Every editor loves “free copy,” almost as much as every publisher loves it. The basis of the latter’s affection is obvious. The editor loves it because free copy — in the form of letters and op ed pieces — bring new voices and new subject matter to the paper.
And for some editors it is also free of work, as well. “Editing” letters to the editor often means nothing more than copying, pasting, and spell checking copy, before it gets dumped onto the digital page.
We try not to follow that path. This week, as you can see by turning to page 4 of this issue, we received an outpouring of letters for and against the proposed housing on Institute for Advanced Study property adjoining the Princeton Battlefield. Esteemed scientists, architects, and historians weighed in. The cost came in the form of the map that, in our humble opinion, was required to know what the heck everyone was talking about.
And, even as we were fussing with the map, two more letters arrived to address the subject. There was no more room on page 4, but we are printing them below. More free copy. We love it.
To the Editor
For the Institute
You must have already received many eloquent letters supporting the proposed new faculty housing plan presented by the Institute for Advanced Study. I would also like to strongly support this housing plan. The Institute has already done a tremendous amount to promote the Princeton Battlefield in the past, primarily by donating 32 acres of land in 1973 after receiving a specific commitment from the State that the field east of the Battlefield Park boundary could be used for new faculty housing.
This new faculty housing is now very much needed in order to preserve the residential community of the Institute’s scholars. I urge that the IAS be allowed to construct this permanent housing.
Walter H. Lippincott
Lippincott is the former director of the Princeton University Press.
It is vitally important that any new construction at the Institute for Advanced Study not detract from the dignity of the Battlefield Park. The faculty and friends of the Institute (of whom I am one) understand the importance of honoring our history.
The proposed new faculty housing at IAS meets this test. The proposed housing consists of a small cluster of single family homes and townhouses located more than 200 feet from the edge of the park. A row of evergreens will stand between the housing and the park. The housing will barely be visible from the park, much less intrusive.
The need to preserve the dignity of the park should not be used as a reason to block all development in this part of Princeton.
Lewis L. Maltby
The writer is president of the National Workrights Institute, based at 166 Wall Street, Research Park.
I am a retired professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. I have enjoyed the beauty of our Battlefield Park and the memory of its history for more than 50 years. To serve as a fitting memorial of the battle, the Battlefield Park does not need to include the whole area over which fighting took place. Fighting took place over a wide area extending into the center of Princeton and including the Institute buildings. Nobody suggests that the town or the Institute should be demolished in order to include the whole area of the fighting within the Park.
So I find it strange that the building of 15 houses for Institute faculty on Institute land should be opposed, just because this little piece of Institute land was included in the area of the fighting. The building of these houses will do no damage to the beauty and solemnity of the Battlefield Park. They will be as harmless and as respectful to our history as the existing Institute buildings.
I write in strong support of the Institute’s proposal for more faculty living on its campus, maintaining its walkable community. It would provide landscape screening along its border with the Battlefield Park; and build a memorial pathway as conceived by distinguished historians James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer. Altogether, the Institute’s proposal commemorates our historic past and sustains our living community.
Dean Emeritus, Princeton School of Architecture
I support the construction of the housing by the Institute for Advanced Study. Listening to the testimony so far, I have learned a lot about what we know about the Battle of Princeton and a lot that we do not know.
I have been an architect in private practice in Princeton for close to 40 years, and this effort by the “Friends of the Battlefield” to block the Institute’s right to construct, if successful, would be setting a terrible precedent. The appropriate time to deny the right to construct would have been when IAS was about to buy the land. Denying its right now is tantamount to a taking by condemnation and in this case it would be without due compensation. It is terrible precedent since it erodes property rights and holds out the threat that any well-meaning group could challenge any owner’s right to continue to own or worse yet to continue to occupy their property.
Suppose we finally locate that elusive saw mill road and, noting that some unsuspecting homeowner’s house sits on it, ask that owner to abandon his house and move away? Could precedent be cited?
I was heartened by the compromise solution proposed by Professor McPherson. It surrenders part of the land to expand the current battlefield and sidesteps the terrible precedent of taking the land with or without due compensation. UC Berkeley Professor Mark Peterson helped the discussion when he testified about historic sites in the Boston area and demonstrated that it is less important to keep the land vacant than it is to find more meaningful ways to celebrate the history.
I wonder why the “Friends of the Battlefield” have spent so much time and money fighting the Institute’s right to its land, money that could have been spent helping to fund some of our historic sites in New Jersey (the crossroads of the American Revolution). I think of places near here like the Barracks, Petty’s run, and Washington Crossing Park. It is my feeling that the Institute should be congratulated for the sensitivity it has shown dealing with this controversy and its willingness to seek a solution that is balanced and fair.
Jeremiah Ford III, AIA
Ford 3 Architects, 32 Nassau Street
Against the Institute
I have been following the dispute between the Princeton Battlefield Society and the Institute for Advanced Study with great interest. I have written many books about New Jersey’s Revolutionary history, including “1776: Year of Illusions,” which deals with the battle. In 2007 I received the Governor Hughes award for lifetime achievement in writing about New Jersey.
There is no longer the slightest doubt in my mind that the Institute is ignoring fundamental facts about the battle. It is planning to build housing on a part of the battlefield that is vital to understanding the event — the site of George Washington’s climactic counterattack. This is like asking people to enjoy a famous play, minus the last act.
I am disturbed by the IAS’s cavalier and arrogant attitude toward the convincing evidence that the Princeton Battlefield Society has presented. It is especially troubling to discover it has space for the housing elsewhere on its acres, but it is simply not inclined to use it.
Fleming is a historian and authority on the American Revolution. www.thomasflemingwriter.com.
There are a number of facts concerning the Princeton Battlefield that have been ignored in the debate over the Institute for Advanced Study’s planned housing.
One of them is that the original Battlefield Park was intended to be three times larger; the state of New Jersey had the required funding. Local residents feared that their homes would be condemned and the park was scaled down nearer to its current dimensions. The IAS had nothing to say at this time; in fact, it supported the battlefield and later donated land and the Mercer Manor portico to the park. A reversal soon followed.
Between 1959 and 1963 the Institute constructed Veblen Circle and Stone House Drive for faculty housing; this construction obliterated the site of William Clarke’s farm. This farm was the location where Mercer’s Brigade fought the British 17th Regiment. Wounded Americans were bayoneted where they lay, on ground now occupied by Institute housing. This additional plan will only complete this destructive path. The IAS has made little if any effort to study the location of the William Clarke Farm. A simple and non-intrusive method such as ground-penetrating radar may be successful in determining the precise location of William Clarke’s house and other features, thus adding certainty to maps of the battle. The IAS rebuffs any suggestions of archaeological potential on its property; what is the explanation for this denial?
Whatever decision is taken by the Planning Board I hope the above stated facts will not be ignored. Generations of Princetonians very carefully preserved the Princeton Battlefield; this effort has resulted in one of the most pristinely preserved battlefields in America; fence lines which stood in 1777 may still be delineated in the grassy lawn of the Princeton Battlefield Park; General Mercer’s bloodstains on the floor of the Thomas Clarke House are still visible. In the 1990s, one could still rectify the mutual sighting that led to the battle — development has now made this impossible. The Institute has alternatives to its faculty housing but these have been ignored; the Institute apparently believes that two-car garages and esthetically pleasing views are more significant than the preservation of the battlefield.
There is only one certainty in this affair — once the damage is done, it is irreversible.