It goes without saying that your Hidden New Jersey explorers are firmly on the side of preserving historic battle sites. Keeping battlefields undeveloped is crucial to helping visitors understand the the challenges our forebears faced in liberating and defending our nation. Somehow, watching a reenactment on a developed battlefield -- as I did for the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Springfield -- loses its impact when you see Hessians marching past a CVS.
Thing is, we've been building on battlefields for as long as there's been a United States. Many of the battles took place on privately owned land, and when the wars were over, the owners were more concerned with making their land profitable than they were in preserving history. You really couldn't blame them, especially farmers who were trying to get as much from their acreage as possible.
And then there's the Colonnade -- a set of Ionic columns topped by a large lintel and supported by brick walls on the sides. It sits on the northern side of the park, atop a hill far opposite the Clarke House, looking very out of place and incomplete. There's no statue of Mercer or Washington or anyone else beside it to give it context, and the casual passer-by is left to wonder what in heck it is. If it were in Greece or Italy, you'd shrug it off as just another classical ruin, but in Princeton? Ivan and I took a walk up the hill to check it out (and, well, to see if we could find winter finches, but that's another story).
Long story short, the Colonnade is a ruin -- of not one, but two houses. Originally, it served as part of the facade for a Philadelphia mansion designed by U.S. Capitol architect Thomas U. Walter in 1836 for a merchant named Matthew Newkirk. After the Newkirk home was demolished in 1900, the columns were brought to Princeton and recycled for the entrance of Mercer Manor, a grand home built at the edge of the battlefield.
Mercer Manor stood on the site for over 50 years, until it was severely damaged in a fire. Mostly unsalvageable, the mansion was demolished in 1957, except for the Colonnade that stands today. Its then owners, the Institute for Advanced Study, donated the property to the State for inclusion in the Battlefield Park.
|A view of the battlefield from behind the Colonnade.|
Unintended as it might have been, the Colonnade could be considered a fitting tribute to the brave Americans who fought at Princeton. These patriots were battling for a new republic and victory that until then appeared unlikely. Their humble contributions helped forge a country that has stood strong for well over two centuries.