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Institute for Advanced Study, Civil War Trust Reach Compromise: Battlefield State Park Will Be Expanded (Updated)

Rendering of the compromise plan for the Institute’s new housing.

The long and expensive fight over a Revolutionary War battlefield in Princeton is finally over.

The Institute for Advanced Study and the Civil War Trust today announced jointly that they have reached a compromise regarding land the school had slated for faculty housing. The settlement ends years of fighting about land that was part of the Battle of Princeton, which was a critical turning point in the Revolutionary War.

The Civil War Trust will pay $4 million to the Institute to buy 14.85 acres of land known as Maxwell’s Field and expand the Battlefield State Park. The purchase will preserve two-thirds of the Maxwell’s Field property, along with an extra 1.12 acre tract north of the property that has been identified by historians as part of the battlefield.

“We are delighted to reach this agreement, which both meets the needs of the Institute and ensures the preservation of this site through an enlarged and revitalized Princeton Battlefield State Park,” said Institute Director Robbert Dijkgraaf and Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer in a joint statement.

The original footprint of the Institute’s faculty housing project will be reduced by replacing seven single family home lots with eight more townhouses, for a total of 16 townhouses that will a be located east of Gödel Lane on Maxwell’s Field. The plan also avoids any development within the Princeton Battlefield National Historic Landmark boundary, designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1961.

“This landmark agreement will enable us to preserve one of the defining moments in American history. We are pleased by this opportunity to work with the Institute for Advanced Study to save an important part of our Revolutionary War heritage,” Lighthizer said.

“As part of our original faculty housing plan, the Institute expressed a
commitment to working with stakeholders in the preservation and commemoration of the Battle of Princeton and its role in the American Revolution,” Dijkgraaf said. “We are confident that this new plan and
partnership will enhance the experience of the park for all who visit.
While we received the approval of the original housing plan design in 2012, we are pleased to have built upon the recommendations received then from noted historians and preservationists David Hackett Fisher
and James McPherson in reaching this cooperative and mutually beneficial agreement with the Civil War Trust.”

The Institute housing plan had most recently been reviewed and approved by the Princeton Planning Board and Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission in late 2014 and early 2015. The canal commission originally rejected the latest proposal, but one member who was a state employee switched his vote the following month. New litigation was filed by the Princeton Battlefield Society as a result and is still pending in the court system. The Institute and its opponents have spent a great deal of money and resources fighting over the development of the land over many years.

The Battlefield Society agreed to suspend its litigation against the Institute,pending closing on the property by the Civil War Trust and the Institute. Once the purchase is complete, the Society will dismiss all legal challenges.

The new compromise plan will require review and a vote by the trustees for the Institute and the Civil War Trust. The agreement will not go into effect until all necessary project approvals have been received. The land will be conveyed to the state. The target date for the transfer of the property to be sold to the Trust is June of next year.

Several non-profit heritage preservation organizations have fought for the preservation of Maxwell’s Field, including the Princeton Battlefield Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati.

“We have worked for decades to ensure that the Princeton Battlefield and the men who fought on this land 240 years ago are appropriately commemorated. This agreement honors that commitment and  guarantees that an historically significant part of the battlefield is preserved forever,” said Jerry Hurwitz, president of the Princeton Battlefield Society. “The story of the Battle of Princeton – even that of the American Revolution – cannot be fully told without demonstrating the events that occurred on and near Maxwell’s Field. We are grateful that the Institute for Advanced Study and the Civil War Trust has forged an agreement to preserve this historic site.”
Bateman Applauds Compromise to Save Princeton Battlegrounds

Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Mercer, Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon) released the following statement on an agreement allowing the Civil War Trust to purchase Maxwell’s Field from the Institute of Advanced Study in order to preserve the historic site of the Battle of Princeton. Bateman has long fought to prevent the Institute from causing irreversible damage to the battlegrounds by building housing on Maxwell’s Field.

State Sen. Kip Bateman, who has fought to preserve Princeton battlegrounds, including Maxwell’s Field, said he will work to ensure that preservation efforts are completed as swiftly as possible.

“This landmark agreement between the Civil War Trust and the Institute of Advanced Study is the victory we have long-hoped for. For years I have fought tirelessly alongside historians, activists and local residents to save Maxwell’s field from permanent destruction. We refused to stand by and allow the Institute of Advanced Study to bulldoze 240 years of history, and I am elated that our battle has finally been won,” Bateman said.

“This historic compromise will allow for the preservation of nearly 15 acres of Maxwell’s Field as well as the expansion of Princeton Battlefield State Park,” Bateman said. “The Princeton Battlegrounds are an unparalleled educational resource. Because of this agreement, future generations will have the opportunity to visit this hallowed ground and learn about the brave soldiers who fought at the Battle of Princeton – the turning point of the Revolutionary War.”

Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic  Preservation, commended the Civil War Trust and the Institute for Advanced Study for their perseverance in developing this compromise solution that will facilitate the expansion of the Princeton Battlefield State Park. “Saving  Maxwell’s Field will enhance
its power to educate and inspire future generations,” she said.

The Civil War Trust is the country’s top non-profit battlefield preservation organization. Although primarily focused on the protection of Civil War battlefields, the Trust also works to save the battlefields connected to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 43,000 acres of land in 23 states.

The Battle of Princeton, fought January 3, 1777, was one of the most decisive battles of the American Revolution. It was the culmination of a 10-day campaign that began with George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776. In a series of daring maneuvers, Washington succeeded in attacking isolated elements of the British army. His decisive counterattack at Princeton marked his first victory over British regulars in the field, and revitalized the cause of American independence.

“The preservation of the Princeton Battlefield is an achievement of national importance,” said Jack Warren, executive director of the Society of the Cincinnati. “Washington’s remarkable victory at Princeton stunned the British and opened the road that led to
American independence. The Princeton Battlefield is a monument to courage, resourcefulness and stubborn determination — characteristics at the heart of our national identity.”

Rendering of the expanded Battlefield State Park land.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Lattelover

    Its appalling that they wanted to build houses on that extended field at all. Why do i think someone of political cache wanted one of them. Im glad the American people stopped it.
    I wonder what real history Ivy League students learn today? Princeton University was born out of the great 1700s christian revival. Thats true history.

  • Robert Dana

    Yep. Don’t understand the point of that long comment. And were the British driven or did they withdraw? (Of course, we do know that his great, great whatever grandpa was there.)

  • RowerDad

    completely agree. It was always a false choice. The institute has land outside of the battlefield site that could have been developed or redeveloped for faculty housing. It is just not what they wanted.

  • jdevil1735

    As you pointed out – that was NOT a victory. This was Washington’s first VICTORY over British Regulars.

  • William M

    The first occasion in which the British Army was driven from the field in battle was at Springfield, on December 17, 1776. My 5th great grandfather, Capt. Daniel Vliet, was with the NJ Militia in this action. But it is not generally taken into account because while the British withdrew, so did the Americans, unlike Princeton. Vliet’s nephew was Fifer John Piatt of the 1st NJ Continental line. He was 9 years old at the Battle of Princeton and recalled seeing the dead and wounded in Nassau Hall; he was captured shortly after the battle and sent to the Sugar House prison in NY. The British requested he play Yankee Doodle Dandy on his fife; he was then let go on account of his age. Captain Vliet’s sister Frances Piatt died during the Battle of Princeton, within hearing of the guns. She had 5 sons in the Continental Army, all of whom became officers.

  • krystalknapp

    Hi Anne. The story says it was the culmination of a 10-day campaign and marked his first victory against British regulars (emphasis on British). If it was a story about a Trenton land dispute I would have mentioned the Battle of Trenton prominently. Thanks.

  • WhatInTheWorldz

    Robbert Dijkgraaf is being completely disingenuous saying he’s “delighted” about the compromise. The Institute never wanted to budge from their original plan and never cared how much of history they destroyed. What is clear with this compromise, is that it wasn’t necessary for the IAS to build on that portion of the land, they could have created a different plan. They had to be publicly shamed and wrestled to the ground, kicking and screaming on this one due to the tenacious efforts of large number of conscientious people. The IAS should be ashamed of their behavior throughout this ordeal.

  • Anne LaBate

    Hmmmm – I thought the Battle of Trenton was Washington’s first victory. Is it left unmentioned here because Washington defeated Hessians rather than British regulars? Or just because the story wouldn’t read quite so well?

  • William M

    Are you aware of the absolute absurdities of the Milner Report? If you want to know what your ancestors did, and where they did it, the Milner Report is a fairy tale. It was commissioned with the predetermined intent to “prove” that Washington stood on the IAS property. They misplace the scene of action, and place entire brigades where they were not.

  • Lattelover

    Glad that at least this compromise was reached. If the good Historians are satisfied than I can be.
    I hope it has raised the issue of the danger of ignoring important History and what a detriment that is to our future understanding of good governance. History is an honest teacher. The places where it happened tell no lies whatever…but revisionists with political goals frequently do. I believe I had at least 3 ancestors involved in this battle period one way or another or at least their regiment was. War is terrible but tyranny is far worse.

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