The Historical Society of Princeton is turning to 21st-century technology to help preserve and share Princeton’s 18th-century history.
At a public presentation on Thursday, Aug. 8, at Updike Farmstead, the society will debut a digital tour of the “green oval” homes in Princeton on its HSP Digital phone app.
There are 46 homes in Princeton that bear the familiar oblong bronze markers marking each as a “Princeton Landmark,” and the markers have a history of their own.
The idea for the plaques arose in 1971, in anticipation of Princeton’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976. The original planners had grand plans to install the markers in phases, starting with buildings from the 18th century and continuing with structures from the 19th and 20th centuries. They also planned to publish a booklet with historical information on each property.
The plaques, cast in bronze but now green with age, were created by Jim Marvin, a sculptor in the studio of famed Princeton sculpture professor Joe Brown, and feature an image of the Stony Brook Bridge.
The expansion through the centuries never happened — 46 18th-century homes were selected in the 1970s, and no additional plaques were ever installed — but the booklet is finally coming to fruition, albeit in digital form.
The app is the brainchild of Abbie Minard, a rising senior at Princeton University who is studying history and worked as an intern for the Historical Society.
“My hope is that the tour will illustrate Princeton’s 18th history in fine and broad strokes alike,” she says. “A house contains the fascinating stories of individuals who lived and visited there, but a house also represents a particular theme in Princeton’s larger history.
“Some sites, for example, are symbolic of the modest Quaker community at Stony Brook. Later, larger farmhouses are not so modest. Other buildings, like those along Nassau Street, are representative of Princeton’s role as a stop for travelers moving between New York and Philadelphia.”
The new digital tour will include anecdotes about the properties. Minard shared a few examples.
The Greenland-Brinson-Gulick House, 1082 Princeton-Kingston Road. This house incorporates the original home of Henry Greenland, a boisterous surgeon and political agitator who had previously lived in Massachusetts and Maine. (His antics once got him banished from a community in the latter state!) In 1683 he purchased 400 acres on the Millstone River and built this house, the first European residence in the Princeton area. He and his wife Mary ran a tavern out of the house and kept a hog farm on the property. Also listed among their possessions was one “Engen [Indian] gal.”
After Greenland and his son-in-law Daniel Brinson both died within a year, the property went to Brinson’s 10-year-old son, Barefoot, in care of Barefoot’s mother and Greenland’s daughter, Frances. Barefoot was named for Greenland’s equally disruptive close friend from Massachusetts, who at one time helped Greenland escape prison after a fight. Barefoot Brinson grew up to be Sheriff of Somerset and Middlesex counties and lived here until his death. In 1797 Major John Gulick purchased the property and started his own farm.
The Barracks, 32 Edgehill St. “Around 1684, Daniel Brinson built Princeton’s second European dwelling, which is still incorporated in the house [here today]. Shortly after, Brinson married Frances Greenland, the daughter of Princeton’s first European settlers, Henry and Mary Greenland. The couple later lived on Greenland’s farm, probably helping him run his tavern. They rented out this house to Richard and Susannah Stockton, new arrivals in the area, who bought the property from Brinson’s estate in 1696.
“When Richard Stockton died in 1709, he willed the property to his young son, John, a future county judge, Presbyterian convert, and early trustee of the college. John made significant additions to the house, symbolic of the next generation’s increasing comfort and wealth. Still, his son, Richard, a distinguished signer of the Declaration of Independence, chose to build his own newer, more lavish home on the property, Morven, rather than live in the house he inherited. Purportedly, Richard “The Signer” quartered troops here during the French and Indian War, earning the house its present nickname.
Between 1764 and the end of the century the house had at least six additional owners, including a British Loyalist and the director of the first Princeton Fire Company. The latter owned seven enslaved people who probably lived on the property. The Barracks also housed both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton when the Continental Congress came to Princeton in 1783. Madison wrote that the house was “without a single accommodation for writing, save in a position that scarcely admits the use of any of my limbs.”
Green Oval Digital Tour, Historical Society of Princeton, Updike Farmstead, 354 Quaker Road, Princeton. Abbie Minard leads a presentation. Free. Register. 7 p.m.