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Vol. LXV, No. 42
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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The Battle Continues Over IAS Project Next to Battlefield

Anne Levin

The Township’s Historic Preservation Commission is currently preparing a report advising the Planning Board about the Institute for Advanced Study’s proposal to build faculty houses on a portion of land where the Battle of Princeton may have taken place on January 3, 1777. Meanwhile, efforts by the Princeton Battlefield Society to prevent the project, which Society president Jerry Hurwitz calls “the destruction and desecration of hallowed ground,” continue.

A Federal study of the progression of the Battle of Princeton, issued last January under the supervision of the American Battlefield Protection Program, shows evidence that the site of the proposed housing project, which lies between the IAS main campus and Princeton Battlefield State Park, was the site of a crucial Revolutionary War battle and should not be disturbed, Mr. Hurwitz says. Artifacts found at the site are “the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “It’s all consistent with the diaries and memoirs of the soldiers.”

The IAS has an extensive website entry devoted to the proposed project and studies it has commissioned about the Federal report, which was carried out by the historic preservation firm John Milner Associates. “The essential claim that the Milner report hopes to substantiate in order to argue that the IAS property should not be developed is that the Saw Mill Road … crossed directly over the IAS property, a claim that none of the earlier accounts of the battle has made,” reads a study by Mark Peterson, a specialist in the American Revolution at the University of California at Berkeley. “But this is exactly where the Milner Report is least convincing,” it continues, offering obstacles to the evidence.

Mr. Hurwitz says a thorough archaeological study of the site in question would settle the question. When the Trenton firm Hunter Research did a study of the site in 2007, the IAS did not allow the firm to complete the report, he says. “If there are any doubts, allow us to go in with archaeologists to make a thorough study. What have they got to hide? Why would they keep Hunter from testifying? Let them talk freely. They were hired by the Institute,” he says.

The IAS wants to build 15 homes on seven acres of its private land. The project was first proposed to the Princeton Regional Planning Board in 2003. The board rejected the plan at the time because of a disagreement over the size of a buffer zone between the houses and the park area. The current plans include a buffer zone of 200 feet with a dense row of hedges between the houses and the park.

The Institute needs the housing for scholars who cannot afford to live in the high-priced neighborhood between Springdale and Mercer roads. Seven single-family homes and eight townhouses are proposed. Preservation of the adjacent Battlefield Park has always been a priority, according to the website. “The Institute for Advanced Study supports the preservation of the Princeton Battlefield and honors those who fought and died there. It is committed to the appropriate preservation of this part of Princeton, which has been home to the Institute since its campus was established in 1939, and it welcomes working in partnership with the State to enhance scholarly and public knowledge of the Battlefield,” the website reads in a “Frequently Asked Questions” entry about the project.

Those opposed to the plan say the Institute could build its houses on other land it owns. “We think they have alternatives,” Mr. Hurwitz says. “They don’t want to build on their sacred ground, which is the circle. We think the circle pales in importance of the Battle of Princeton.”

Asked for comment, IAS spokesperson Christine Ferrara referred to the website, which says that more than 75 percent of the Institute’s own land is protected from development by the Green Acres easement, covering 589 acres. “Outside these protected acres, the planned site is the only one not intruding on the central axis of the academic campus that can accommodate the number of units needed,” it reads.

Mr. Hurwitz calls the plan “the moral equivalent of Gettysburg College putting faculty housing where Pickett’s Charge, the climactic point of the Battle of Gettysburg, took place. This is a critical piece of land that is necessary for the interpretation and understanding of the Battle of Princeton,” he said.

Those opposed to the project hope the Institute will reconsider its plans. “I really think that once this gets aired by enough people, the Institue may think twice about what they’re doing,” Mr. Hurwitz says. “This is an institute of higher learning that prides itself on its contributions to society, and they’re destroying a significant American historical site. That doesn’t look good. I’m sure if Einstein was around, he would not favor building on the battlefield.”

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