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Princeton Borough

Princeton Borough municipal offices are located at 1 Monument Drive, Princeton NJ 08542; phone: 609-924-3118.

Photo: Rowhomes in Princeton New Jersey

Portions of the text below were adapted from a text authored in 1879. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Beginnings [1]

The Borough of Princeton is situated nearly in the centre of the township, on an elevation 221 feet above the ocean, almost as high as the Rocky Hill mountain. It stands on the first high land which separates the alluvial plain of South Jersey from the mountainous and hilly country of the north. There is a gentle depression between it and the mountain, and a gradual descent on every other side of it towards the streams that nearly encircle it. The views from Princeton are almost equal to those from the summit of Rocky Hill, though less extensive northward. A pleasant view is afforded of Penn's Neck, a village once called Williamsburgh, and a strip of well cultivated farming country, with handsome farms, lying beyond the canal, in West Windsor, and through which passes the straight turnpike leading from Trenton to New Brunswick. The country between Penn's Neck and Kingston, on the east side of the Millstone River, is known as Mapleton, in the township of South Brunswick, in Middlesex County. It was early settled, and being only three or four miles from Princeton, its inhabitants, in former generations, were brought into close neighborhood relations with the latter in matters religious as well as political.

Princeton has worn the dignity of a borough since the year 1813, when the legislature granted it a charter for a municipal government. The reason why so small a town, as it then was, received such special privileges in its local government, can be found only in the peculiar exigencies which grew out of the existence of the college in the place, and its location in two counties; and this reason is declared in the preamble to the charter.

The population of the borough does not increase rapidly. The last census, taken in 1875, when the students were absent and not counted, returned the number at 2,814. The students of the several institutions and other persons who remain here for a few years, in connection with the institutions, and then return to their original homes, would exceed 600 in number — making our usual population nearly 3,500, within the borough.

Princeton is also situate nearly midway between New York and Philadelphia. It is ten miles distant from the city of Trenton, which is at the head of navigation on the Delaware River, and sixteen miles from the city of New Brunswick, which is at the head of navigation on the Raritan River. It is forty miles distant from Philadelphia and forty-five from New York. The village of Kingston is distant three miles, on the road to New Brunswick, and Lawrenceville six miles on the old road to Trenton. The old road from Trenton to New Brunswick, through Lawrenceville forms a junction at Princeton with the Princeton and Kingston Branch Turnpike.

The name of Princeton receives no clearly reliable history, as to its origin, either from tradition or record. Before the village was built up, the neighborhood was called Stony-Brook. The first settlers resided along this stream; and as early as 1712 both the "Friends' Meeting House," and "Worth's Mill" were in existence; and these, with the families of the Clarkes, Oldens, and Stocktons residing in their vicinity, very naturally, were designated, in respect to their location, as "of Stony-Brook." In title deeds, which bear date in the early part of the 18th century, the parties thereto, who resided in what is now Princeton, were so described. Like many other names of towns in early times, Princeton was variously spelled, or rather misspelled, in deeds, records and correspondence. It was called and written Princetown, Prince's Town, and Princeton. And in like manner Kingston was written Kingstown, King's Town, and Kingston, in its early days. The same variety was exhibited in the names of Trenton, Allentown and Pennington.

The suggestion which was made a few years ago, that the name of Princeton was derived from and called after Henry Prince, of Piscataway, who purchased a tract of land of 200 acres, in the township of Montgomery, which is now embraced within Princeton township, in the year 1711, of Thomas Leonard, never received the least degree of authentication. A letter of ex-Governor Olden, which was published in the Princeton Press, soon after that suggestion was printed in the Appendix to the "Historical Discourse" of the Rev. Wm. E. Schenck, designating the locality of that land, removed all ground for the suggestion, so that the idea has been discarded even by those who first gave it utterance. Without positive proof it was incredible that a place whose early settlers — the Stocktons, the Clarkes, the Oldens, the Fitz-Randolphs, the Leonards and the Hornors, who owned all the land in and about the neighborhood, and who were then, and have continued to be, influential and prominent citizens, should have received its name in honor of a merchant and resident of Piscataway — whose name is not connected with the history or the development of this place, but who is only known here as having been the owner of a lot of land — a mere fraction of the five thousand acre tract which the Stockton family had derived from Penn.

Henry Prince was a son-in-law of William Dockwra — a wealthy and distinguished London merchant, whose name is well known in the history of colonial New Jersey. He received from his father-in-law 1,000 acres of land in Monmouth County, 800 acres on the Hackensack River and a house and lot at Amboy, which was formerly the Court House, all of which property, together with the 200 acres of land in Somerset County, which he bought of Thomas Leonard, (the tract which was supposed to have impressed the owner's name upon Princeton) he devised to his wife and three children, by will, which was proved, September 29th, 1714 — ten years before the name of Princeton was given to the town! The pretence that Princeton, first so called in 1724, should have been called in honor of a man who had been dead ten years and had, in his will, disposed of his land, two hundred acres, in the county without a building on it, and whose name was not associated with the village in any way, and who never lived in it, is simply preposterous.

There is, however, a very general belief among our citizens that Princeton has a flavor of royalty about its name and that it was given in honor of William, Prince of Orange, a prince whose memory was cherished with affection by hosts of men, who had been subjects of oppression and persecution in Great Britain and on the Continent of Europe, not a few of whom had taken refuge in this country and in this neighborhood.

But it is more probable that this name is traceable to Kingston, a village a few miles east of Princeton. Kingston is probably an older village by name than Princeton; and the idea of royal affinities seems to have been kept alive in the people of the neighborhood, in designating the names of several adjoining places. For we have first Kingston — next Queenston — then Princeton, and last Princessville, succeeding each other on the road from Kingston to Trenton. The first of these names, Kingston, was probably so called because it was situated on the road called the King's Highway — the ancient road leading from New Brunswick to Trenton; though it may have been so named in honor, directly, of the King of England, then the mother country.

We have not been able to learn from any reliable source, that this place was called Princeton prior to 1724. Nathaniel Fitz Randolph, a native of this place, born here in 1703, made an entry in his private journal, chiefly a family register, on the 28th day of December, 1758, as follows:

"Princeton first named at the raising of the first house built there by James Leonard, A. D. 1724. Whitehead Leonard the first child born at Princeton, 1725."

This is probably a truthful record of the date when this place was named Princeton. There is a tradition germane to this record in Princeton, that in the year 1724 or thereabouts, in a certain agreement entered into for the building of a house in this village, the place was designated Princeton, for the first time. Though no reason is given for calling it Princeton, there seems to be none for doubting the reliability of Mr. Fitz Randolph's journal. This entry precedes another entry, which he made in the same journal respecting the college, and his early connection with it, and of his part taken in laying the corner stone of the building; and also of his having given land and money to the college, with other incidents which are amply confirmed in the history of the college.

The Climate of Princeton is salubrious; and such is generally conceded to be the climate of the whole State of New Jersey. Professor Smock of Rutger's College, says: Its equable character conduces to its healthfulness and exempts it from diseases due to more extreme climatic features. The tendency to pulmonary diseases is not so great as in the Atlantic States north of this, where great humidity is often associated with low depression of temperature. In summer the extreme heats are not so protracted as in the Gulf States and Southern States, nor are there so many rainfalls and consequent evaporations; and hence there is scarcely any malarial disease as epidemic, excepting a few localities on the undrained marshes and stagnant pools, or lakes. These sometimes generate intermittent fevers. As compared to New England and New York, the extremes of summer are not greater than in those States, while the heat continues later into autumn. In winter the extreme depressions are from ten to twenty degrees. Such extreme cold does not last often longer than three or four days. Spring opens a month earlier than in Central New York, or in New England. This longer duration of warm and pleasant weather and freedom from great extremes of heat and cold, together with its general healthfulness, make New Jersey the most attractive of the Atlantic States considered from a climatic stand-point.*

Douglass, in his history, says that the salubrious climate of New Jersey drew many emigrants here rather than to New England and New York. This character of the climate of the State is confirmed by its proximity to the thirty-eighth parallel of north latitude, which is the point of the average temperature of the earth, and where the Grand Pyramid of Egypt is located, the orientation there being more accurate than in any other observatory.

Because of its healthfulness, Princeton was called by Dr. Witherspoon the Montpelier of America; though the biographers of Dr. Archibald Alexander say that like that salubrious town of France, it is exposed to the sweep of angry winds, especially about the breaking up of winter.

Gordon in his Gazetteer of New Jersey describes Princeton as remarkable for the salubrity of its climate. And the Rev. Samuel Miller, D. D., who resided here for about forty years, while professor in the Theological Seminary, was in the habit of recording with his characteristic regularity, the testimony of the thermometer at his door, die ad diem through the years of his adult life. He was susceptible to atmospheric influences, and watched the changes of the weather with more than ordinary interest; and his opinion is as reliable and authoritative on the subject, as that of any other person. He had a delicate constitution, yet lived to become an octogenarian. He had lived in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. His biographer, in vol. ii, p. 488, publishes a letter from him, written in 1847, to one of his sons, urging him to bring his sick wife from Maryland, where the climate was questionable, to Princeton, which he describes as a place "where she may enjoy perfect repose, and one of the finest climates in the solar system."

Princeton being central in the State, and on the southernmost ridge of the Highlands between the hilly counties of the extreme north and the alluvial plain of the south, has a medium temperature. Its winters are cold enough to produce a desirable supply of snow and ice, with the mercury down sometimes for a day or two to zero, and very rarely a few degrees below that. But such intense cold is exceptional and of very short duration. Its summers are adapted to the growth and perfection of the crops and fruits of the season. When the mercury rises above ninety degrees, it is exceptional and only of a few days' continuance. The autumn with its Italian sunsets, and its gorgeous foliage of brilliant hues, combines with an unsurpassed beauty, a most genial and uniform temperature. The spring is short, its earlier half is fickle, and by reason of its sudden changes of temperature, its high winds, and frequent storms, it is usually the most disagreeable part of the year; while its later half is mild, bright and delightful, introducing the sweet music of the feathered songsters, and the fresh fragrance of the early flowers. Like all temperate climates, the record of a year in Princeton will show occasionally a day of extreme heat and one of extreme cold, with less uniformity than is experienced in other latitudes; and yet the sudden atmospheric changes in the winter and spring months, impose no other burdens upon us than a prudent adaptation of our raiment to them. But nowhere can we reside through all the seasons of the year with stronger assurance of health and uninterrupted activity, than in Princeton. Invalids who cannot bear the summer heat, may wisely resort in mid-summer to cooler regions, and those who are too frail to withstand the blasts of icy winter, may prudently avoid them by following the birds to the sunny climes of the tropics. But no person of ordinary health is obliged to suspend his labors, whether intellectual or physical, and go from Princeton in any season of the year, on the pretext that the climate is ungenial and unsuitable for constant labor and enjoyment. There is nothing in our climate that calls for any suspension of the exercises of our schools and college during any particular month. The summer would be as enjoyable here as the winter, and perhaps as favorable for study; and formerly the Commencement of the college was held in the fall, and the session continued during the summer; but we have yielded to the general sentiment and custom of the whole country and adopted the heated term as the season for necessary recreation, travel, and general vacation.

Princeton is not, in any proper sense, a business place. It wears no business aspect. The multitude of men who throng its streets daily, going to their meals, to the post office, to the depot, or who walk for exercise, are not working men, or operatives in factories, or clerks, or tradesmen, but chiefly students, professors, clergymen, strangers and retired gentlemen. There is a large amount of capital invested here, but not in manufactures, trade or commerce. There is nothing here to invite the manufacturer, but everything to repel him. There is no water power, and there are no facilities or advantages for the employment of steam in factories. Nor is there a cheap and convenient access to the great markets of the world, that would secure to it equal advantages with other competing communities.

It is preeminently an educational town, and has been such for at least a hundred and twenty-five years; and this feature gives it its peculiar charm. Far distant be the day when the pure, bright atmosphere of Princeton shall be darkened and tainted with the murky, smoky, dirty exhalations of a manufacturing city! The peculiar attractiveness of this classic, quiet and healthful place will be diminished in proportion to the increase, within or near it, of the noise and bustle of trade and money-making. Millions of dollars have been expended here in the erection of handsome public buildings for literary, scientific and theological pursuits, and for the endowment of professorial chairs in our educational institutions. Here have been planted and nourished those two venerable Institutions, the College of New Jersey, and the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, making it the stronghold of Presbyterianism, as well as of science and letters. In these classic shades, and around these institutions have clustered for several generations past, learned scholars and divines, and a society of refined and cultivated families. Streams of light and influence have flowed hence through the channel of printed volumes, as well as through the lecture-room and the pulpit. Such a place, though not interesting to the capitalist, is nevertheless attractive to wealthy families who have children to educate, and to persons of literary taste and religious sentiments, which may be gratified in the libraries, lecture-rooms and society of Princeton. Situated as this place is midway between, and so near the large cities of New York and Philadelphia, it is palpably important that cheap and convenient railroad facilities should be afforded to its citizens, in order that those who wish to maintain their families and residence here and still continue their business in the cities, might be enabled to do so comfortably and advantageously. The Branch railroad which has been built from Princeton to the junction of the Great Trunk road, of the Camden and Amboy Company, at present leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, about three miles from Princeton, affording to Princeton passengers a connection with many of the rapid express through trains on that road in both directions, secures more advantages to this place than a local road would do, notwithstanding the inconvenience in changing cars at the junction. It is hoped that the large travel on this Branch, which yields so large a revenue to the company, will command the most ample accommodations, fully adapted to the necessities of this town, to and from which there is a constant stream of travel to both of the great cities.

Princeton is especially attractive in the summer and autumnal months, when it is embowered in its rich green foliage. It is then clothed with uncommon beauty. Enchantment steals over you as you stroll through its streets and extensive lawns, and observe its profuse and rare shade trees with varieties of the maple, the linden, the chestnut, the ash, the elm, the sycamore, the catalpa, some of them being over a hundred years of age; with a choice variety of evergreens and magnolias, all-vocal with the sweet music of its beautiful birds; and also its handsome residences with grounds ornate with hedges, walks and flower-beds. And then as you turn your eyes to the numerous large, unique, classic public buildings and churches, suggestive of letters, science and religion; and as you pass on through its quiet ways, free from the rattle and clatter of business — and breathe its salubrious air, free alike from malaria and from the plague of those little hostes homini — mosquitoes; remembering its accessibility to the large cities, and those higher attractions of libraries and literary society, of religious and educational advantages so multiform in the presence of the hundreds of students, teachers, clergymen and other educated men and women, you cannot fail to appreciate its peculiar charms, especially if you are seeking health and repose for yourselves, and education for your children.

That our views of the importance and influence of Princeton as an educational centre may not be regarded as extravagant, and be ascribed to the partiality of an enthusiastic admirer and resident of the place, we shall take the liberty of citing a passage from the published address delivered in Princeton at the dedication of Dickinson Hall in 1871, by the Rev. Dr. Murray, then pastor of the Brick Church, New York, but now the accomplished professor of Belles Lettres and English Language and Literature in Princeton College.

After speaking of great educational and religious centres as Jerusalem for religion, Athens for learning, and Rome for order and law among the ancients, he says:

"Our Presbyterian System in its new compactness, let us fondly hope, in its coming consolidation needs one educational centre at least, of scope and power commensurate with the ecclesiastical organization of which it is the child and the nurse. That PRINCETON is this focal point in our educational system, there can be no doubt. It belongs to her; and every auspicious sign points to her most worthy occupancy of the high trust. It belongs to her by reason of a century's great and good history. It belongs to her by reason of services rendered in the educing of a consecrated mental power which has been felt on every square foot of territory on which Presbyterianism has been planted in this country, and in which it has taken root. It belongs to her by virtue of her noble array of names historic in the councils of the church. It belongs to her by the prestige of saintly and famous memories. Her Dickinsons and Edwards' and Witherspoons; her Alexanders and Millers, are a goodly foundation on which to build up the foremost of our Presbyterian colleges. It belongs to her by the presence here of her two Faculties, that of the College, and the Theological Seminary, each of which in its own sphere has been so proudly, eminent in this land, and far beyond the seas. It belongs to her by virtue of her position in the history of the past, and in the promise of the future."

The historic names and events which belong to Princeton illustrate the vast brain power and influence which have radiated from this focal point in past generations: two of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence resided in Princeton; the battle-field which turned the tide of the war in the Revolution and gave hope to the country is here; the first legislature under the State Constitution was held in this place, and here adopted the Great Seal of New Jersey in 1776; the Continental Congress, for a time sat here, and legislated in the old College Library; distinguished jurists, statesmen, scholars, soldiers and divines have from generation to generation resided here, shedding a halo of glory around the name of the town; the cemetery holds the sacred dust of a great company of leading and mighty men, renowned in letters, in science, in theology, in law and politics: and the history of the church and the distinguished preachers whose eloquence and success have rendered their names and the name of Princeton immortal in history; the number and character of the many volumes of books and literary contributions which have been written in Princeton.


*Beers' Atlas of New Jersey

  1. Hageman, John Frelinghuysen, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Volume I, 1879, J. P. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia
**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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