To the Editor:
The Battlefield Society’s president recently wrote that supporters of the IAS (Institute for Advanced Study) have “subscribed to the Big Lie theory” and that “IAS is intent on destroying the heart of one of the most important sites in American history.” [Mailbox, March 2]. How I wish the Battlefield people would redirect their laudable intents but lamentable language. Such demonization has too long impeded what should by now have been a better outcome for the hallowed ground where Washington saved the American Revolution.
But how I also wish that the IAS would break out of its hermetically sealed Eurocentric bubble. For our neighborhood and our nation, IAS, with its global connections and gigantic funding sources, should be doing much more to help preserve the uniquely significant American heritage land under and around its control. And how I wish the State of New Jersey would properly care for our public lands. The decrepit state of Battlefield Park under its stewardship, with its crumbling monuments and collapsing Clarke House, is a national disgrace.
But mostly, how I wish our community leaders would lead us out of this sorry stalemate. The prestigious and powerful Civil War Trust (CWT) now wants to help, but IAS is refusing to meet. Meanwhile, PBS (Princeton Battlefield Society) is filing a Federal lawsuit of uncertain prospects against IAS. Now seems a good time for a constructive compromise. OK, IAS has the right to build its houses. Let’s help it build them even more discretely. In return, get IAS to sell to CWT the rest of Maxwell Field, which can then help fund a suitable Battlefield visitors center near Clarke House. With CWT’s help, get Crossroads of the Revolution to forge public-private partnerships to restore the Clarke House, refurbish the Colonnade, and repair the monuments.
Then, get the U.S. Park Service and the Historical Society of Princeton to place interpretative markers and pathways throughout the whole area. Get the municipality and Friends of Open Space to create another local trail, a National Heritage History Trail, from the Quaker Meeting through the Battlefield, along Olden Avenue and Battle Road, through the Frog Hollow area around the Grad College, up to Nassau Hall. That trail might include other epic historical sites, like the IAS nursery school in which John von Neumann pioneered the ENIAC computer and the grand ground floor chamber in the Grad College tower that memorializes Grover Cleveland.
We need some honest brokerage to break this impasse. I call for some Princeton “tribal elders” interested in both promoting our local community and preserving our nation’s history to step forward. I’m thinking of the likes of Kristen Appelget (University Community Relations), Mark Freda (Spirit of Princeton), Chad Goerner (Friend of IAS executive committee member), Scott Sipprelle (Historical Society of Princeton president), and Patrick Simon (Council liaison to the Princeton Historical Preservation Commission). Let’s ask such leaders to get the stalemated parties together for a better solution for the Battlefield and IAS, our community, and America’s posterity.