The Historical Society of Princeton operates two sites: Bainbridge House at 158 Nassau Street and the Updike Farmstead at 354 Quaker Road.
Inspired by the worldly and entrepreneurial spirit of the citizens of Princeton, and graced by the important legacy of the town, the Historical Society of Princeton develops signature programs of learning and discovery to connect the lessons of the past to the issues which inform our future. Using our historic sites and collections, we teach local and international visitors that history is relevant in daily life, and can be used to explore a shared connection among people; to celebrate a love of place; and to promote conversations on creating a better future.
If we are successful in our mission, our audiences will have a passion for history and will appreciate its importance in connecting with others and learning about the world around them. By inspiring children and adults to be curious history stewards, we hope to pass along the important lessons of the past. We believe our work will ultimately lead to respectful and responsible behavior among people, toward each other, and toward the built and natural world around us.
Since its founding in 1938, the Historical Society has amassed, recorded, and exhibited a collection of over 40,000 artifacts, manuscripts, photographs, decorative arts objects, artworks, and articles of clothing dating from the 17th century to the present, and has offered a broad range of educational services and activities to local residents, students, scholars, and visitors from around the world. Walking tours, lectures, out-of-town trips, education programs for schools and the general public: the Historical Society presents these programs and more throughout the year. Every Sunday at 2pm, come join a guided walking tour of downtown Princeton and learn all about Princeton's people, its architecture, and historical moments from an HSP-trained guide. Check our calendar for occasional special walking tours, including the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour: African-American Life in Princeton. The Historical Society's lectures and panel discussions feature well-known speakers covering historical topics in Princeton, New Jersey and national history. A dedicated group of volunteers organizes trips to cultural institutions throughout the tri-state area. A full slate of education programs is available to school children from kindergarten through high school. The 90-minute Picturing Princeton program includes a museum tour, a "Learning to Look" portrait activity, and walking tour. Students can explore the Princeton History Gallery, learning about the Battle of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, Princeton University, and Albert Einstein.
Changing and permanent exhibitions are featured on the first floor of Bainbridge House. Thought-provoking exhibitions examine a wide variety of historical and contemporary topics. On the first floor of the Updike farmhouse at the Updike Farmstead, visitors can expect to learn not only about the history of the site (who owned it; how it was used; and its present-day rehabilitation) but also to learn about local artists, community organizations, and agriculture. The Princeton History Gallery at Bainbridge House provides a chronological look at people, places and events in Princeton history from the Lenape to the establishment of the College of New Jersey, to the achievements of African-American community leader Betsey Stockton to world-famous Albert Einstein.
The Historical Society also collaborates on exhibitions at other cultural institutions in Princeton, including NEIGHBORHOOD PORTRAIT: Documenting the Witherspoon-Jackson Community at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts of the Arts Council of Princeton.
At the heart of the Society's ability to serve the community are its important museum and library collections. Used by scholars, students, genealogists, architects, local business people, and the general public, the collections document daily life in Princeton from early settlement through the 20th century. Items include furniture, paintings, clothing, household objects, photographs, maps, and manuscripts, and range from a 1760s tanner's account ledger to a silver boudoir set owned by the daughter of Grover Cleveland. The Society's Einstein Furniture Collection includes 65 pieces of furniture owned and used by Albert Einstein while he lived in Princeton from 1933 to 1955. The Society's library and photo archives comprise more than 38,000 manuscripts, photographs, glass-plate negatives, maps, and architectural drawings. The extensive manuscript holdings include the papers of the Stockton and Olden families, two of the town's founding families; the papers of pioneering geologist Arnold Guyot; and the records of local organizations such as the Friendship Club, an early 20th-century African-American women's civic group.
Built in 1766 by Job Stockton, a prosperous tanner and cousin of Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Bainbridge House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Princeton and one of the area's best preserved examples of mid-Georgian architecture. Located on Nassau Street, the town's busiest and most historic thoroughfare, it is situated directly across from Princeton University. Bainbridge House has been home to several Stockton families; it was the birthplace of William Bainbridge, hero of the War of 1812; in 1783 it was listed as providing accommodations for the Continental Congress; during the late 19th century it served as a boarding house for university students; and for more than fifty years it was home to the public library. The exterior of Bainbridge House was restored by the Historical Society in 1969 to its original 18th-century appearance. Nearly 70% of the original interior woodwork remains, including original paneled walls and flooring. With the exception of circa 1814 alterations to the main parlor and a late 19th-century addition at the rear of the house, almost all of the 1766 structure remains. From 1991-1992, Bainbridge House underwent a complete renovation, with the addition of new structural supports, climate controls, new electrical work, and upgraded safety and security features. The interior trim was restored to original paint colors, the pine flooring was refinished, and portions of the brick facade were replaced with 18th-century bricks and repainted. An exterior ramp was installed in front of the house. In 1967, the Historical Society established its headquarters in Bainbridge House, one of the finest surviving examples of Georgian architecture in the area, and since that time the building has served the public as both a museum and library. Its main floor comprises temporary and permanent exhibition spaces and a museum shop. The second and third floors house the library and photographic archives, as well as administrative offices and meeting rooms. The facilities of Bainbridge House also serve as an information center and the headquarters for the Society's far-reaching programs. Visitors are welcome at Bainbridge House from 12 to 4pm Wednesday through Sunday.
The Updike Farmstead
The Historical Society of Princeton purchased the six-acre Updike Farmstead from the estate of Stanley Updike in 2004. The Farmstead consists of a late 18th/early 19th century farmhouse, a large barn built in 1892, wagon shed, corn crib, three-bay garage and garden sheds. After the purchase, careful plans were laid for the rehabilitation of the late 18th/early 19th century farmhouse and related sitework to accommodate expanded operations for the Historical Society. With initial support for the purchase of the Farmstead from the New Jersey Green Acres Program and the Mercer County Open Space Preservation Board, the Historical Society also received funding from the New Jersey Cultural Trust and from the New Jersey Historic Trust as well private foundations, corporations, and very generous individuals. The Historical Society partnered with the Princeton architectural firm of Farewell Mills Gatsch on the farmhouse rehabilitation from fall 2009 through 2010. Updike Farmstead will be open to the public from 12 - 4 pm on the following Saturdays in 2015: March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6, August 1, and October 3. Admission is $4 (free for HSP Members!).
The Farmstead is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and lies within the Princeton Battlefield/Stony Brook Settlement Historic District. Benjamin Clarke, an early Stony Brook settler, first owned the land as part of a 1200-acre parcel he purchased in 1696. The Farmstead is along the route followed by Continental troops on their way to engage British soldiers at the neighboring Thomas Clarke farm at Princeton Battlefield. The original Benjamin Clarke property, which was divided up over time, remained in the hands of his descendents for over 150 years. In 1892, George Furman Updike Sr. acquired approximately 190 acres of the original farmland and added buildings to the site, including a large barn. In 1969, the Updike family sold 184 acres of the property to the Institute for Advanced Study. Brother and sister, Stanley and Sarah Updike, continued to live on the remaining six acres under their deaths in 2002.
Since 1989, the Historical Society of Princeton has recognized extraordinary efforts toward historic preservation in Princeton through our Preservation Awards. Past award winners have included the homeowners of such residences as Westland and Tusculum; local government agencies, including the State Division of Parks and Forestry; and educational institutions such as Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary.
The Historical Society of Princeton is a private, non-profit organization. Its activities are made possible through individual contributions; grants from corporations, foundations, and government agencies; and earned income. Membership fees are an important source of income. In addition to supporting one of Princeton's most important historical and educational resources, members enjoy the following benefits: invitations to exhibition previews and special events, discounts on Society-sponsored programs, and much more. See our Membership information page for details.