This tour has a mix of driving and walking that will take you around the greater Princeton area to many of the most important locations that have to do with the Revolutionary War period.
The tour starts at Nassau Hall (the original University building and the location where the last British Soldiers surrendered at the Battle of Princeton) which is on the Princeton University campus. We will then be visiting, in order, the Bainbridge House, the Princeton Cemetery, the Princeton Battle Monument, Princeton Battlefield Park, the Updike Farmstead & Princeton Historical Society (on Washington’s route to Princeton) and we finish at the Rockingham Farmstead (Washington’s last wartime headquarters).
It is best to start the tour by parking downtown and visiting Nassau Hal, the Bainbridge House and the Cemetery by foot. The rest can be visited by car. If traveling from point to point the walk should take 15 minutes over a bit more than a ½ mile path and the drive should take 20 minutes over a 9 mile path.
Stop 1. Nassau Hall
Nassau Hall, the oldest building at Princeton University, currently houses administration offices of the university president but when built in 1756 it held the whole of the College Of New Jersey (later to change its name to Princeton University). The Collage board wanted to name the building after the royal governor of NJ, Jonathan Belcher, but he declined and preferred it to be dedicated to King William III from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau and thus the building became known as Nassau Hall.
During the Revolutionary War both the Continental Army and the British were housed in Nassau Hall at separate times. At the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, American troops fired canons upon the British soldiers within the building, the damage can still be seen on the south side of the building, and the British troops eventually surrendered to General George Washington. A popular story states that a young Alexander Hamilton was in charge of the artillery and that a cannonball he fired flew into a window decapitating a portrait of King George II.
From July to October 1783, the building served as the nation’s capital and hosted the entire newly formed American government. It was in Nassau Hall that the news of the peace treaty with Great Britain was received, that congress signed its first treaty with a neutral foreign government and decided the course of settlement across the Appalachians.
Not open to the public.
Stop 2. Bainbridge House
(158 Nassau St, artmuseum.princeton.edu/artbainbridge)
Bainbridge House is one of the oldest surviving houses in Princeton and is one of the area’s best preserved examples of mid-Georgian architecture. It was built in 1766 by Job Stockton (cousin of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton III) and was the birthplace of the War of 1812 naval hero William Bainbridge.
The house provided accommodation for the Continental Congress in 1783, served as a boarding house for university students, and, starting in 1909, housed the town public library for over 50 years. The Princeton Historical Society maintained an information center in the building until they moved to the Updike Farmstead in 2015.
Currently it is managed by the Princeton University Art Museum as a gallery space. Admission is free.
Stop 3. Princeton Cemetery
(29 Greenview Ave, www.nassauchurch.org/about/princetoncemetery/)
The Princeton Cemetery is located right in downtown Princeton and contains the graves of many famous local citizens. The cemetery was established in 1757 and is owned by Nassau Presbyterian Church. The oldest surviving monument is that of Aaron Burr, Sr., located in the Presidents' Plot.
Notable burials include: Aaron Burr (the 3rd VP of the US but most famous as the killer of Alexander Hamilton), Aaron Burr Sr (2nd president of Princeton University and father of Aaron Burr), Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th president of the USA), John Witherspoon (signor of the Declaration of Independence) and all but four of the Presidents of Princeton University.
Beyond the second gate on Witherspoon St is what was designated as the Colored Cemetery in 1807. Many notable residents and generations of African American families are buried in this part of the cemetery.
At the main gate of the Cemetery, there is map box containing a brochure and walking tour of many of the famous people buried within the grounds. The Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Stop 4. Battle Monument of Princeton
(1 Monument Dr)
The 50 foot tall beaux arts monument commemorates the January 3, 1777 Battle of Princeton. George Washington is on horseback leading his troops to victory over the British Regulars while below him there are a number of his troops, a young woman signifying liberty and General Hugh Mercer who is stabbed during the battle and dies a few days later. The monument, created by Frederick MacMonnies in conjunction with architects Carrere and Hastings, was completed in 1922 and dedicated by President Harding.
The monument is found at the south end of downtown Princeton on Nassau Street. There is a tree lined park leading to the monument with several notable sculptures including a bust of Albert Einstein, who lived in Princeton until his death, The Newspaper Reader by J. Seward Johnson Jr., and the bell of the USS Princeton. In the spring, the cherry blossom trees that line the path create an especially beautiful entrance to the monument.
There is a parking lot at 1 Monument Drive.
Stop 5. The Barracks
(32 Edgehill Street, private residence)
The Barracks, at 32 Edgehill Street, is one of the oldest houses in Princeton. It was built by Richard Stockton’s (one of signers of the Declaration of Independence) grandfather and is believed to have served as a military barracks (and thus the name) during either the French and Indian War or the American Revolution.
In 1783 when the still newly formed United States government had to flee unrest in Philadelphia, the government was relocated to Princeton. While the government met in Princeton, Alexander Hamilton stayed at this house that was then owned by Thomas Laurens.
There is street parking and the house can be seen from sidewalk.
Stop 6. Princeton Battlefield Park
(500 Mercer Rd, www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/princeton.html)
George Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River to surprise and defeat the Hessian soldiers on a Christmas night surprise attack in 1776. A week later when the British arrived in force to attack, Washington, using the cover of night, made a retreat to Princeton in order to attack the British soldiers that had been garrisoned in the town.
The woods and fields about a mile from Princeton University were the battleground between the British and George Washington’s army. This battle on January 3, 1777 was one of the fiercest of its size during the American Revolution and delivered to General Washington his first battlefield success against the British regulars.
The Park is open from sunset to sundown. No park fees. There is both a parking lot and street parking.
Stop 7. Thomas Clarke House
(located in the Princeton Battlefield. Closed Mon & Tue and most holidays)
The house was built around 1772 and was part of a 200 acre farm. The Clarke family were members of the nearby Stony Brook Friends Meeting.
The “10 Crucial Days” started with Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River and the subsequent defeat of the Prussians in Trenton and ended with the Battle of Princeton. When Washington’s troops neared the town of Princeton, the British soldiers attacked the Continental Army in the orchards surrounding Thomas Clarke’s house.
During the battle the house served as a refuge for the wounded from both sides and housed Brigadier General Hugh Mercer who was wounded in the battle and died nine days later.
The house now contains one of the largest exhibits of firearms from the Revolutionary War period in the area. “Arms of the Revolution” contains a cross section of weapons from both the American and British soldiers with items such as: shoulder arms, pistols, military swords, canteens, powder horns, cannons, cannonballs, an artillery caisson, a cartridge box and various artifacts from the battle. There are also a number of prints and paintings related to the Battle.
During the year there are various events held at the house including: candle making, playing 18th Century games and observing how cooking was done over an open fire pit.
There is both a parking lot and street parking for the battlefield area.
Stop 8. Princeton Battlefield's Mercer Oak
(located in the Princeton Battlefield)
During the Battle of Princeton, American Brigadier General Hugh Mercer was bayonetted by British Soldiers. Legend states that he lay under the Mercer Oak and refused to leave the battle until the Continental Army defeated the British. Regardless of the legend the tree is believed to have been alive at the time of the battle and would have been close to where Mercer was mortally wounded.
The tree collapsed in strong winds on March 3, 2000. The stump survives next to an offspring grown from a 1981 acorn from the original tree.
Stop 9. Colonnade
(located in the Princeton Battlefield)
The ionic Colonnade is a monument to the British and American soldiers that died during the Battle of Princeton.
The Colonnade itself was originally the façade of Philadelphia merchant Mathew Newkirk's home, located in downtown Philadelphia at 13th and Arch Streets, and was designed by Thomas Walter who became the architect of the U.S. Capitol. In 1900 Newkirk’s home was torn down and the Colonnade was moved and incorporated into the Mercer Manor which stood on the edge of the Princeton Battlefield. This house burned down in 1957 and the Colonnade was moved to its present location in 1959.
Behind the monument is a circular stone patio with a plaque commemorating the deaths of the 21 British and 15 American soldiers who perished in the Battle of Princeton but whose exact grave location is unknown.
Stop 10. Stony Brook Meeting House and Cemetery
(470 Quaker Road)
In the late 1600s, six Quaker families owned much of what is now Princeton. The families -- Richard Stockton (the grandfather of the signer of the Declaration of Independence), Benjamin Clarke, William Olden, Joseph Worth, John Horner, and Benjamin Fitz Randolph – built their homes near the Stony Brook.
In 1709 Benjamin Clark deeded 9.6 acres to establish a Friends meeting house and burial ground. While the Meeting House was not built until 1726, the burial grounds were put to use and were the earliest in Princeton and the most prominent before the Revolutionary War. By Quaker tradition graves were marked by a simple plain stone or in some cases unmarked. Richard Stockton (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and Charles Smith Olden (19th governor of NJ) are buried here.
The Meeting House was the first house of worship in Princeton. The building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1760.
By 1777, when Washington and his troops attacked the British at the Battle of Princeton, the meeting house was at the edge of open fields and right beside it ran a road connecting Quaker Road with downtown Princeton. While today there are woods, at that time the soldiers could see the battlefield from the Meeting House. There are now walking trails through the woods that lead to the Princeton Battlefield.
During the Revolutionary War, the Meeting House was used as a hospital by both the Continental and British Armies.
The Meeting House and Cemetery have a parking lot.
Stop 11. Updike Farm & Princeton Historical Society
(354 Quaker Rd, princetonhistory.org/visit/updike-farmstead/)
The six-acre Updike Farmstead consists of a late 18th/early 19th century farmhouse, a large barn built in 1892, wagon shed, corn crib, three-bay garage, and garden sheds. The Historical Society of Princeton now owns and maintains the farm and operates a museum of early Princeton life inside the farmhouse.
The Farmstead is along the route followed by Continental troops in 1776 to engage British soldiers at the neighboring Thomas Clarke farm in the Battle of Princeton. In 1892, George Furman Updike Sr. acquired approximately 190 acres of the original farmland and added buildings to the site, including a large barn.
Admission is $4. Free on Thursdays from 4-7pm.There is a parking lot at the farm.
Stop 12. Stony Brook Bridge
This is the oldest state-owned bridge in NJ that is still in use. The stone bridge was built in 1792 replacing a wooden bridge that was built in 1738. The bridge was enlarged in 1916 and after emergency repairs in 2016 is again in operation.
On the morning of January 3, 1777, British soldiers that were stationed in Princeton were on their way to Trenton NJ when they turned back at the bridge after sighting General George Washington’s Continental troops marching towards Princeton. The solders met in battle at what is now called the Princeton Battlefield.
A stone plaque in the middle of the bridge notes the 1792 construction date and that Princeton is 40 miles from Philadelphia and 56 miles from New York City. Behind the plaque is a time capsule that contains old photographs, a short history of the bridge and diary entries from the miller who lived in the fieldstone house to the south of Worth's Mill.
There is pullover space on Quaker Road.
Stop 13. Rockingham
(Rockingham Historic Site, Kingston, NJ, rockingham.net/)
Rockingham served as General George Washington's final Revolutionary War headquarters for over two and one-half months in 1783, while the Continental Congress was meeting in Princeton. Washington wrote his “Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States” while he stayed at the house.
The building was built about 1710 and was first known as the Berrien Mansion. The building has physically been relocated 3 different times since 1896. The site maintains a collection of 18th century furnishings, Washington’s military reproductions, a children’s museum and a colonial kitchen garden.
Guided tours only. Wednesday to Sunday and it is recommended to call ahead to make certain the site is open.
Admission: free but donations are appreciated. Parking: a free parking lot is available