What’s in a Name?

View of Nassau Street before Palmer Square, from Holder Hall.

The Fascinating History Behind Princetons Street Names

By Anne Levin | Photographs courtesy of Historical Society of Princeton

When it comes to the names of its streets, Princeton is a mix of the obvious and the curious.

It makes sense that there are streets named for specific landmarks, past and present. Spring Street was once the location of a spring and pond, where residents skated during winter months. The quarry that stood on the present site of Quarry Street supplied the stones used for several buildings on the Princeton University campus. Brookstone Drive runs parallel to historic Stony Brook, Old Orchard Lane was once home to an apple orchard, and so on.

But what about Tee-Ar Place? Lovers Lane? Broadmead?

The origin of these, and nearly every street name in Princeton, is the focus of Princeton: On the Streets Where We Live, written in 1990 by Randy Hobler and Jeanne Silvester. The book is an exhaustive survey delivered with a light touch, full of enlightening anecdotes and nuggets of information. Contemporary tour guide Shirley Satterfield, known for her informative walks through the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district, and Mimi Omiecinski, whose Princeton Tour Company leads themed tours throughout the town, both use the book as a regular reference.

Parade on Nassau Street.

In the book’s introduction, Hobler and Silvester quote attorney John Hageman about the sorry state of Princeton’s streets in the 1870s: “More money has been expended on the principal streets of the town…. They have been hardened with stone and gravel, but their improvements have not kept pace with other improvements of the town. If they could be properly graded and covered with the best quality of the asphaltum preparation it would be a grand improvement such as the characters and beautiful grounds and buildings of the town demand.”

That “asphaltum” finally arrived on Nassau Street in the 1920s.

Of the muddy roads of the 1880s, the authors quote an unnamed English visitor. “In many parts…the road is simply a mass of mud. I do not mean merely such mud as in many parts of England we are used to after rain, I mean thick, abiding mire — abiding, at least for several months together.”

The authors’ research led to more revelations than they had room to include in the book. “It is frustrating not to be able to elaborate on the fascinating lives of so many far-sighted and remarkable people whether heroes, prophets, rascals, rogues, or those who gave their lives for their country,” they write in the introduction. “Our hope would be that readers will rush pell-mell to the bibliography for further stimulation to fill in the gaping holes. This is one way to merge the past with the present.”

In a list that starts with Abernathy Drive and finishes with Worth’s Mill Lane, the book covers some 300 years of Princeton history. Streets have been added since the book’s publication, mostly in what was known as Princeton Township (before the Township and Borough consolidated in 2013).

The authors note that despite Princeton’s sizable Italian and African American populations, only Humbert Street had an Italian reference (possibly a man named Umberto), and Paul Robeson Place is the only street honoring the African American community. As for women: “The one exception seems to be Farrand Road in the Russell Estates, honoring Beatrix Farrand, an outstanding landscape designer. Or was it named after her husband Max?”

Spring Street looking toward Vandeventer Avenue, Vandeventer Pond, and the Beatty House.

Sylvia Beach Way, the entrance road to the Spring Street Garage, has since been added to the town, honoring the author who grew up in Princeton.

Like many cities, towns, and villages, Princeton has its share of “tree streets” — Walnut, Chestnut, Pine, Spruce, Linden. “In the late 1800s governing bodies named streets after trees in the hope that trees would be planted along them,” the authors wrote. “Locally we can thank the Stocktons, Pynes, Fields, Russells, Branch, and other land owners for the variety and quality of the trees in Princeton.”

Not surprisingly, numerous Princeton thoroughfares are named after Princeton University professors and other members of the academic community. Cuyler Road honors Cornelius C. Cuyler, Class of 1879 and a trustee and chairman of buildings and grounds, and his son Lewis B. “Buzz” Cuyler, Class of 1924, a banker and president of the local historical society. Carnahan Place was named for James Carnahan, the longest-serving University president (1832-1854); Vreeland Court for Williamson Updike Vreeland, Class of 1892 and professor of French (his wife was president of the Present Day Club); and Von Neumann Drive takes its name from John von Neumann, the famed mathematics professor at the Institute for Advanced Study who helped develop the atom bomb.

Then there is Wittmer Circle for Albert Wittmer, Class of 1922, basketball and football coach; Veblen Circle, named for Oswald Veblen, math professor at Princeton and Institute for Advanced Study administrator; Wiggins Street for Dr. Thomas Wiggins, master’s degree from Princeton’s Class of 1753 and owner of a 20-acre farm including a house that stood where Princeton Public Library is now located; and Westcott Road honoring John Howell Westcott Jr., Class of 1918, killed in World War I. The list goes on.

As for Baker Court: “We hope that this street is named in memory of Hobart Amory Baker,” the authors wrote. Hobey Baker, Class of 1914, was a much-admired University hockey player idolized by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who based at least one character on him. Like Westcott, Baker was killed in World War I.

Early streets in Princeton were named for founding families or notable individuals such as Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer; and George Washington. Later, there was Wilson Road (Woodrow Wilson), Albert Einstein Drive, Eisenhower Street, Carnegie Drive, Clay Street, Cleveland Lane, and Madison Street.

Paul Robeson Place was first a lane which led to the Rev. Henry Van Dyke’s house, known as Avalon, from Bayard Lane. From Witherspoon Street to John Street, it was known as Jackson Street, “developed by James Green in the 1830s and called after his hero, U.S. President Andrew Jackson,” the book noted. The renaming of the street for actor/activist Robeson in 1976 is somewhat ironic, considering Jackson’s known racist beliefs.

University Hotel, built in 1875-76 on the busy corner of University Place (then called Railroad Avenue) and Nassau Street.

Tulane Street is named for the Tulane family. French Hugenot Louis Tulane settled in Princeton after escaping from Guadeloupe during a slave uprising in 1795. His son, Paul, made a fortune selling men’s clothing in New Orleans. He bought Lowrie House at 83 Stockton Street (now the official home of Princeton University presidents), and offered to give a large endowment to the University in 1882 if the name of the school was changed to Tulane. When the trustees declined, he gave the money to the University of Louisiana, “which gratefully became Tulane University,” the authors wrote. “He was known for his generosity, shrewdness, and colorful language. Due to the wide swath he cut between Princeton and New Orleans, he quite possibly would have wished for a more prominent highway in his memory. The statue on his grave in the Princeton Cemetery faces away from the University but looks toward Cedar Grove.” (The neighborhood where he was born.)

As for Lovers Lane, the name came “not from a spooning spot but from a corruption of the name Lubberly or Loofborough (many spellings),” wrote Hobler and Silvester. “He was a farmer who owned property on the present Guernsey Hall site in 1807.”

Tee-Ar Place is the work of developer Theodore Roosevelt Potts, who used his initials to name this street. Potts built Princeton Shopping Center in 1954.

Broadmead, the authors wrote, was once a farm known as Strawberry Hill. Part of the White City development (so-called because the stucco on the houses was then white), it was sponsored by Moses Taylor Pyne for faculty housing starting in 1910. 171 Broadmead is the former Princeton Country Day School for boys through the ninth grade. “In 1928, in town tradition, 19 ladies of the Broadmead neighborhood objected, by petition, to the Prospect Avenue location for a school,” wrote the authors. “The site was changed to the west side of Broadmead.”

Of Green Shadows Lane, they wrote: “Perhaps the loveliest name of all Princeton’s streets. Yes, it really has green shadows.”

In the painstaking process of writing of On the Streets Where We Live, Hobler and Silvester talked with builders, real estate agents, residents, and municipal staff. “In some cases, it took as many as 15 telephone calls to obtain satisfactory information,” they wrote in their epilogue. The authors end by proposing fewer streets named after trees, and more celebrating the lives of accomplished Princeton men and women, “certainly more women. Our short list includes Waxwood, Fox, Sigmund, Conover, Hulit, Van Zant, Peyton, Phox, Steadman, the Indian Chief Tainmered, Dodge, Pyne, Updike, Annis, Carnevale, and maybe Hobler and Silvester. Why not?”

New Jersey and Pennsylvania Traction Co. trolley, 1904-1922.