April 24, 2019

Preservationists Concerned As Battlefield Position Remains Vacant

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Battlefield State Park (PBSP) has been without a full-time caretaker historian, known as a resource interpretive specialist (RIS), since the retirement of the Park’s RIS in April 2018.

In an April 8 letter to the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), American Battlefield Trust (ABT) President O. James Lighthizer expressed the concern of the Trust and others over the decline of the 1772 Thomas Clarke House and surrounding landscape.

“We respectfully urge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to fill this position as soon as possible, particularly to prevent any avoidable deterioration of Princeton’s treasured landscape and related resources — like the 1772 Thomas Clarke House, the only remaining structure associated with the 1777 battle,” Lighthizer wrote.

Roger Williams, president of the Princeton Cranbury Chapter of the New Jersey Society  of the Sons of the American Revolution, noted, “The Clarke House is in serious trouble. It’s at a crisis point where some money needs to be put into the house or it will start falling apart.”

The DEP, Williams said, needs to get budget approval to hire a full-time resource interpretive specialist. In the meantime Williams has been talking to New Jersey legislators to urge immediate emergency funding to restore the Clarke House.

On Saturday, May 4, at 3 p.m., Williams added, local legislators and others will be speaking to this point at a ceremonial flag raising at the Battlefield.

Responding to inquiries about the RIS post last week, NJDEP Public Information Officer Caryn Shinske stated, “Backfilling this position is a priority for the State Park Service,” but noted competing priorities in staffing and capital improvements at other state parks.

“In the meantime, stewardship and public programming for Princeton Battlefield State Park is continuing with support from the maintenance staff, resource interpretive specialists, and the park superintendent from nearby Washington Crossing State Park,” Shinske wrote in an email.

“Likewise, The Princeton Battlefield Society is an invaluable Friends
organization of this historic site that supports its interpretive programs, capital improvements, and maintenance,” she added.

Emphasizing the importance of the Princeton Battlefield to the American Revolution and George Wasington’s” Ten Crucial Days’ campaign, Lighthizer’s letter pointed out that the ABT, along with the NJDEP, the Princeton Battlefield Society, the Princeton Cranbury Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, and others has been working on a comprehensive preservation and interpretation plan to enhance the visitor experience at the Battlefield.

The success of this project, funded by the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, and the ability to execute it effectively, Lighthizer argued, is dependent on the presence of a full-time site administrator assigned to the PBSP.

“It is vital that NJDEP move quickly to fill the vacancy at the state park which otherwise threatens to thwart our joint progress on the ground and let vulnerable park lands and resources languish beyond repair,” he added.

The ABT last year helped to resolve a longstanding dispute between the PBS and the neighboring Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) by purchasing the 14.85-acre site of Washington’s charge, which will eventually become part of the state park, from IAS for $4 million.