This walking tour will guide you around some of the most interesting locations in downtown Princeton. The tour starts on Princeton University’s campus at the Maclean House and Nassau Hall (the original University building and the University’s President’s home). The tour will then take you to the Princeton University Art Museum, Prospect House and Gardens, the Princeton University Chapel, the Bainbridge House, the Princeton Cemetery, Paul Robeson’s birthplace and will finish at the Nassau Inn and Tiger monument.
Parking: there is metered street parking and 3 parking garages in downtown Princeton. Our recommendation is to park at the Spring Street Garage (28 Spring St)
If traveled directly from point to point the walk should take a little over 30 minutes over 1 1/2 miles.
Stop 1. Maclean House
(Nassau St & Elm Dr)
The Maclean House was built in 1756, the same year as Nassau Hall, by Robert Smith to be used as a residence for the presidents of Princeton University (at the time called the College of New Jersey). The first president of the College to live here was Aaron Burr, Sr., whose son Aaron Burr, Jr. became Vice-President of the United States in 1801 and shot Alexander Hamilton. John Witherspoon lived at the house from 1768 to 1779 during which time he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. George Washington stayed here in 1783 while the Capital was moved from Philadelphia to Princeton.
5 of the first 9 presidents of Princeton University owned slaves while living at this house and the first president not to own slaves was John Maclean.
Today the building houses the Alumni Association and is named in honor of John Maclean, Jr., President of the College from 1854 to 1868 and founder of the Alumni Association. The building is not open to the general public.
Stop 2. 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 3. The Princeton University Art Museum
The Princeton University Art Museum is one of the best small museums in the world with art from antiquity to modern times from all over the globe (Foder’s in 2015 listed it as one of the top 15 museums in the world located in a small town). Founded in 1882, the museum now has over 72,000 art works that are displayed on rotation in one of its 26 galleries and has regular temporary exhibitions.
The museum supports the University's goals of teaching, research, and service in fields of art and culture, as well as to serving regional communities and visitors from around the world. Its collections concentrate on the Mediterranean region, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America.
Admission is free. Closed on Mondays. Closed in 2020 for renovations, expected to open again in late 2024 – it’s artwork is to be housed around the campus and in the Bainbridge House.
Stop 4. Prospect House and Garden
In 1849 John Potter, a wealthy merchant from South Carolina, purchased a farm on this location. His son Thomas, in 1851, replaced the original Georgian farmhouse with an Italianate villa designed by John Notman.
In 1878 the building and grounds were donated to Princeton University to be used as a residence for the university president. Woodrow Wilson occupied the house when he was president of the University between 1902 and 1910, later becoming Governor of NJ and then President of the US.
The flower garden was designed by Ellen Axson Wilson and includes a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers including many exotic specimens.
In 1968 the residence of the University President was moved to the Walter Lowrie House, another John Notman structure, and Prospect House was converted to use as a faculty club. A modern glass addition was created by architect Warren Plattner.
The building is not open to the public but the gardens are open to all.
Stop 5. The Princeton University Chapel
The Princeton University Chapel rises above the Princeton skyline since it was built in 1928 (replacing the older Marquand Chapel that burned down in 1920), designed by Ralph Adams Cram in his signature Collegiate Gothic style. Its size and design are similar to that of a small English Middle Ages cathedral. At the time it was built it was the largest university chapel in the USA and the 2nd largest in the world after King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
Inside, facing the nave, is an oak pulpit that originated in Northern France from the mid-1500s and its French Renaissance style suggests that it was made during the reign of Henry II. There is also an oak lectern that dates to the 1600s that at one point was purchased from a church near Avranches France shortly before the confiscation of church property during the French Revolution.
The chapel also has a Mander-Skinner organ that can be heard accompanying Princeton’s sixty-voice choir during weekly service and also during concerts held throughout the year. A plaque on the interior south wall of the chapel’s knave commemorates a sermon given in the chapel by Martin Luther King Jr on March 13 1960, six weeks after the first of the Greensboro sit-ins.
The Chapel is open daily to the public but please be mindful during services or events.
Stop 6. 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 7. 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 8. Paul Robeson’s Birthplace
(110 Witherspoon St)
Paul Robeson was born in 1898 to the Reverend William Robeson, who had escaped from slavery as a teenager, and Maria Bustill. They lived at at 110 Witherspoon St until after his mother died and his father lost his position and the family moved away.
Robeson, one of Princeton’s best known residents, achieved fame as an athlete (an All-American football player in College at Rutgers and in the NFL) , a singer and actor (released ~270 songs, starred on Broadway and in films), a scholar (Rutgers class valedictorian), a Columbia Law School graduate and a political activist.
He spent much of his life in Harlem and abroad in England but retired to Philadelphia. After he passed away in 1976 at the age of 77, he was honored across the world including having a street named for him in Princeton.
The building is currently under renovation and will become a community space for exhibitions and a gallery on the ground floor will display Robeson memorabilia and artifacts from the historic Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.
Stop 9. Nassau Inn
(10 Palmer Square, nassauinn.com)
Judge Thomas Leonard had a house built at 52 Nassau St. in 1756. He was a prominent local citizen that helped to have the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) move from Newark NJ to Princeton.
After the Judge’s death, Christopher Beekman in 1769 turned the house into a hotel which was then named College Inn. The Inn was center of town life and due to its location mid-way between New York City and Philadelphia hosted many notable figures of colonial American including: Paul Revere, Robert Morris, and Thomas Paine.
The Inn was occupied at times during the Revolutionary War by the British and after the war it hosted many members of the Continental Congress in 1783 while Princeton was the temporary USA capital.
In 1937, the original inn was demolished to make way for the Palmer Square development and a new, larger, inn opened at 10 Palmer Square in 1938.
The current hotel's restaurant, the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, has a large mural painted by Norman Rockwell, depicting Yankee Doodle, behind the bar, shielded by plastic.
The original inn’s site is now Tiger Park that contains a tiger statue commemorating Edger Palmer and is located opposite Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Stop 10. Tiger Park (Nassau Inn’s original location)
(52 Nassau st.)
The original Nassau Inn’s site is now Tiger Park which contains a tiger statue commemorating Edger Palmer and is located opposite Nassau Presbyterian Church.