LHT Historic Site – Princeton Pike
The very straight road behind you (when standing at this sign) has been carrying traffic between Trenton and Kingston, by way of Princeton, since 1807. The Princeton and Kingston Turnpike, Princeton Pike for short, is one of New Jersey’s oldest toll roads, among a flurry of roads built all across the state from the early 1800s to the 1830s with one goal in mind – nourishing the growth of the state’s economy.
New Jersey’s turnpikes may seem quaint to modern-day travelers who use automobiles, trains and airplanes.
Advertisement for stagecoach service on the Princeton and Kingston Turnpike, The National Gazette, January 16, 1827
But these were the high-speed advanced transportation arteries of their day, carrying fast-moving passenger stages, heavily laden freight wagons, and even droves of cattle, sheep and turkeys (food on the hoof or claw), most of it bound for growing towns and cities, like Trenton, Newark and the even larger centers of Philadelphia and New York.
As the advantage of turnpikes became apparent, no city or town, large or small, wanted to be bypassed.
Map of the Princeton and Kingston Turnpike, 1808. The map places your current location 5 miles from Trenton, near the farm of David Brearley (New Jersey State Archives.)
This was the situation presented to Princeton and Kingston in 1804, when the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike, the precursor to U.S. Route 1, bypassed both towns in favor of southerly alignment on a direct line between the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, where ferries carried travelers bound for Philadelphia, New York or beyond.
Under political pressure, the State Legislature chartered the Princeton and Kingston Turnpike Company in 1807. The selected route, which passed through the southern part of Lawrence Township, offered an alternative branch to the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike and benefited merchants, taverns and inns in Princeton and Kingston.
Travelers on turnpikes paid tolls, and they were rewarded with direct routes, level grades, paved surfaces and solid bridges, greatly reducing the wear and tear on animals, vehicles, passengers and cargo.
A postcard view of the Princeton Pike bridge over Stony Brook, 1907.
The turnpikes were a major improvement over old colonial wagon roads, which were mostly maintained by township road supervisors who relied on local farmers for seasonal help filling ditches and ruts.
If you had been standing about 300 feet northeast of here in the middle decades of the 19th century, you would have been at a turnpike crossroads known as Princessville. On the northwest side of the pike was a tollgate, while on the south side was a tavern, known as Mershon’s Tavern or the Princessville Inn. Next to the tavern was a Methodist church and cemetery, which later in the century became the site of an African Methodist Episcopal church serving the population of Lewisville, a short distance to the west along Lewisville Road.