Battle Continues Over Historic Princeton Battlefield

By Briana Vannozzi

In the fight to preserve the past for the sake of the future, it seems preservationists are on the losing end.

“It’s important that we stop them now,” Jerry Hurwitz, President of Princeton Battlefield Society, said.

The Princeton Battlefield Society and several New Jersey lawmakers are attempting to block a housing development being built atop historic land. It’s the site where George Washington’s troops defeated the British at the battle of Princeton during the American Revolution.

“Until the Battle of Princeton, the American Revolution was essentially falling apart,” Vice President Kip Cherry said. “We were not doing very well. We had not won any battles. Washington had not won any battles against the British army.”

“It’s probably the most brilliant battle that Washington ever fought. The most brilliant, strategic maneuver that he ever made in the war,” Hurwitz said.

They’re asking the Department of Environmental Protection for a stay on the construction permits before the damage is irreversible. The seven acre tract is owned by the Institute for Advanced Study, which boasts such notable alumni as Albert Einstein. The 15 homes will be used as faculty housing. In a public statement the Institute said in part: “the project meets a critical need for the Institute, which has taken great care to address all reasonable concerns relative to preservation issues in consultation with historians…”

The statement went on to say: “archaeological surveys have been conducted on the project site to recover any remaining artifacts.”

But Cherry says it takes many years and many digs to uncover nearly 250 year-old artifacts.

“Each one gives us a little more factual information about the battle. So every musket ball, the location, whether it was British or American, this is all information that is very important and now we can even do DNA analysis on the musket balls,” she said.

“It is such sacred land that we’d really like the Institute to do the right thing. The civil war trust offered $4.5 million for the land and instead the Institute would rather put clotheslines and houses on tax-exempt property,” Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said.

Then there’s the issue over wetlands.

“The study had been commissioned by the Institute back in 1990, because they wanted to put in about 250 houses. It was done for pretty much the entire property,” Hurwitz said.

The DEP says it has no authority to grant a stay on permits because its studies show the wetlands don’t exist. But NJTV News obtained a copy of the original environmental study from 1990. Two independent firms hired by the DEP at the request of the Institute confirmed wetlands on the site.

The Institute and the DEP declined our request for an interview. The Institute has the ruling of the state Supreme Court on their side and all necessary permits needed to move forward. Preservationists aren’t giving up. They’re filing suit in Federal district court under the Clean Water Act and plan to testify before the environment committee next week.