PRINCETON: Welcome to Princeton … West Virginia, that is

Princeton advertises itself as “the heart of Mercer County,” a place with history, one of the best libraries in the state and homes priced for less than $200,000.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   Princeton advertises itself as “the heart of Mercer County,” a place with history, one of the best libraries in the state and homes priced for less than $200,000.
   Except this Princeton is not in New Jersey. It’s 500 miles away in West Virginia.
   Princeton, W.V., founded in the 19th century, is located in the southern part of the state — a blue-collar town with a population of 6,432 people, according to the 2010 Census.
   West Virginia is one of 10 states from Florida to California that have towns named Princeton, although this one is unique in that it also is located in the identically named county as the New Jersey version.
   There are shops and museums in the community, including a hospital. The town, also serving as the county seat, is home to the Princeton Rays, a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, said Marie Blackwell, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
   Census data showed the median family income was $40,452, while the median household income was $29,920.
   The region known as Mercer County first saw white settlers arrive in the 18th century. Originally part of Virginia, the county was formed in March 1837 and named after Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer, said Lois A. Miller, president of the Mercer County Historical Society.
   Mercer suffered fatal wounds during the battle of Princeton in January 1777 and died shortly thereafter. But in naming a county after him, West Virginia had New Jersey beat; Mercer County, N.J., was not created until a year later in 1838.
   In a booklet that the society published about the fallen general, Mercer was described as a “valiant” warrior who was an “unsung hero of the frontier and the American Revolution.”
   Richard Lockhart, a Princeton, W.V., resident, also serves as secretary and treasurer of the local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution that is named after General Mercer. He said the group is seeking to raise money to erect a monument to the general at the West Virginia Welcome Center located in town. The project will cost $100,000.
   Earlier this year, he contacted Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert about getting a Mercer Oak tree that the town grows from seed from the original that stood at the battlefield, with the idea of having it a part of the monument. Ms. Lempert said the trees are too big to ship but said the town offered a cutting for a root graft.
   Like the New Jersey Princeton, Princeton, W.V. was the scene of fighting between two armies.
   In May 1862, during the Civil War battle of Pigeon’s Roost, Confederate troops burned the town. Only a handful of buildings survived, one of which is 1840 McNutt House that was the headquarters for Union officers and future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Though viewed as a Union victory, it came at a price with 23 dead and 69 wounded compared to three killed and 21 wounded for the Confederacy.
   West Virginia became a state in 1863, having seceded from the Confederacy. For Princeton, the development of a railroad, the “Virginian,” which opened in the first part of the 20th century, was critical for the development of the town, Ms. Miller said.
   For her part, Mayor Lempert has never been to the Princeton in West Virginia, although she has been to Princeton-by-the-sea, a small town in her native California.
   ”When people think of Princeton,” she said, “they think of us.”