July 31, 2019

Eighteenth-Century Buildings Identified and Explored

GREEN OVALS: The Historical Society of Princeton is introducing a digital tour and hosting a talk on “green oval buildings,” which feature plaques signifying that they are among Princeton’s oldest remaining structures.

By Anne Levin

Look closely at some of Princeton’s oldest buildings, and you will notice a small green oval plaque tacked discreetly onto the facades. Installed 43 years ago as part of the Historical Society of Princeton’s (HSP) celebration of the country’s Bicentennial, they signify structures of 18th-century vintage.

There is a plaque on The Barracks, at 32 Edgehill Street. The Stony Brook Meeting House on Quaker Road has one. So do Castle Howard at 30 Castle Howard Court, the Old Stone House at 487 Stockton Street, and the Maclean House on the Princeton University campus. There is even a green oval on PJ’s Pancake House at 154 Nassau Street.

Yet few people, even the most devoted history buffs, are aware of these markers. With that in mind, the HSP has introduced a new digital tour of the identified buildings on its mobile app. The tour was designed by Abbie Minard, a rising senior at Princeton University and an intern at the HSP for the past nine weeks.

On Thursday, August 8, at 7 p.m., Minard will give a talk about the plaques and what they represent, at the HSP’s Updike Farmstead museum. The event is free, but reservations are suggested.

The program is intended as a snapshot of 18th-century life in Princeton, including stories of Loyalists and Revolutionary War soldiers, tradespeople, Continental Congressmen, early farmers, and Princeton’s enslaved residents, among others.

“I’ll talk about some of the themes of 18th-century Princeton, and how various groups of houses illustrate those themes,” said Minard, who is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa. “There is the Quaker community of Stony Brook, and then there are the bigger mansion houses in the Western Section where wealthier people lived. Then there are the houses along Nassau Street, which catered to travelers between New York and Philadelphia.”

Minard’s internship is part of the University’s Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship, which “fosters collaborative, change-oriented projects of an intellectual nature that benefit students, faculty members, and community partners,” according to the school’s website. Her work on the project dates from an archaeology course she took in the fall of 2018.

She was unaware of the green ovals before she began the internship. But her work on the project has broadened her way of looking at history. “It’s interesting to imagine Princeton before it was so built up,” she said. “It’s sort of awe-inspiring that these 18th-century buildings are still here. They provide a kind of lens into the past. And once you know about the plaques, they’re hard to miss.”

Minard hopes to do public history or creative work related to history after she graduates. “I’ve taken a lot away from the project,” she said. “I have a better understanding of how history can bring forth stories that haven’t been told. My focus was telling stories not just of famous people, but also enslaved people, wives, and those just not mentioned as important.”

Light refreshments will be served at the August 8 program. To sign up, visit   www.princetonhistory.org.Updike Farmstead is at 354 Quaker Road.