June 29, 2022

New Book on West Windsor History Links Township’s Past, Present, and Future

HOW TIMES CHANGE: This view of the Washington Road bridge over the Delaware & Raritan Canal, looking east from Princeton into West Windsor from about 1910-1920, is from the recently released book “West Windsor Then and Now: A New Perspective.”

By Anne Levin

Back when West Windsor turned 200 in 2007, Henry Innes MacAdam wrote West Windsor Then and Now, a comprehensive analysis of the area’s history. In the 25 years since, the township’s population has exploded and housing developments have replaced many area farms, some of which were centuries old.

As the 225th anniversary approached, it was time for an update. Paul Ligeti, who grew up in West Windsor and made its history a focus of his Eagle Scout project in 2009, has taken on the task. West Windsor Then and Now: A New Perspective has just been released and is published by the Historical Society of West Windsor.

“West Windsor’s history is really interesting, but it has not been so well publicized,” said Ligeti, who is the vice president of the Historical Society, chairs its 225th anniversary planning committee, leads tours of local historic sites, and writes a monthly history column in the West Windsor and Plainsboro News. In his day job, Ligeti works for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Resilience Engineering and Construction.

West Windsor is packed with historic sites. But the lack of a real downtown presents a challenge in bringing that legacy to the forefront. “It’s all spread out, and that’s a problem,” Ligeti said. “That’s the topographical challenge. The other thing is that there are so many new residents here who are not part of families who have lived here for 200 years, so they don’t know the history they are living with. This book is an attempt to bring the history to them. I hope it will be a long-lasting investment.”

At the back of the book there is a list of West Windsor’s “100 Club,” properties that the Historical Society believes may be at least 100 years old. Most are private properties. “We call upon their owners and the township to ensure they remained preserved for future generations to appreciate,” reads the introduction to the list.

For Ligeti, learning little details of West Windsor history was as interesting as the facts involving famous people and events. “I learned about a man who lived in West Windsor’s Community Park from the 1930s to 1963, who made the Raggedy Ann and Andy books popular, though they were not written by him,” he said. “The famous people — William Jennings Bryan spoke at Princeton Junction train station as part of his presidential campaign in 1900. The funeral procession of Robert Kennedy stopped at the station in 1968. And then there is ‘War of the Worlds’ [the 1938 radio hoax led by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air], which put Grovers Mill on the map.”

The book is filled with historic photos and maps, letters, and links to the past. “I have to give most of the credit for the archives to the people who have been involved in this far longer than I have,” said Ligeti.

“What I am hoping is that people who don’t know the history will learn that instead of the place they live being 50 years old or younger, this area has been a community since the 1730s,” he said. “And that’s not even counting the thousands of years that the Lenni Lenape and Indigenous populations lived here. Knowing the history of where you live makes life richer. And knowing your history makes you a more informed voter, and an active participant in the governmental process.”

Samples of the book have been placed in West Windsor businesses, schools, and libraries. To purchase it, visit westwindsorhistory.com/book.