Two weeks of festivities celebrate 250th anniversary of 'Princeton in Princeton'

Oct. 12, 2006, 8 a.m.

Two decades before America began its fledgling democracy, a school in its own infancy took up residence on a small parcel in Princeton, N.J. The land became the home of Princeton University's Nassau Hall and Maclean House, which remain today as symbols of the region's past and its progress.

Celebrating this heritage and the enduring relationship with its Princeton neighbors, the University will join with community groups to host the 250th anniversary celebration of "Princeton in Princeton" Oct. 21 to Nov. 4. 

Among the planned highlights of the two-week celebration are events featuring Nassau Hall and Maclean House; a "Revolutionary Princeton Day" of family festivities; a historical re-enactment of Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech; and a lecture series exploring the evolution of the University and the region.

"This is a time for us to embrace our collective history and reflect upon its impact today," said Kristin Appelget, the University's director of community and regional affairs. "This is a special opportunity to learn more about the heritage and traditions of both the campus and the community. We hope that many people participate and form even stronger relationships because of it."

The schedule of events will begin Saturday, Oct. 21, with the opening of a Princetoniana exhibit at the Frist Campus Center reflecting on the history of Nassau Hall. At a reception beginning at approximately 3:30 p.m. -- after the Princeton-Harvard football game -- President Shirley M. Tilghman will deliver remarks with exhibit curator Richard Smith, program secretary in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and William Selden, a 1934 alumnus who has published on Nassau Hall. The exhibit will be on view through Nov. 30.

On Sunday, Oct. 22, the celebration of the University's two oldest buildings will continue, with University Archivist Daniel Linke discussing the early days at Princeton in a talk at 1 p.m. in the Nassau Hall Faculty Room. The ceremonial opening of the Maclean House gardens will begin at 2 p.m. outside the house.

The lecture series, sponsored by the University's Alumni Association, runs Oct. 23-28 and Nov. 1-2. It will focus on the early years of the relationship between the town and the University, as well as the social, political and cultural climate in which this relationship was evolving -- from the year of the institution's move to Princeton in 1756 until the turn of the century.

"Talks on subjects relating to what the region was like before Aaron Burr made that historic decision to move his students here, and also black Americans and their role in the growth of Princeton, will really give people a sense of what was at stake in the choices people made and the actions that shaped this area before and after the Revolutionary War," said Margaret Miller, director of the Office of the Alumni Association.

Chartered in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, Princeton was located in Elizabeth for one year and then in Newark for nine years. In 1756, the College's second president, Aaron Burr, gathered his pupils and moved them to a 4 ½-acre site that would become Princeton University. Twenty-one years later, the University witnessed a turning point in the American Revolutionary War when British troops sought refuge in Nassau Hall after suffering defeats on the Princeton Battlefield.

During "Revolutionary Princeton Day" on Saturday, Oct. 28, families will be invited to tour major historic sites around campus to reflect on this legacy. Families will learn to play colonial games; explore a life-sized maze; watch an apprentice talk about silver smithing and weaving; and attend historical interpretations by costumed militia men, as well as an 18th-century doctor demonstrating medical treatments of the period.

"Revolutionary Princeton Day" will take place rain or shine. In the event of inclement weather, activities will be located inside Nassau Presbyterian Church, Maclean House and Nassau Hall. 

"The planning for this event has truly been a 'town-gown' process with many local organizations and generous individuals stepping up to offer their creative ideas and organizational resources," said Karen Woodbridge, director of community relations.

Thanks to Margaret Nuttle, whose son Philip Nuttle graduated from Princeton in 1963, visitors will be able to attend a free performance at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Nassau Presbyterian Church of Patrick Henry's speech delivered at the 1775 Second Virginia Convention. The speech was made famous by the plea, "Give me liberty or give me death."

Nuttle is a descendent of Patrick Henry, who worked closely with Princeton alumnus James Madison, along with John Marshall and George Washington, in the early days of the nation. Henry was the first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Other contributors and partners in the 250th anniversary celebration are the Borough and Township of Princeton, Arts Council of Princeton, Borough Merchants for Princeton, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads of the American Revolution Association, Historical Society of Princeton, Morven Museum and Garden, Nassau Inn, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Old Barracks Museum, Princeton Public Library and Princeton Regional Schools. 

"We are looking forward to this truly being a community-wide event," Woodbridge said. "We are opening our campus to all ages to recognize the shared history of the University and the surrounding community."

To view a full schedule of anniversary events, visit the Office of Community and Regional Affairs' event Web site, or call the office at (609) 258-5144.