THE TOP STORIES OF 2015: Fight continues over battlefield

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Battle of Princeton was waged 238 years ago, but the fight to save the ground where the conflict happened raged on in 2015.
State lawmakers, citizen activists and a nonprofit that preserves battlefields helped lead the charge to prevent a section of the battlefield from being turned into faculty housing by the Institute for Advanced Study.
The IAS owns the land, and made clear in December that it would be “moving forward” with building a 15-unit development that meets a “critical need.” The IAS said that of the overall 21-acre parcel, the project would occupy seven acres, with the rest kept as open space.
Yet the Princeton Battlefield Society, the group suing to prevent the housing from being built, said the development would come at the expense of land where George Washington staged his winning counterattack in the Revolutionary War battle fought Jan.3, 1777.
The society has received help from a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, who, toward the end of the year, pressed the state Department of Environmental Protection to step in and halt the project. One lawmaker called on the IAS to build the housing someplace else.
“They’re on the wrong side of history,” said state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) about the IAS at a press conference not far from where earthmoving equipment was busy at work on the site. “We’d really like them not to bulldoze our history but to help preserve it.”
Yet, as the Battlefield Society wages a legal fight, another group stepped forward in 2015 to acquire the land from the IAS.
The Civil War Trust made two offers — one for $3.3 million and the other for $4.5 million — to buy the property and then turn it over to the state to be preserved. Both offers were turned down by the IAS.
“We have never saved anything more important,” Trust President James Lighthizer told lawmakers in December at a Senate committee hearing. “We believe this is part of our American heritage. It just doesn’t belong to the institute, it belongs to the American people.”
The contretemps came in a year when the state and other officials highlighted the expansion of Princeton Battlefield State Park, now bigger by 4.6 acres thanks to a land purchase on Stockton Street of a former private residence.
“Just this whole experience reminds me how lucky we are to live in a place like Princeton,” Mayor Liz Lempert said in September at a ribbon-cutting celebrating the park expansion. “We have such a rich history. We have a long lineage of heroes.” 