Update on Washington Road Elm Allee District – 2000 Preservation NJ 10 Most Endangered Listing

By Rikki Massand, MS/CHP 

Turning from Route 1 west, towards Princeton? Or taking a jog, hike or bicycle ride following Lake Carnegie and the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park? How about collegiate level regattas held on Lake Carnegie, as just south of Washington Road lies the landmark Shea Rowing Center, home of Princeton University Rowing.

Construction of Princeton University’s new Lake Campus

The New Jersey State and National Register of Historic Places contains a unique historic district down Washington Road, but one not consisting of any edifices – that is, until Princeton University completes its massive expansion into West Windsor Township, including building the new Lake Campus with student housing atop what stood as open meadows for over a century. The university is in the thick of construction for its 2016-2026 development plan.

In the year 2000, Preservation New Jersey recognized the Washington Road Elm Allee Historic District on its annual 10 Most Endangered List of Historic Sites statewide. The location with intersecting historic and environmental resources including the D & R Canal State Park has a new viewshed for drivers, passers-by on foot or two wheels and new visitors coming into Princeton.

In 2000, the 10 Most Listing described the Elm Allee Historic District as “0.7-mile long roadway bordered by 76 American Elm trees planted, circa 1925, cross from one another; line road entrance to Princeton University, the (former) Township and Princeton Borough. It is the most extensive surviving elm allee in central New Jersey; resistant to Dutch Elm disease of 1930.”

West Windsor Township stretches across Route 1 unevenly, going up to Harrison Street, with Plainsboro extending across the highway north of that.

Susanne Hand of Princeton wrote the ‘10 Most Nomination’ for the Elm Allee district in early 2000, and in April she spoke with Preservation NJ about the current viewshed from Washington Road.

Washington Road Elm Allee Historic District

Hand offered positive notes about the apparent replacements of trees that were taken out to allow space and activities for the large Lake Campus project.

“After driving by it I see that not long ago new trees were planted, small young trees staked to the ground, as of course many of the Elm trees came down for the construction. I am not seeing the Elm Allee as being endangered looking ahead, because a replacement is happening. Someone is planning and caring for the trees. Before, I was greatly concerned as over the years we saw trees coming down,” she said.

Hand has lived in Princeton since 1985 and prior to that she lived in West Windsor. She commented that the Shea Rowing Center “lake house” adds to the historic appeal of venturing into the home of Princeton University from Washington Road.

In 2000 the major threat observed to the Elm Allee District was a vague proposed NJDOT project to reduce traffic congestion in the Penns Neck, Route 1-crossing stretch of West Windsor Township. Hand said she has not been “officially involved” on any commission or entity safeguarding the historic district of trees, but she was thankful for PNJ’s prominent recognition nearly a quarter-century ago.

She says one more positive came from the NJDOT figuring out how traffic can have an easier time crossing Route 1 at the Washington Road circle and other nearby intersections: by changing the timing of the traffic lights.

The Elm Allee district, which was and still is recognized as “one of the finest examples of Planned Town Entrances” was feared to eventually lose its landscaping design integrity.

Today the viewshed of Elm trees and the allee has large buildings on the northwestern side of Washington Road currently well along in their construction progress. In addition the area close to Jadwin Gymnasium will see a new, 2,100-seat soccer stadium.

Construction in progress

Preservation NJ Vice President William Neumann summarized, “an incredible entrance to Princeton and shows the diversity of subjects in our 10 Most Endangered List.”

Hand concurred as she hopes for new trees planted to be a successor to the original trees of 98 years ago:

“The land has been vacant on both sides of Washington Road for a century, and had no buildings on it with the exception of an old farmhouse which was demolished probably in the 1980s. The development of the Lake Campus is clearly a difference but essentially the thought was taken to keep Washington Road as the same grand roadway with an allee of trees – the sentiment has always been standing as the entranceway to Princeton.”

The grandeur of the allee remains

Author, content strategist and historic preservation activist Rikki N. Massand serves as Associate Editor of his hometown Montgomery News in Somerset County. He also covers Hunterdon County government, planning and economic development for The Hunterdon Review newspaper and freelances for multiple tristate area ‘newszines.’

Massand is a regional historian and local advocate in his present municipal government-appointed roles on the Montgomery Township Landmarks Preservation Commission and as township liaison to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission. We are proud to announce he was recently appointed as an Advisory member of the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission.

Massand holds master’s degrees from Columbia University and Quinnipiac University. His work has appeared in print titles including China Daily, amNew York, Syosset Advance, AsianWeek and more.