Each day, thousands of motorists drive into and out of Princeton on a road originally built in 1807 through the Stony Brook Quaker Settlement farms of William Clarke and his brother, Thomas. Just 30 years earlier, in January 1777, General George Washington led 5,000 men through those fields as they marched from Trenton to Princeton, toward a second straight defeat of the British, changing the course of history.
The Thomas Clarke House, built in 1772, is one of the few remaining structures that bore witness to the crucial events of 1777. Yet despite the significance of this landmark, the walls and ceilings of the house are crumbling, and there are leaks in the roof. The Princeton Battlefield itself is in decay.
As the United States approaches its 250th birthday in 2026, local historians and state officials hope to make sure these and other key New Jersey landmarks get the attention they deserve—and that New Jersey is ready to play a big part in the nation’s planned Semiquincentennial celebration.
“People know about Thomas Edison and the Statue of Liberty, but they don’t realize the American Revolution happened here,” says Roger Williams, president of the Princeton Cranbury chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. “We have a great opportunity to promote our state as an integral part of America’s founding.”
Indeed, everyone is familiar with the iconic image of Washington crossing the Delaware, but few know that the Father of our Country spent more time in New Jersey than in any other future state during the Revolution, and that more battles and engagements—close to 600—were fought here than in any other location.
Williams, a lifelong Princeton resident, says preserving our history and these important landmarks requires a statewide effort.
“We need to come together so we have economies of scale,” says Williams. “While many of our towns have historical commissions, we need a collective state effort to fix our historical structures, polish our image, and add services to take advantage of the boon in heritage tourism.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert echoes Williams’s sentiments. “Reading about a battle in a textbook is one thing,” says Lempert, “but standing in a battlefield is a completely different experience. It helps us to envision the events of the past.” What’s more, says Lempert, “we recognize our obligation to preserve, protect and promote our heritage.”
Specifically, Lempert says, “Princeton Battlefield has long been in need of improved interpretive signage, and the Princeton Battlefield Monument at the intersection of State Highways 27 and 206 is due for cleaning. In addition, better bicycle facilities leading to and through the park would help provide greater access.”
Thankfully, efforts are underway to address such needs. Ira Jersey, chairman of Crossroads of the American Revolution, says his group and the New Jersey Historical Commission have hired a visitor-readiness consultant to identify improvements needed to prepare Revolutionary War sites for Semiquicentennial tourists. The two groups will also raise funds to help pay for the improvements.
New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way is pleased with the Commission’s partnership with Crossroads; “New Jersey,” she says, “is poised to play a pivotal role in the Semiquincentennial, engaging residents and visitors.”Click here to leave a comment