September 25, 2013

Sale of Land on Stockton Street Could Expand Battlefield Park

When the Princeton Battlefield Society gathers with the public at Battlefield Park this Saturday for “Revolution at Princeton,” a day of activities commemorating George Washington’s famous victory over the British, conversation is certain to focus on a recent development that could expand the historic park beyond its current boundaries.

Princeton Council voted at its September 9 meeting to hire a firm to survey a privately owned plot of land on Stockton Street that borders the state park near the colonnade. Acquisition of the 4.62-acre site would be the first purchase of park land since 1971, when the state bought property from the Institute for Advanced Study. The cost would be approximately $900,000. The town would contribute a sum less than $100,000, while the rest would be drawn from Mercer County and state Green Acres funds.

A spokesman for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday that while nothing is definite yet, an agreement could be announced soon. “Our Green Acres officials have talked with Princeton about preserving the land, but anything else is a little premature,” said Bob Considine.

The property at 480 Stockton Street is owned by the D’Ambrisi family, whose house would be torn down since it is not considered to have historic value. “The D’Ambrisis agreed to this and it was wonderful that they were willing,” said Kip Cherry, first vice president of the Princeton Battlefield Society, last week. “They have taken very good care of the property, even having Rutgers come in and label the trees.”

Unmarked graves and a former quarry may be located on or near the site. “According to original accounts, there were British and American soldiers buried there, but we’re not exactly sure where,” Ms. Cherry said. “There are some bronze markers on the colonnade that explain about it, but we don’t know. At some point, we would like to use some ground-penetrating radar.”

The deal has been in the works for some time, and was complicated by the presence of a dam on the property. The tract slopes down steeply, a fact that may indicate the presence of a quarry, Ms. Cherry believes. “At the bottom of that steep area was a stream,” she said. “When Moses Taylor Pyne came along to build Drumthwacket [now the New Jersey governors’ mansion], he wanted to create a pastoral setting. He took control and created a series of ponds out of the stream. So the landscape of the stream is the historic landscape he created. There is a series of small dams, and one is on the [D’Ambrisi] property.”

Future plans for the site include a bike path that would connect Stockton and Mercer streets, Ms. Cherry said. New Jersey will celebrate its 350th anniversary next year, and a celebration at the battlefield is planned for September of next year. “We have no reason to believe it won’t be done by then,” she said of the pending land deal.

Earlier this month, Mayor Liz Lempert said the acquisition will enhance the experience of visiting the historic park. “The battle was fought obviously on more land than just the battlefield,” she said, “and one of the exciting things about this is that it does give you more of a sense of the troop movements and why certain postings were more advantageous than others.”