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Princeton Battlefield Named One of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places"

Preservationists hope to preserve the site of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle.

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Princeton Battlefield to its 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The annual list, released Wednesday, includes landmarks believed to be at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

Should Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study build its approved 15-unit housing development on a portion of the original battlefield, that “would radically alter the integrity of the historic landscape, which has never been built upon, burying or destroying potential archeological resources and dramatically changing the topography of the terrain - an important element of the battle and essential to interpreting the battle today,” according to a statement from the National Trust.

Princeton Battlefield has been at the center of a preservation controversy for a decade, ever since the Institute announced its intention to build faculty homes on a parcel of land it owns adjacent to both its campus and Battlefield State Park.

Historians have long argued that the parcel of undeveloped land is the site of Gen. George Washington's pivotal Revolutionary War counterattack and victory against the British during the Battle of Princeton in 1777.

When Institute officials unveiled a concept plan for faculty housing a decade ago, public outcry led them to revise the plan and cluster 15 faculty houses and townhouses on a small portion of the property. Officials also outlined a proposal to plant trees to obstruct the homes from view.

In March, 2012, the Princeton Regional Planning Board unanimously approved the project. Soon thereafter, the Princeton Battlefield Society filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Trenton, claiming the project will not only destroy the Battlefield, but is barred under the terms of a 1992 settlement agreement between the Institute and Princeton Township that was intended to preserve the Battlefield site from future residential development. 

“The Battle of Princeton transformed prospects for the American Revolution and proved to be a major turning point in the war,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The story of our country’s fight for independence is incomplete without a fully preserved Princeton Battlefield.”  

The Battlefield Society also plans to fight the development on the basis of alleged faulty wetlands disclosure, appeal of the Planning Board decision and allegations that the Institute may not build cluster housing because it was not allowed under 1992 zoning.

The National Trust has named more than 230 sites to its list over the past 25 years and claims only a handful of sites have been lost.

 

The 2012 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):

  • Bridges of Yosemite Valley, Calif. – A proposed National Park Service management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park, would leave three historic Rustic Style bridges in danger of removal—despite their significance to the park’s treasured landscape.
  • Ellis Island Hospital Complex, New York Harbor, NY and NJ. - Ellis Island was once known as an “Island of Hope” for immigrants who launched new lives in America, but the hospital and support structures on the Island—once comprising the largest U.S. Public Health Service institution in the country—are now dilapidated and threatened by lack of funding.
  • Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings – From coast to coast, historic American post office buildings are facing uncertain futures. Due to the U.S. Postal Services haphazard disposition process, developers and others interested in purchasing and rehabbing these historic buildings end up walking away after failing to get timely or clear answers from the Postal Service.
  • Joe Frazier’s Gym, Philadelphia, Pa. – The gym where boxing legend Joe Frazier trained for his victorious bout against Muhammad Ali is currently for sale, unrecognized and unprotected by local or national preservation designations.
  • Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House, Boston, Mass. – Built in 1874, this modest structure is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X.  Largely unused  for over 30 years, plans are in development to rehabilitate and reuse the deteriorating property as living quarters for graduate students who are studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights.
  • Princeton Battlefield, Princeton, N.J. – Princeton Battlefield, the site of a historic battle that was pivotal in changing the tide of the American Revolution, is threatened by a proposed housing development that would adversely impact the historic landscape.
  • Sweet Auburn Historic District, Atlanta, Ga. Sweet Auburn, a prime example of the flourishing segregated African-American neighborhoods in the South during the Jim Crow era and birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., faces disinvestment and inappropriate development along its commercial corridor.
  • Terminal Island, Port of Los Angeles, Calif. – Terminal Island was a major shipbuilding center, the place where America’s tuna canning industry came of age, the site of the forced removal of nearly 3,000 Japanese-Americans residents in 1942, and is now a popular setting for movie and TV productions. This site is threatened by continued neglect due to long-term vacancy of the historic buildings, and a proposed plan that limits reuse of the buildings and, in some cases, calls for their demolition.
  • Texas Courthouses. – Texas’ 244 courthouses serve as important architectural and historical records of the state’s past. Physical deterioration outpaces the availability of public funds necessary for courthouse restoration and revitalization, and competing needs for limited revenue challenge their future.
  • Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, Billings County, N.D. – As Theodore Roosevelt’s home in the North Dakota Badlands, the Elkhorn Ranch inspired his views on conservation. Today it is threatened by a proposed road and bridge that would forever mar the Elkhorn Ranch landscape and stain Roosevelt’s legacy of conservation.  
  • Village of Zoar, Ohio – This 195-year old Village in Northeast Ohio was founded in 1817 by religious separatists fleeing Germany. Remarkably intact, the Village is threatened by the potential removal of a levee that could lead to massive flooding or require demolition of much of the town.

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