A little over four years ago, the first of my Looking Back columns was published in the West Windsor and Plainsboro News in June of 2013. It was all about hot air ballooning in and over central New Jersey, including West Windsor.
This was a favorite pastime for many during the 1970s and ’80s. Since then, I have written about a variety of subjects that seemed to me to be of general interest to the people of West Windsor and Plainsboro. That is much of the area of central New Jersey east of Trenton but usually not including Princeton, which has always had its own stories. Looking at the list of Looking Back columns, this one will be number 100.
After hot-air ballooning, the subject list included a large variety of topics that were felt to be of interest to the people of this area. Most of these topics were chosen because I had been directly involved with them myself at one time or another during my 60-year residence in West Windsor. Topics included local geology, such as waterways and fields, along with the ways they have been used for everything from farming to housing and commercial development.
At times, the topics included specific incidents that were easy to notice because they affected a large number of people or had the potential to do so. And, as the population of the area became more characteristic of much of central New Jersey, many people became interested in the details of the local countryside.
An early example of this was the Plainsboro steam shovel, about which I wrote a column that appeared March 21, 2014. The steam shovel was set up and operated during 1957 in Plainsboro not far from Maple Avenue. Its purpose was to help excavate the silt from Plainsboro Pond. Today, Plainsboro Pond still shows the effects of much of that work that was done nearly 60 years ago.
Also in early 2014, I wrote about what many think of as a touchy subject: real estate taxes. Here, I used actual data based on my own tax payments over the years I have lived here, from 1957 to the present. For some reason I had saved all my tax bills from the time I moved here, so it was easy to tell the tax story accurately.
One subject that is often brought up when describing this area is flooding. A few times during recent decades there have been instances of local road flooding resulting from sustained rainfall. The most recent serious instance was that resulting from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The most severe flooding occurs when the Millstone River overflows along the border between West Windsor and Plainsboro. Over the years, there have been a few cases where the flooding has been severe enough to affect traffic for a while, but the cases of severe flooding nearby have usually been short lived. The most severe in my memory was in 1971 when I took my teenage daughter to New York to pick up a new bicycle and got trapped on the New Jersey Turnpike by the floodwaters of tropical storm Doria.
For a long time, the preservation of open space has been under study. The local group Friends of West Windsor Open Space (FOWWOS) got together in 2000 and began to discuss how more open property in West Windsor might be saved from residential and commercial development.
The idea was to reduce the potential for population increases that would adversely affect the local ecology. This would also help preserve the longstanding and desirable use of the land primarily for agriculture. FOWWOS developed into a strong and desirable organization that has had a long-term beneficial effect on the local ecology and economy. One resut of the work of FOWWOS is that residential and commercial developers take open space preservation factors into account when they plan projects in West Windsor.
No one has suggested seriously that West Windsor should go back to being nothing but farmland, but local planners are aware that there are benefits in development that is not based on the concept “bigger is better.” That is one reason that it will be critical to promote the most desirable use of the Howard Hughes property.
What I mean by “most desirable” is that the impact on West Windsor’s current development and lifestyle will be minimal. We do not need to have large business organizations from other parts of the country coming here and telling us what will make us “better.”
One of the most controversial aspects of West Windsor’s development has always concerned the roads. As everyone knows, the most important are Route 1, Route 571 (Washington Road or Princeton-Hightstown Road), Cranbury Road, Old Trenton Road, Quaker Bridge Road, Clarksville Road, Edinburg Road, Village Road and Mill Road.
Some of these have north and south or east and west portions. These are the roads that most people in West Windsor use to reach their local residential roads from important sources such as the train station, Princeton, Hightstown, and Trenton.
In past editions of Looking Back, more detail is often given that will help orient people to where the important intersections with these roads are and how to reach them. But the best way to find your way is still a map.
As we begin our next century of columns (Nos. 101 and on) devoted to West Windsor and Plainsboro Townships, we hope that everyone will keep reading Looking Back and continue to follow our observations with interest.