Kip Bateman and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora

In early May, we wrote to Dr. Charles Simonyi, chairman of the Institute for Advanced Study’s Board of Trustees, and requested a meeting to discuss alternatives to the Institute’s destructive plan to build 15 faculty housing units on the historic, 22-acre Maxwell’s Field tract. On this site, Gen. George Washington personally led a counterattack that won the 1777 Battle of Princeton and helped turn the tide of the American Revolution.  Our goal in seeking this meeting was simple:  get reasonable people together to find a solution to the current controversy that benefits the state, the battlefield and the Institute for Advanced Study.

In response, we received a letter from Institute for Advanced Study Director Robbert Dijkgraaf, who rejected our offer to meet, reciting the same tired excuses the Institute has been utilizing for the past four years.  It is an unfortunate tendency of the Dijkgraaf Administration that they consistently reject offers to sit down with those of us seeking to save them from themselves.

Undeterred, we followed up with a second letter, again calling on the leaders of this highly respected international center of research and knowledge to meet with us and join in taking a new step forward for the community and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Preserving the small, tremendously historic piece of land at the center of this controversy — and keeping it open like the Princeton Battlefield State Park adjacent to it — will properly honor the sacrifices of the tough young men of Washington’s Continental Army, including some of the first U.S. Marines to fall in combat.  These heroes were among the first of many millions of American fighting men who went to war to protect the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.

This is a preservation fight that should not be happening.  It is obvious that this land should be preserved.  The Institute for Advanced Study persists in pushing ahead with a residential development project that has already tarnished its reputation, and that ignominy becomes permanent if the homes are built.

The bulldozers are parked on the battlefield even now, ready to finish the job. Recent news involving the Institute for Advanced Study is dominated by the negative turmoil rooted in this fight. Instead of spotlighting the Institute’s many advancements and accomplishments, the focus remains on this draining, self-defeating controversy.

If the Institute for Advanced Study applied its own high standards to this issue rather than the tactics of a typical developer blind to history, the bulldozers never would have arrived in the first place. When confronted with the overwhelming evidence of the historic legacy of Maxwell’s Field, the Institute time and again rejects its usual intellectual rigor and scholarly discipline, damaging its own reputation as construction moves forward.

In its effort to refute the weight of evidence of the history made at Maxwell’s Field, the Institute for Advanced Study hired a historian, Mark Peterson — who does not specialize in military history or the American Revolution — for the purpose of disputing the widely accepted facts. Peterson blatantly exposed his bias, concluding his findings with pure political rhetoric.  The historian-as-pundit argued that to save Maxwell’s Field is “to fetishize space” and falsely claimed that preserved, historic land “as often as not tends to become neglected, ignored, and forgotten, removed from the world in which life is lived.”

Peterson provided no scholarship to back up this assertion, and that’s because none exists.  It’s simply not true.

In our first letter to the Institute, we named the numerous government agencies and organizations which assert that Maxwell’s Field is historic. From the National Park Service to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to our own New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, the conclusion has been the same: Maxwell’s Field is core battlefield ground, the significance of which has been confirmed over and over again.

Let the words of some of the nation’s leading historians underscore this point:

“The Institute for Advanced Study seems utterly indifferent to what occurred on Maxwell’s Field,” author and historian Thomas Fleming has written. “In my 50-year study of the American Revolution, I have come to regard it as one of the most important moments in our eight-year struggle for liberty and equality.”

“This land is as central to the Battle of Princeton as the field of Pickett’s Charge is to Gettysburg and as Omaha Beach is to D-Day,” historian David Hackett Fischer, whose book Washington’s Crossing won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for history, has emphasized.

Similarly, Jack Warren, Executive Director for the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati, has stated:  “Princeton is one of the few battlefields where Washington commanded the Continental Army that we have any hope of preserving. Without preservation of Maxwell’s Field, the battlefield will be forever compromised, and an opportunity to create something great for the American people will be lost.”

The battlefield preservation efforts at Princeton span many generations. More than a century ago, Moses Taylor Pyne, who was most responsible for transforming Princeton University into the preeminent institution it is today, helped defeat plans to build a trolley line at the storied site and purchased the core of today’s battlefield park to save it.

Longtime Princetonians are well familiar with the community’s seemingly endless struggles against the Institute’s dreams of being a developer. From 1969 to 1973, the Institute for Advanced Study sought to develop another part of the battlefield, the Weller tract. And from 1983 to 1997, the Institute for Advanced Study fought with Princeton over planned development of other Institute lands, arguing then against any development at Maxwell’s Field. In both struggles, the Institute for Advanced Study and the community worked together to find suitable solutions. Every acre was saved, and the Institute for Advanced Study was well compensated for its contributions.

Today, the struggle over Maxwell’s Field has dragged on for 13 years.  As time passes, the calls to preserve the land become ever stronger.  Little public support remains for the Institute.  Our constituents frequently ask, “Why is the Institute for Advanced Study doing this?”  We simply do not have a good answer for them.  It doesn’t make sense on the surface, and makes even less sense when you examine the facts.

Other housing alternatives exist.  The money is there — more than $4.5 million — to compensate the Institute for Advanced Study well above the appraised value of the land.  We hope the Institute’s leadership will see fit to meet with us.  And we hope the Institute for Advanced Study, as it has done before, will heed the call of the community in which it thrives, honor its history and save Maxwell’s Field.

Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) represents the 16th Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate. Reed Gusciora (D) represents the 15th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly, and serves as the Deputy Majority Leader.


  1. We’ve been over this so many times. It is uncertain that a pivotal part of the battle took place on this particular field. Historians disagree, and what you state as ‘fact’ is just a guess. By demeaning the character of historians who have provided differing perspectives on the battle, you have sunk to a new low. The Institute is also a historic and important part of our Princeton community. It is reasonable for them to want to develop their campus to provide a close-knit residential community for their scholars. Sure, they could bus their scholars in from Trenton, but that would undermine the unique character and ethos of the Institute.

    1. SFB (likely another IAS shill **sigh**), the alternative to NOT building housing on Maxwell’s Field is certainly NOT to “bus their scholars in from Trenton”! How ludicrous! There is plenty of available housing in and immediately around Princeton. I would suggest you research the issue before making such a ridiculous statement!

      And, yes, the Institute IS “also a historic and important part of [our] Princeton community.” But it is NOWHERE as “HISTORIC” nor as “IMPORTANT” as the Princeton Battlefield, specifically the parcel in question known as Maxwell’s Field!


      1. I would suggest the following.

        Those of us who take interest in Princeton, for a variety of reasons, read “Planet Princeton” and often make comments. In the years I have been following Planet Princeton, SFB is a regular commenter or varied subjects. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we do not.

        You, Marlene, I have never noticed before. It would appear the label “shill” would more properly apply to you.

        The housing does not infringe on the Battlefield, and nothing within this issue carries the importance to justify insults.

        1. Well Blake ~ You have never noticed me before either. That does not make me a “shill”. I am a lifelong resident of Princeton, and yes, a member of the Princeton Battlefield Society. The IAS destruction of what most historians, who have paid attention, do recognize that this field in question is, in fact, where Washington did launch is first successful tactical counter attack. Does it infringe on the current Princeton Battlefield State Park? No. Is Maxwell’s Field recognized as an historic slice of American history? Yes. To monumentalize this historic slice of American history with faculty housing is just a shame.

          1. I did not, and would not, call you a “shill” Roger. Such behavior is below polite conversation but appears to be the current standard in political speech.

            We cannot leave every location upon which General Washington stood as an unmarked monument, or most of our homes would be public parks.

            For someone such as yourself, a member of the Princeton Battlefield Society, would not a better monument be to actually memorialize the battle? I am willing to wager the overwhelming majority of those sunbathers and picnickers in the park would fail a three question survey about what battle was fought on the battlefield.

            1. I dare say you might be exaggerating a bit by suggesting that we preserve all land on which Gen. Washington “stood”. What we are currently discussing is a very specific piece of land on which a very significant counter attack was launched. Big difference.

              And indeed, I do spend a good deal of time memorializing the battle. I give tours to visiting scholars, military historians, and citizens. I have been a member of the PBS for 15 months now, and I volunteer my time to explain the battle, raise money for educational programs. Since you seem so well versed in the history of the battle, perhaps you too might join the PBS and help us by volunteering to give tours, raise funds for interpretive signage, and with programming to increase interest in our natural and historic resources.

              To your points, I agree that indeed, the Ten Crucial Days Campaign did encompass, “… Princeton, Lawrenceville, and Trenton, as well as the adjoining communities.” Like the Lexington and Concord Historic Region, many sections of those adjoining communities were involved in the campaign that launched the American Revolution. But the town of Lexington has sensibly not developed it’s Common, and Concord preserves its Old North Bridge. It is a shame that we are not going to be allowed to preserve the spot where the counter-attack of the final battle of the Ten Crucial Days Campaign was launched. Maxwell’s Field is IAS land. I get that. New Jersey did not protect that land, but at the time the battlefield land was donated to the state, historians did not know what we now do know. Bateman and Gusciora are calling attention to this reality and asking that the IAS consider having a conversation. I know full well that the PBS board members are perceived by many who revere the IAS as a bunch of preservationist crackpots. I grew up in Princeton and have lived here most of my adult life. I only recently became involved in this issue because I was shocked when I realized that Princeton really was not going to come to its senses and work with the IAS to better preserve Maxwell’s Field. I would like to think that we could all come together and consider what we might do that is best for our community, and that obviously, the IAS might be a part of that discussion. My father was on the Princeton Planning Board back in the 60’s, and even then, the IAS was trying to develop the land around the battlefield. Preservationists at the time managed to save what we now call the Princeton Battlefield. There is still a lot of work to be done to save the Clarke House, interpretive signage, perhaps someday, even a decent visitors center. Presenting our story to the world could build regional tourism. This would help local businesses and the local economy. Regardless of what happens at Maxwell’s Field, I would hope that locals that do understand there is a benefit to letting the sunbathers and picnickers know they are on historic land – land that was originally gifted in 1946 when Agnes Pyne Hudson, joined landowner Robert C. Maxwell offered their 1777 battlefield land as gifts to the State of New Jersey. Only since the Milner Report are we now learning what happened here. Now that the bulldozers are plowing over this site, we may end up having to give tours by saying “over there, right where those condos are, is one of the most famous spots in American military history”.

        2. For WHOM would I be a “shill,” Blake Cash? Logically, only the BATTLEFIELD!

          1. Additionally, I follow articles on this very subject and comment when and where I can. This is one of many articles to which I have responded. The medium is secondary to the subject matter.

          2. I do not assign your rude, uneducated remarks to any party in the debate. Ad hominem attacks are beneath the dignity of the issue, despite their current popularity.

  2. What an incredibly self aggrandizing point of view. “Offers to sit down with those of us seeking to save them from themselves,” just as George III tried to save those silly colonists.

    There is nothing to be preserved, in fact the local history would most likely be better remembered by thoughtful academics living in the vicinity of a battle ground long since abandoned.

    1. Thanks to those “silly colonists,” Blake Cash, you get to live in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA which wouldn’t even exist except for them and their sacrifices!

      And, “a battle ground long since abandoned”? Name me a battleground still occupied by the soldiers who once fought there! Are they supposed to continue to hang out there after the battle/war is over?! Now, THAT’S the very definition of “silly”!

      And, for the record, important battlegrounds become historic sites, national parks and such. And that holds true for Princeton Battlefield.

      1. Yes Marlene, I get to live in the United States of America, where ideas are debated calmly without shouting.

        Princeton Battlefield is a recognized historic site, Maxwell’s field is not. The soldier who died in your back yard (assuming you actually live in Princeton) is not memorialized other than by the park.

        There is no place occupied by former soldiers, abandoned in this instance refers to memory and usage. But I will not bore you with the English language, it appears to have escaped you interest.

        1. Did you mean “your” interest?! Now, whose interest has the English language escaped?

          For the record I am from Washington’s Crossing (on the Jersey side, known as Titusville). I now live along the Delaware a bit north of there.

          1. By the way–the United States of America, “where ideas are debated calmly without shouting”?! Maybe by people who know no passion, and who have little more than ice water in their veins, but I have read much on our Founding Fathers and the proceedings in the Continental Congress and in other political forums of the time.

            They shouted, raged, threatened each other, and banged on tables quite frequently and with wild abandon! That’s my kind of debate!

            And as a redhead with some Italian heritage, passion and loyalty are in my DNA. I know no other way to be.

            Oh, and as far as the “official designation” of the park, etc., I addressed all that in an earlier post. See above.

            1. My apologies for a missed spelling, my points are negated.

              Certainly, as someone who has sat in comfort and read history, you understand far more than someone who simply placed their life in harms way for their country.

  3. I recall that a couple of years ago David Hackett Fischer provided his support to the IAS on this matter.

    Notwithstanding, if historians as a group can’t agree – and are thus uncertain – as to the significance of the site in question, doesn’t that argue in favor of no development there?

    Seems like a no brainier to me.

  4. I loved David Hackett Fischer’s history of Washington’s campaign — it unalterably affected my perceptions of our corner of New Jersey.

    When I bike on Bear Tavern Road, I think about Washington taking that route to approach Trenton from the north; when I look out my back window towards the Kingston Road, I think about American troops walking east from the battle and towards their winter shelter; and when I visit the Battlefield Monument and walk in the Institute Woods, I think about Washington’s troops, some of their feet wrapped in rags, being thankful that the ground was frozen and not muddy.

    When I think about the campaign to halt housing on the IAS land, I think about the cynical harnessing of narrow interest to high purpose. Social progressives have become geniuses at leveraging the language of preservation, environmentalism, and social justice to oppose change.

    There is more than enough in and around Princeton to memorialize the vision, commitment, and trials of the Continental Army, and no good reason to oppose housing in this place.

    Actually, that’s not totally true.

    If more housing were available in the center of town at prices that affordable to “the missing middle” (people who work in Princeton but can’t afford to live here) that would be a much better place for new housing to be built than on fields at the edge of town.

    But as with the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district, it seems that the most vocal in our community are happy to honor the heroes of the past at the price of exiling the needy of the present.
    So until the day that all the opponents of housing at the IAS stand up for comparable housing to be made available in town, I don’t see any reason for the IAS to change its position.

    1. I find it quite telling, “jnb” (probably a shill for the Institute for Advanced Study), that you neither use your name nor likeness here to identify yourself.

      And, in regards to your last paragraph–let me ask you this question: where in Princeton is there another Revolutionary War battlefield that is soaked with the blood and contains artifacts of our forefathers as a result of their brave fight to obtain our freedom from a cruel and oppressive government? On what other field in Princeton did George Washington lead a victorious countercharge to win an important victory? Or even “around Princeton”?

      Trenton is Trenton, not Princeton. Monmouth is Monmouth, not Princeton.

      So, there is NO OTHER ground in all of Princeton you can claim to have as much historical significance or sacred meaning as Maxwell’s Field (also known as “Washington’s Charge”), is there?

      But, the IAS couldn’t give a rat’s breeches about all that. Building housing for academics who care nothing for the importance to THIS community and to OUR country for the space they’d be occupying makes my heart weep. And it sickens me deeply. As it does many, many others.

      So, jnb, “no good reason to oppose housing in this place”? Only an enemy or a soulless bureaucrat could make such a statement.

      You’re no American, and certainly not a Patriot.

      1. I would suggest to you there are artifacts all around us. Washington did not order an “Artifacts Dump” at any particular location.

        Your insults are inappropriate and misinformed. Your claim that a local resident who appreciates the history of the region is “no American” is incredibly unamerican of you.

        1. Perhaps you didn’t understand my meaning, Blake Cash. There is NO OTHER historical Revolutionary War site in the Princeton area as IMPORTANT as Maxwell’s Field, part of the Princeton Battlefield State Park.

          There, Patriot blood was spilled, historical artifacts have been uncovered, and all occurring in the exact same location where General Washington led his momentous countercharge which resulted in a significant American victory.

          There is NO OTHER site in Princeton that can make such a claim and therefore this site (Maxwell’s Field, aka Washington’s Charge) is unique and precious ground. In fact, it is sacrosanct to those of us who both understand and fully appreciate what transpired there on January 3, 1777.

          Much too important to be defiled or interfered with. So sorry you are incapable of those same feelings and appreciation.

          1. I very well may have misunderstood your meaning Marlene, it can be difficult to follow someone who is shouting and insulting members of the community.

            Maxwell’s field is adjacent to the recognized battlefield, it is not a part of it.

            Your focus is your own. I will not argue the significance of any square foot, that argument was held in 1966, and revisited in 1989 when the park was enlarged. I will say that I do appreciate the park for its historical significance, unlike most of the visitors who could not tell you which war was fought there.

            1. Nice try attempting to diminish its worth or to de-emphasize it, by not calling the land in question part of the battlefield.

              You may argue some arcane ordinance or designation, but that does not change the facts of the actual Battle of Princeton!

              His Excellency General George Washington personally led a brilliant counter-assault against the enemy and carried the day. And it happened on the very ground up for discussion here! That’s part of the Battle of Princeton, therefore, where it occurred has to be a portion of the Princeton Battlefield!

              There’s NO WAY around it! The truth is the truth and the facts are the facts!

              And if it doesn’t already have that “official designation,” (*sigh* “bureaucracy”) that can, should, and will be CORRECTED.

              And, what one person calls “shouting, I call “emphasis.”

              1. Actually the overwhelming majority of civil adults call it shouting. Please stop.

                If you would like to speak about facts, please read a few. The protections afforded the battlefield are far from arcane, and are the basis of any legality you wish to use to support your argument.

                A few other items which have missed your historical accuracy. General Washington was never referred to as “His Excellency” by anyone who had any respect for him. He stated numerous times his distaste for the trappings of royalty.

                The battle of Princeton took place over the land now referred to as Skillman, Princeton, Lawrenceville, and Trenton, as well as the adjoining communities. We memorialize this battle with several monuments, and a park set aside in 1966 by the state Historical society, which was enlarged in 1989. It may, through further legal wrangling, be enlarged again, but at no point will it ever encompass the entire theatre of battle. I encourage you to donate your home to the project though.

                And if you have missed the very points you are arguing, the memorials to the revolutionary war celebrate the essence of the revolution, that citizens stood up and placed their lives in danger for their beliefs. They did not shout and call the British rude names, they engaged in a life and death struggle.

  5. A word about the Institute for Advanced Study.

    They are comprised of four different “schools” and one of them is “Historical Studies.” Here is the description, found on the website of the IAS:

    “The School of Historical Studies supports scholarship in all fields of historical research, but it is concerned principally with the following: Greek and Roman civilizations, Medieval Europe, Modern Europe, The Islamic World, Philosophy and International Relations, History of Art, East Asian Studies.”

    I just want to point out that apparently (to them) nothing of historical import has ever happened on the continent of North America. This would include, obviously, the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777.

    Also worth mentioning: The Institute for Advanced Study is comprised mostly of people who are foreign-born. No WONDER American history means NOTHING to them.

    1. Marlene Di Via You are so RIGHT! I bet they’re all Communists. Let’s run them out of town! (Btw, what’s up with your name? It sounds FOREIGN to me.)

      1. I stand by my words. The IAS’s thrust in terms of important history is most everywhere SAVE the Americas (by their own definition). And my citing that the majority of their scholars are “foreign born” is to emphasize their lack of interest in the history of THIS country, which is relevant to this issue.

        Your attempts at mockery and hyperbole fall flat, whoswho12.

        Oh, and my name? Irrelevant. I am an American citizen, as were my parents and grandparents, whose roots were all in Western Europe, since you’re so interested.

  6. The Battle of Princeton was fought from Stony Brook all the way to Nassau Hall, and there were skirmishes as far north as the Kingston Bridge. The Milner Report placed the site of Washington’s stand on precisely the spot they had predetermined- where? Exactly where the IAS wanted to build its housing. Then they resorted to ad hominem attacks on anyone who questioned their accuracy- and with a British line extending a quarter of a mile in length, accuracy is something foreign to the Milner Report. It is not only inaccurate but absurd. They walked around the battlefield region identifying features dating to the Trenton-Princeton Trolley, or a road from the Trolley line to the Clarke House, as extant in 1777. The Hale family even recorded construction of that road. These features were vital to the Milner Report conclusions, yet they postdate the battle by over a century.

  7. History is, it seems, something to be cherished unless it gets in the way. Washington’s rallying and victorious charge is in the way of the self-serving ambitions of an internationally renowned institution. This institution has now shown a breathtaking contempt for both my U.S. Congressman (Bonnie Watson Coleman) and my state assemblyman and senator. Through its contempt for them it shows its contempt for the citizens of New Jersey. I am disappointed and somewhat angry at this.

    But to address once again the misrepresentations and yes, ad hominen attacks of William M and others in this string. Stating that “historians disagree” on the location of the action on Maxwell’s field is a fine example of the canard (much beloved of the 24-hour news cycle) that if one person in 100 disagrees with something then there is a “controversy”. I think that the National Park Service’s detailed assessment and wholehearted approval of the battlefield study (which had to meet their very exacting requirements) is in and of itself a sufficient assurance that the study is highly reliable and authoritative. In a previous post I pointed out that the three individuals whom the Institute put forward as its counter-experts on the battle are in fact nothing of the kind, noted scholars though they are in other areas. If you have fairly examined the report, understood the methodology and research that went into it, and have walked the ground and understood the topography, the conclusion that Maxwell’s Field is central to a pivotal event in American history is not “opinion”, it is inescapable.

    1. The Battlefield Park was established in 1946 based on the Clarke family accounts as well as T.J. Wertenbaker’s study. As late as the 1840s there were Whig conventions on the Clarke Farm attended by several veterans of the battle. The Oldens also preserved portions of the battlefield, including a monument which replaced a fallen tree where Mercer Fell. The Battlefield has a solid provenance going back to the veterans, the families who lived there (including my own, the Horners, who built the Quaker Meeting House). The strong-handed tactics of the PBS try to say the Milner report is uncontested and indisputable. The sources were gleaned from members of a Yahoo group called Revlist, rather than original unpublished research (which the exception of Todd Braisted’s discovery of a court-martial which included an account by Dragoons who covered the flank of the 17th.).

      British infantry tactics, as well as British accounts of the battle, state that the men formed shoulder-to-shoulder, because they were outnumbered. The Milner Report extends their line a quarter of a mile. An absolute absurdity.

      Another fact that totally contradicts the Milner Report- the British did not see the American column until the Philadelphia Associators arrived. The back route to Princeton was completely open and unobstructed. Unless they had a cloaking device, the Milner Report got that wrong. Wertenbaker explored the battlefield region when it was still open farmland, as it was during the battle, and placed the American colukn accurately as well as the site of Washington’s Stand- right in the middle of the Battlefield Park.

      The PBS claims that founders of the park thought Washington’s stand occurred on the Maxwell Tract- not true. They followed Wertenbaker’s study. The battlefield was slated for development in 1915 and Moses Taylor Pyne bought the property the save it. That is the only reason we have the park today.

    2. I would also like to address the accusation of “ad honimen” attacks. Where in my posts do I name, let alone attack, any of the Milner Report historians? Baloney.

Comments are closed.