The Lenni Lenape Native Americans were the earliest identifiable inhabitants of the Princeton area. Europeans founded their settlement in the latter part of the 17th century. The first European to find his home in the boundaries of the future town was Henry Greenland. He built his house in 1683 along with a tavern. In this drinking hole representatives of West Jersey and East Jersey met to set boundaries for the location of the township.
Originally, Princeton was known only as part of nearby Stony Brook. Nathaniel Fitz Randolph, a native of the town, attested in his private journal on December 28, 1758, that Princeton was named in 1724 upon the construction of the first house in the area by James Leonard, who first referred to the town as Princetown when describing the location of his large estate in his diary. The town bore a variety of names subsequently, including: Princetown, Prince's Town and finally Princeton. Although there is no official documentary backing, the town is considered to be named after King William III, Prince William of Orange of the House of Nassau. Another theory suggests that the name came from a large land-owner named Henry Prince, but no evidence backs this contention. A royal prince seems a more likely eponym for the settlement, as three nearby towns had similar names: Kingston, Queenstown (in the vicinity of the intersection of Nassau and Harrison Streets) and Princessville (Lawrence Township).
, which briefly served as the capitol of the United States of America in 1783
The Princeton campus, December 2016
Nassau Street at night, 2016
When Richard Stockton, one of the founders of the township, died in 1709 he left his estate to his sons, who helped to expand property and the population. Based on the 1880 United States Census, the population of the town comprised 3,209 persons (not including students). Local population has expanded from the nineteenth century. According to the 2010 Census, Princeton Borough had 12,307 inhabitants, while Princeton Township had 16,265. The numbers have become stagnant; since the establishment of Princeton University in 1756, the town's population spikes every year during the fall and winter and drops significantly over the course of the summer.
A light at the Princeton campus
Battle of Princeton, 1777
Aside from housing the university of the same name, the settlement suffered the revolutionary Battle of Princeton on its soil. After the victory in 1777, the town hosted the first Legislature under the State Constitution of New Jersey to decide the State's seal, Governor and organization of its government. In addition, two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence—Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon lived in Princeton. Princetonians honored their citizens' legacy by naming two streets in the downtown area after them.
On January 10, 1938 Henry Ewing Hale called for a group of citizens to discuss opening a "Historical Society of Princeton." Later the
Bainbridge House would be dedicated for this purpose. Previously the house was used once for a meeting of Continental Congress in 1783, a general office, and as the Princeton Public Library. The House is actually property of Princeton University and is leased to the Princeton Historical Society for one dollar per year. The house has kept its original staircase, flooring and paneled walls. All together, 70% of the house has been unaltered. Aside from safety features like wheelchair access and electrical work, the house was merely restored to its original look.
During the most stirring events in its history, Princeton was a wide spot in the road; the boundary between Somerset County and Middlesex County ran right through Princeton, along the high road between New York and Philadelphia, now Nassau Street. When Mercer County was formed in 1838, part of West Windsor Township was added to the portion of Montgomery Township which was included in the new county, and made into Princeton Township; the area between the southern boundary of the former Borough and the Delaware and Raritan Canal was added to Princeton Township in 1853. Princeton Borough became a separate municipality in 1894.
In the early nineteenth century, New Jersey boroughs had been parish bodies, chartered within existing townships. Princeton Borough received such a charter in 1813, as part of Montgomery and West Windsor Townships; it continued to be part of Princeton Township until the Act of 1894, which required that each township form a single school district; rather than do so, Princeton Borough petitioned to be separated. (Before consolidation, the two Princetons shared a combined public school system.) Two minor boundary changes united the then site of the Princeton Hospital and of the Princeton Regional High School inside the Borough, in 1928 and 1951 respectively.