Princeton Landing History

Princeton Landing is in a geologically interesting location at what was once the edge of the North American continent. Hundreds of millions of years ago all the present continents were joined together in a single landmass called Pangea. If you examine today's continents on the map, you can see how they fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The western bulge of what is now Africa pressed up against North America with its northwestern corner very near Route 1 where the piedmont now ends and the inner coastal plain begins (while Eurasia adjoined Canada and South America fitted into the angle between the western and southern lobes of Africa) Thus, at that point in time, the area that is now Princeton Landing was literally a stone's throw from Africa.

The Appalachian mountains, thrust up about 250 million years ago, were the culmination of the long, slow collision of the tectonic plates involved in the formation of Pangea, the mother of all fender benders. Given the continental masses involved in the collision it is reasonable to infer that the Appalachians attained a height greater than or at least comparable to the Himalayas. Thus, at that time, from not very far west of the Landing an observer would have seen towering snow capped mountains. As the continents drifted apart beginning about 200 million years ago the New Jersey coastal plain was laid down by the erosion of the Appalachians.

Archeological evidence indicates that there was human habitation in New Jersey as long as 12,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of Native American presence m the Plainsboro area goes back approximately 3,700 years.

In more recent times the area was inhabited by the Lenape Indians, more widely known for most of U.S. history as the Delaware, a name derived from their residence in the drainage basin of the Delaware River, named after Lord De La Warr, the first governor of the Virginia colony. Archeological evidence and Lenape oral history suggest Lenape presence in this area for the better part of the last millenium.

The Lenape were Algonquians, members of the linguistic group to which most of the Native Americans of the northeast (with the exception of the Iroquoians) belonged, as well as some plains Indians, including the Arapaho, the Cheyenne and the Blackfoot. The name Lenape means common or ordinary people.

The densest population of Lenape in this area was in the Piedmont and inner coastal plain spreading west and east from roughly where the Landing is located. However, the native population was very thin, that of the whole state probably not exceeding 6,000 persons when Europeans began to settle here roughly 350 years ago.

Most of the state at that time was forested with clearings where the natives lived or had lived and grown their crops. There were also large clearings and park-like areas where they had burned down small trees and underbrush to foster the growth of grasses, berries and seed bearing plants favorable to the deer, rabbits and birds they hunted.

The forest cover in this area was dominated by maple trees. Among other common trees was the chestnut, wiped out by the chestnut blight, from Asia, at the beginning of the last century. At one time there were whole forests of chestnut in the state.

In the forests there were, in addition to the species present today, elk, black bears, wolves and mountain lions (there was a report of a man killed by a "panther" in Shrewsbury near Sandy Hook as late as 1768), and in the rivers plentiful sturgeon some of which measured six feet or more and weighed up to 200 pounds. Game of all kinds was so bountiful that conflict among the natives over territory only became significant after the demand for European trade goods increased that for fur bearing animals, with a resultant sharp drop in the supply. Prior to European arrival the native population remained stable, within the carrying capacity of the land.

Longbows almost as tall as a man were the principle hunting weapon. Even boys were so skillful with these that they could bring down a flying bird. (In Europe the longbow was an English invention changing the nature of warfare after its use by the English yeomen against armored knights at the battle of Agincourt, in 1415, during the Hundred Years War.)

The Lenape lived in small family or clan villages in single family round and rectangular dwellings made of bent saplings covered with bark shingles, or, for temporary use, to be nearer their fields for example, skins or woven fiber mats. Their houses were small, 6-8 feet high, the round ones 8 or 9 feet in diameter and the rectangular ones, "long houses," 10 by 20 feet. Both kinds were windowless, the only openings in them being the door, facing south, and a smoke hole in the roof

Food was provided in part by small scale agriculture, in gardens close to the villages. Tilling was by hoe made of the shoulder blade of a deer or a tortoise shell. The villages were eventually moved as the fertility of easily accessible fields was exhausted. The main crops were: maize (from which was made hominy, porridge and round, flat bread baked in ashes); beans (the plants of which grew up the corn stalks); and squash or pumpkins. This combination of crops, which was very sound from a nutritional and agricultural point of view, originated in Mexico and was common across North America. In addition to providing a wide variety of nutrients, the beans, which draw nitrogen from the air, renewed the soil while the broad leaves of the squash or pumpkin slowed loss of moisture. Tobacco, a crop indigenous to the Americas, was also grown.

In addition the Lenape depended for food on hunting, particularly in nearby mountains, notably the Sourland Mountains north of Hopewell, fishing and gathering especially of nuts, fruit and a large variety of roots including wild morning glories and water lilies. Many of the root crops, no longer familiar to us, though valued by the early European settlers, were decimated by free ranging hogs brought by the Europeans. Hunting was pursued particularly during the fall and winter after crops were harvested. Bands of hunters would go off for as long as two months at a time. Fishing was a continuous process since the Indians preferred to locate their settlements near navigable streams which they traveled in dugout canoes.

The Native Americans were, incidentally, taller on the average than Europeans of the time, perhaps due to a superior diet, particularly their intake of protein.

The Indians of this region first came into contact with Europeans during the 1524 voyage of Giovanni Verrazzano after whom the Verrazzano Narrows bridge was named. Their next contact was with the crew of Hendrik Hudson's vessel, the Half Moon, in

Soon after that, in 1624, 100 years after Verrazano's visit, the Dutch settled in Manhattan shortly named New Amsterdam. Manhattan and Western Long Island were populated at that time by Lenape cousins who spoke a related but not always mutually intelligible dialect known as Munsee. New Jersey north of the Raritan was also populated by Munsee speakers, sometimes referred to as the Northern Lenape. The group also extended up both sides of the Hudson as far as Kingston, New York, and we owe to it such place names as Hackensack, Nyack, Canarsee and, of course, Manhattan.

The Dutch also established trading posts on the Delaware (called by them the South River, the Hudson being designated the North River) as early as 1626 at Fort Nassau near where Camden is today and Burlington Island, while Swedes established posts on the other side of the Delaware at Fort Christina in 1638 and Fort New Gothenburg in 1643. However the New Jersey settlements did not expand until Bergen was settled in the north of the State in 1660. Within six years there were settlements in Elizabeth, Newark and Piscataway. The first settlement near Princeton, Farnsworth's Landing just south of Trenton was not established until 1682. The Princeton area itself was settled in the late 1680s.

Under pressure of European settlement the Lenape started moving out of central New Jersey in the late 1600s and in some cases were removed forcibly. The English took the view that all lands occupied by "barbarians" were property of the Crown (which transferred the colony in two parts, east and west, to the "proprietors," John Berkeley and Phillip Carteret, in 1664 when the English took over the Dutch colonies). The natives were still paid for the land, to keep the peace, and, according to one source, so as to maintain communication in order to bring them the benefits of the Christian faith.

In the early years of colonization the concept of permanent sale of land had no meaning to the natives. They thought of it as a lease to use the land with continuing rights to game, fruits and trees remaining with the original inhabitants. Their view was that no one owned the land but that it was put here by the creator for the use of all. By the Treaty of Eaton in 1758 the Lenape relinquished title to all lands within the state.

The Lenape were, incidentally, monotheists, believing in Kishelemukong, "our creator," creator also of spirit helpers who lived in and controlled the forces of nature, plants and animals. They believed that all things had spirits and that everything, therefore, was to be respected and cherished.

The Indians were decimated by European diseases such as measles and smallpox to which they had little resistance. Liquor, previously unknown to Indians, was also a problem. It was used by European traders as a form of payment, and sometimes by traders and European land purchasers to befuddle the Indians with whom they were dealing. Drunkenness reached epidemic proportions, probably contributing to the high mortality rate.

For the most part, the colonists, with the notable exception of the Quakers mistreated the Indians in a variety of ways, as well as subjecting them to persistent, small scale aggression. Indians were enslaved by the colonists almost up to the time of the revolution. In addition, the European demand for furs and trade in guns and alcohol also greatly intensified conflicts over areas where fur bearing animals and trails leading to European settlements were found.

One Daniel Denton had this to say in 1670: "It hath been generally observed that where the English come to settle, a Divine Hand makes way for them, by removing or cutting off the Indians, either by Wars one with the other or by some raging mortal disease."

The Munsee speakers of the lower Hudson Valley reported in 1640 that their numbers had dropped to one tenth of those at the colonists' arrival. By the mid-1700s most of the remaining Lenape south of the Raritan had moved or been moved to central and western Pennsylvania with only a few hundred remaining in the colony. After 12 millennia in what is now New Jersey the indigenous population had been reduced to a few hundred.

From Pennsylvania the Lenape of central and southern New Jersey suffered a series of additional displacements until their remnants settled in Oklahoma, Kansas and Wisconsin where some remain today, though few if any full blooded. As of 1985 there were still a few among them who knew something of the Lenape language. The Munsee speakers from north of the Raritan went north where their descendants survive in Canada.

The Lenape left behind few traces of their long presence in New Jersey, principally place names, a few sites of habitation that were used by the Europeans, and trails that later became roads including Route 206 between Princeton and Trenton and Route 27, which were part of the Assanpink trail running from what is now Trenton to Elizabeth. The Europeans used these trails in the early days of settlement as the easiest way of access and established their farms and towns beside the trails where the Indians had lived and cleared forest. One small but odd remnant was the persistence of the Indian term sappan, corn meal mush, in Dutch settled parts of New York and northeastern New Jersey where it was referred to as "spawn with milk" as late as the 195 Os.

For those interested in reading more about the pre-colonial and colonial periods and the Lenape, my sources were Peter 0. Wacker, Land and People, A Cultural Geography of Pre-industrial New Jersey: Origins and Settlement Patterns, and Herbert C. Kraft, The Lenape, Archeology, History and Ethnography. Kraft also wrote a 40 page, illustrated, large format book, The Indians of Lenapehoking (The Lenape or Delaware Indians) that may be of interest to middle school and high school age children.

The earliest European settlement in this area, in the 1680s, was led by Dutch from Long Island. The number of settlers increased sharply around 1690 with the arrival of the Quakers among whom William Penn owned large tracts of land hereabouts, whence the nearby place name Penn's Neck.

In the early 1700s Matthias Van Dyke of Manhattan received a grant from the British Crown for 2,000 acres along the Millstone River. In 1742 he built a stone house, still to be found on Mapleton Road, which was occupied by the British during the revolutionary war.

At the time the Van Dyke house was built, to put it in its broader historical context, Louis XV (successor to "The Sun King," Louis XIV, who built Versailles and consolidated the French monarchy) had been king of France since 1726. George II was king of England and Frederick the Great king of Prussia. The Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indian War, in which George Washington fought, began fourteen years later. It resulted in the triumph of the English over the French in America and India, and of Frederick the Great over the Austrians for domination of Germany.

After Matthias Van Dyke's death, his son, Henry, inherited 862 acres. Henry died in 1816, a year after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. He is buried with his wife Elizabeth behind unit 315 on parcel 7 where their gravestones are sheltered by a small enclosure of tall shrubs.

In the late 1800s the Van Dyke farm was sold to the Root family which built a 12 room house on the bluff overlooking the canal. The house was destroyed when Princeton Landing was constructed.

In 1914 the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research purchased the Root property and built Smith House as a home for its Director, Dr. Theobald Smith, 1859-1934. The Institute originally did research on animal diseases and developed vaccines for hog cholera, pig fever and equine encephalitis. Most of the land on which Princeton Landing is now located was used to grow feed for the research animals. Later the Institute got into research on human diseases and developed a flu vaccine for which Dr. Shope of the Institute won a Nobel Prize. Princeton University acquired the property in 1950 and used it for a nuclear energy project and then as an office for students and scientists.

Sayre Drive originally ran from State Road 26, now Route 1, past Smith House to Mapleton Road. It was named after Daniel Clemens Sayre, 1903-1956, first chairman of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at Princeton who spearheaded acquisition of the property by the University in 1948 and development of the Forrestal campus. Smith House was used by the University for offices for students and scientists and hovercraft experiments were performed from a launching ramp running from Smith House down toward the canal.

Princeton Landing was sold to a developer by the University in 1970 and construction of the development began in 1979. Parcel I, the condos, and parcel II were completed by 1981.

The Landing is surrounded on three sides, other than the Route 1 side, by 100 acres owned by the University. This area includes the Princeton Landing trail, running in a loop of approximately one mile from the south side of the entrance to the Landing along the sound berm facing Route 1, then through the woods, along a dike built with dredgings from Lake Carnegie to the junction of Sayre Drive and Mapleton Road. There are two shorter trails inside the dike. The trail and the land within it are contractually reserved for the use of Princeton Landing residents.

The University also owns the land on which Forrestal Village is constructed. Also adjacent to the Landing, to the north, is the 55 acre St. Joseph's Seminary built in 1912 to train priests. It later became a prep school for boys considering becoming priests and in 1992 a retreat center available to Protestant as well as Catholic congregations. Fifteen Vincentian priests still live there.

Beyond the seminary is the former location of the Princeton Nursery, which was created in 1910 and became the world's largest plant nursery shipping throughout the world. This land now belongs to the University and the nursery operates mostly in the Allentown area.

The Delaware and Raritan Canal to the west, was begun in 1830 and completed in 1834. At first canal traffic was pulled by mules, then, beginning in 1843, by steam barges. At its peak, from 1866 to 1871, the canal carried more freight than any other in the country, principally coal (which went from Pennsylvania to New York City) and farm products. Later it lost money due to competition from the Camden to Amboy railroad. It was closed to traffic in 1913 after a tunnel constructed under the Hudson in 1910 took away the last of its business.

The canal was built principally by Irish immigrants who came not long before the great wave of emigration generated by the potato famine in the last half of the 1840s. Irishmen such as these were also a major source of labor for railway construction throughout the country. The workers were paid 75 cents a day, sometimes partially in whisky. Some were so poor they couldn't afford shoes and tied rags around their feet. Hundreds died in a cholera epidemic in 1832, many without any record of their identity, and few if any traces remain today of their passage through this area.

Lake Carnegie, just beyond the canal was created in 1902, with a gift from Andrew Carnegie. The Princeton University crew had rowed in the canal until 1884 when it disbanded because of traffic problems. Informed of this by a Princeton graduate while visiting Grover Cleveland in retirement in Princeton, Carnegie offered the University president, Woodrow Wilson, money to dam the Millstone River and dredge the lake.

The water covered Scudders mill, a blacksmith shop and the small settlement of Aqueduct, west of what is now Princeton Landing just below where the Millstone River, coming from the southeast, joins Lake Carnegie. The town was named for the now mostly submerged aqueduct on which the canal crosses the river at that point. It, and its mill, had prospered due to their location close to the canal and the Camden Amboy raikoad, but by 1900 the mill had closed down and the town was in decline.

The name Scudder's Mill Road, of course, comes from the mill. The origin of the name Plainsboro, however, seems to be a subject of conjecture. One theory is that it was named after a Planes Tavern that was located where the town grew. Another theory is that the name referred to the town's location on the coastal plain. The origin of the name Schalk's Crossing is known. It was named after a family of New York brewers who summered there in the 1 9th century.

Plainsboro, of which the Landing is part, was at one time a stop on a New York to Philadelphia stage coach line and later on a horse drawn trolley line that went from Newark to Trenton. Thus, nearly all the forms of transportation common to this area passed near the Landing, stages, canal barges, trains, and trolleys.

Plainsboro was described in the 1834 New Jersey Gazeteer as consisting of a tavern, a store and 8 or 10 buildings. It was originally part of Cranbury, but declared independence and incorporated in 1919 when Cranbury refused to replace the aging school that served the area. In 1970 its population was still only 1,640. It is now well over ten times that. As for earlier settlements, archeologists have found knives, charcoal, charred hickory nuts, hammers, fish spears, post holes and projectile points from as far back as 1700 BC.

Plainsboro, despite its unassuming name and small size, was not without its moment of glory. From 1897 to 1972 it was the site of the Walker-Gordon dairy farm, the largest milk producer in the world, home of the "Rotolactor," a large, rotating platform on which cows were milked, and the home of Elsie, the once widely recognized, trademark Borden cow. The Rotolactor was a tourist attraction in its time and there are some among us who can remember going to see it as children or taking their children there.

By Dick Greene, September 26, 2000