March 13, 2024

Booklet Considers the History of Jugtown as Development Pressures are Looming

CROSSROADS OF A VILLAGE: The house at 342 Nassau Street originally had its kitchen wing on the east side, but it was moved to the west side of the building in a widening of North Harrison Street. This and other historical facts are the focus of a new publication on the history of Jugtown. (Photo by Clifford Zink)

By Anne Levin

Clifford Zink is a longtime resident of Princeton’s Jugtown section. During one of his regular walks down Nassau Street, he began to wonder about two small remnants of its past — a flat, brownstone slab in front of No. 343, and an upright, granite post topped with a hook at No. 361. A historian and author, Zink put his researching skills to work.

The slab, he found, was a block for horse and carriage mounting. And the column of granite was a hitching post for horses. These discoveries were the beginning of Zink’s new booklet Jugtown/Queenston, Princeton’s 18th Century Crossroads Village. The 48-page publication about Princeton’s third-oldest neighborhood is illustrated with then-and-now photographs of houses; pictures of jugs made in the area’s potteries, which closed in the mid-1800s; and historical maps. Zink, who is leading a walking tour of the area this Saturday, March 16 (sponsored by the Historical Society of Princeton and sold out), shot all of the photos himself.

He was inspired to write the book by the neighborhood’s future as well as its past.

“Princeton is under tremendous development pressure right now, because of the affordable housing obligation and because of the University, which is in the biggest building campaign they’ve ever had,” he said. “Of course, change is inevitable. But I think the history of the town has receded from people’s awareness. Incorporating that change is the challenge. Striking a balance is what it is about. And the first step in that is understanding what’s here.”

A proposal to add a four-story addition behind two, two-story buildings at 344 Nassau Street, currently under review by the Princeton Historical Commission, is scheduled to come before the Planning Board at its meeting on May 2. Part of the Affordable Housing Overlay Zone 2, which addresses a mandate for Princeton to expand housing around town, the site includes five buildings in Jugtown. According to the proposal, the owner, RB Homes, would create an apartment building with 20 units, four of which would be designated affordable. Residents worried about increased traffic and safety at the 344 Nassau Street site created a petition on when the issue first came up for consideration a year ago.

Residents concerned about the proposed development have suggested that other sites in Jugtown, including the lot behind Bank of America, the Princeton Hook & Ladder Company on North Harrison Street, and the Whole Earth Center parking lot, would be more appropriate.

“I don’t think anyone who lives here is opposed to affordable housing,” Zink said. “But in the pressure to build affordable housing, there hasn’t been enough thought or consideration of historic districts. It’s not only happening in Jugtown, but also in Witherspoon-Jackson and Mercer Hill with the [Princeton] Seminary.”

Jugtown has been an official historic district since 1986. “It started as a crossroads settlement around 1730,” reads the opening of the book. “The only older Princeton settlements are Stony Brook, 1696, and Princeton Village (by the road later called Witherspoon Street), circa 1715. Today, Jugtown/Queenston remains one of Princeton’s busiest and most important intersections, and yet the historic roots of the settlement are discernible in the landmark buildings and in the harmonious balance of residential and commercial structures of modest scale, all evident in a gentle evolution over three centuries.”

The district is an important part of Princeton’s strong Revolutionary War history. “The fascinating thing about Jugtown is that it was a crossroads village. The center of Princeton was around Witherspoon Street, but there was production going on here,” Zink said. “Potteries, quarries, a tannery — it was a little working village. There was a carriage-making shop where Whole Earth Center is now. Jugtown today is still a small village of activity. And Whole Earth is a continuation of that. Even though there has been a lot of change, it’s still a little commercial center.”

The district is described as “visually cohesive” in its 1986 National Register nomination, which is quoted by Zink in the booklet. “Houses in the Jugtown Historic District are chiefly set close to the street on small lots … seven of the 23 houses are in part or entirely of 18th century construction; six date from the first half of the 19th century.”

“Scale is very important, and Jugtown has a scale that still presents the essence of a small village,” Zink said. “So much [of possible redevelopment] depends on the quality of the design. It doesn’t have to look like a Colonial building. But it’s important to get it right from the beginning, because this first project sets a precedent. “

Zink praised the design of the Graduate Hotel, which has expanded behind an existing building at 20 Nassau Street to create a hotel scheduled to open in May.

“How do we make sure this kind of thing continues? How does urban design of new buildings fit in with what’s already here? For the most part, that has not been part of the conversation in Princeton,” Zink said. “And it needs to be.”

For more information about the booklet, visit