Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 7
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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Historical Society Uncovers Stony Brook’s Past, Learns More About Its Neighbors in New Exhibit

Dilshanie Perera

The rich community history behind family names associated with Princeton through road signs and eponymous historic homes comes vividly to life in the Historical Society of Princeton’s (HSP) latest exhibition, “Stony Brook: Gateway to Princeton.”

On view at Bainbridge House through Sunday, July 4, the show explores how the land of the Stony Brook Village Historic District and Battlefield was used over time, the goal being, noted HSP Curator of Collections Eileen Morales, an exploration of the area’s history through particular topics like agricultural activity, transportation, historic preservation, and community relations.

The Historical Society acquired the Updike Farmstead property in 2004, and broke ground on the restoration of the home last year. While the six-acre site will be its new home, the HSP will continue its presence on Nassau Street as well. Ms. Morales noted that another motivating factor for focusing on the Stony Brook area was to “learn more about our neighbors,” including celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Quaker Meeting House on the adjacent lands.

Part of the challenge of putting together an exhibit of this kind was to make sense of the constantly shifting legal boundaries of the Stony Brook area, which is crosscut and claimed by West Windsor, Princeton Township, and Mercer County at different moments in time, Ms. Morales said.

The show explains the formation and settlement of the Stony Brook, with the purchase of the 1,200 tract of land by Benjamin Clarke in 1696, back when the colonial space was still referred to as East Jersey. The next year, Mr. Clarke divided the property in half and sold it to two of his brothers-in-law, William Olden and Joseph Worth.

Mr. Clarke also founded the Quaker meeting house, setting aside nine acres for the house of worship and cemetery. By 1878 the membership was dissolved after the purchase of the land, but was revived again in the 1950s when the property was given back to the community.

The story of how the land was settled and sold, and of the families that lived and worked there is told in words and images as the exhibition progresses. Photographs from the Updike family shed insight into the community, which included various family farms, a mill, schools, and shops.

Fascinating artifacts both old and ancient are featured throughout the exhibition space, including Lenape archeological objects and stone tools dating from 4,000 to 1,000 B.C. excavated at the Stony Brook site, as well as journals and diaries from the 1800s on display. One notable find is a guestbook from the Thomas Clarke House at the Battlefield site signed by Japanese visitors in 1906.

Historic preservation and transportation are other key themes in “Stony Brook: Gateway to Princeton,” with the history of land conservation in the area laid out through maps, photographs, text, and artifacts. The Updike Farmstead at Quaker Road was also a central location for residents of the community to catch the trolley for work in the Borough or in Trenton.

By the 1940s, Ms. Morales explained that there were “big changes” in the area, since many estates were built at the turn of the century, and much land was divided and sold off over time.

“It still has a rural feeling,” Ms. Morales acknowledged. “The Stony Brook really is the gateway to Princeton; it harkens back to a different era.”

The exhibition’s opening reception will be held on Thursday, February 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. at 158 Nassau Street, and is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is recommended. Call (609) 921-6748 ext. 100 or e-mail

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