Another battle of Princeton: history buffs try to save land in private hands

The fight over the Princeton Battlefield could be won Thursday night.

Part of the site where General George Washington won a pivotal fight with British troops in the Revolutionary War, 1777, is now being eyed for development. The Princeton planning board will soon make a decision.

Update, Friday, 11:30 a.m.

Princeton Planning Board director Lee Solow says the application by the Institute for Advanced Study passed in a meeting Thursday night to construct 15 residential units.

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Solow says the board will now draft a resolution of adoption within the next 30 days before a building permit can be applied for by the Institute.


The Institute for Advanced Study — where Albert Einstein worked — owns 21 acres of undeveloped land where the right flank of the American army faced off with the British. The Institute wants to develop faculty housing on seven of those acres. Preservationists are crying foul. 

A pair of historians — professor emeritus James McPherson of Princeton University and David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis Univesrity — have co-authored a compromise plan which the Institute has adopted.

“I recognize the reality that the Institute owns the land,” said McPherson. “They have most of the permits they need. I’m in favor of the compromise that this is the best we can get that would minimize impact of development.”

The plan would rip out the line of trees that currently represents the border between the public battlefield park and the Institute’s privately-held land. It would also put 14 acres of the Institute’s undeveloped battlefield land into a conservation easement, thereby making one large, fully accessible park.

The president of the Princeton Battlefield Society, Jerry Hurwitz, says that plan is no compromise.

“In a situation where you don’t have any alternatives — in other words, they’ve got all the cards and we have nothing — then you might say any little bit will do,” said Hurwitz. “I look at this as giving us crumbs, saying: we’ll move the tree line back. It’s a very small gesture.”

Hurwitz would like to see no development at all on the location.

The meeting of the planning board is the fourth since December when the Institute and the Society began presenting arguments. A decision is expected Friday.

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