What: Princeton Battlefield State Park, 500 Mercer Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, (609) 921-0074. Admission is free; the Clark House is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Avoid: Not checking the weather. The roads can ice during the winter months.
How to Get There: Princeton is about 55 miles southwest of New York City. The quickest ticket in is on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95). You can take Exit 9 to enter New Brunswick (follow the signs for SR 18 and the Rutgers campus). Pick up SR 27 in New Brunswick and follow it southwest to Princeton, and then turn left on Mercer Street (shortly after turning left on Mercer, you’ll pass right by Albert Einstein’s house). The Princeton Battlefield State Park is just a mile or so farther along. After seeing the Princeton battlefield site, continue on Mercer Road and turn right on Quaker Road to get back to US 206. Follow it to Trenton and the Delaware River for the great ride suggested above.
Best Kept Secret: Breakfast at PJ’s Pancake House on Nassau Street in Princeton (it’s where we went when we played hooky in high school, and it’s still great). The pancakes and omelets are incredible.
When Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he was referring to the American Revolution, and things were not going well. George Washington’s Continental Army had not a single victory at the time that Paine uttered those famous words. All that changed during 10 crucial days starting on Christmas Day 1776. Ten days later it all came together at the Battle of Princeton, where the Americans resoundingly defeated the British and forever altered the trajectory of the American Revolution.
Back to those 10 crucial days: On Christmas Day 1776, American troops crossed the Delaware River. On Dec. 26th, Washington’s Continental Army defeated the British mercenaries (the Hessian troops) in Trenton, New Jersey. On the 27th, the British retreated from western New Jersey, and on the 28th the Americans crossed the Delaware River again. On the 30th our forces took still more British prisoners. By that time, though, the American Army was shrinking significantly as enlistments expired. On the 31st, Washington offered a bounty that kept our forces intact, and on Jan. 1st, Washington attacked in Trenton yet again. We fought the British to a standstill there on Jan. 2nd, and on the third day of January in 1777, the Americans resoundingly defeated the British at Princeton, New Jersey, after marching down the road from Trenton (a road we can still ride today). Princeton was the third American victory in just 10 days and it was decisive. The Americans had not yet won the Revolutionary War, but these 10 days marked the Revolution’s turning point. Times may have still been trying men’s souls, but after Princeton, they were doing so on the British side.
I grew up in this area and on a recent visit to the Garden State, we visited Princeton Battlefield State Park. It is a gorgeous expanse of green fields, leafy forest, a lone white building and a beautiful white colonnade. It’s just a mile or two outside of downtown Princeton. The colonnade marks a combined British and American grave site, and that lone white building is the Clarke House, a residence dating to the 1700s used as a field hospital during the Battle of Princeton (today it is a museum containing artifacts from the American Revolution). The Princeton Battlefield Society runs regular guided walking tours of the area, and we had arrived just as a tour was starting. Our guide was Will Krakower, a recent Rutgers University graduate who made the battlefield come alive for us.
Central New Jersey and the regions in and around the Delaware River, Trenton, and Princeton are rich in historical significance and if you know where to look, you can find great riding. Our suggestion is to combine a ride to the Princeton Battlefield site with a ride along US 206 from New Brunswick to Trenton, and if you have time the next day, follow the Delaware River north along either SR 29 (in New Jersey) or SR 32 (on the Pennsylvania side) back to New Hope. You’ll pass right through state parks on either side of the Delaware where Washington made his famous crossings. From there, it’s an easy and scenic ride along CR 518 to continue your ride through the heart of the American Revolution. — Joe Berk