February 26, 2010 / 12:06 PM / in 8 years

Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Princeton, New Jersey

PRINCETON, New Jersey (Reuters Life!) - There can be few more historic towns in America than Princeton, which for four months in 1783, was capital of the fledgling United States.

<p>A man walks on the campus of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, November 30, 2009. REUTERS/Steve James</p>

Home to one of America’s most prestigious universities, it was the site of one of George Washington’s military victories that turned the tide of the War of Independence from Britain.

It has been home to U.S. presidents, singer and social activist Paul Robeson and Nobel Prize-winner Albert Einstein.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of a 48-hour visit to Princeton, which is situated 50 miles south of New York City and surrounded by fruit and vegetable farms.

SATURDAY

8:00 a.m. - There are plenty of hotels in the area, but the Nassau Inn, on Palmer Square, opposite the University campus, exudes 18th century elegance with all the modern amenities.

Have breakfast at the inn’s Yankee Doodle Tap Room, which also serves lunch and dinner. Egg dishes and pancakes cost between $10-$12 and while you eat you can view the Norman Rockwell mural behind the bar and the walls adorned with framed senior class photos of well-known Princeton University graduates, from Donald Rumsfeld to Brooke Shields and First Lady Michelle Obama.

9:00 a.m. - Cross Nassau Street to the Princeton campus and Nassau Hall, which was bombarded during the Revolutionary War, when it housed a British garrison. Then, when the Continental Congress met there between June and November 1783, Princeton was effectively the United States capital.

Stroll the campus with its gabled, stone dormitories and lecture halls styled on the great English universities of the 18th century. But be prepared for a shock of the modern -- architect Frank Gehry’s Lewis Science Library, with its off-kilter shiny metal roofs, which was opened in 2008.

British sculptor Sir Henry Moore’s “Oval with Points” is one of several 20th century sculptures dotting the campus and is a favorite for children to climb. Visit the Princeton University Art Museum, with its early and modern American collections.

1:00 p.m. - Lunch at Olives Deli & Bakery (22 Witherspoon St) sandwiches, salads, Greek and Italian entrees (less than $10).

2:00 p.m. - Walk the streets of elegant Georgian and colonial style homes. Woodrow Wilson, professor of law, president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey and U.S. president from 1913 to 1921, had three homes in town -- 72 and 82 Library Place and 25 Cleveland Lane.

<p>A horse-drawn carriage is seen on Nassau Street in Princeton, New Jersey, November 30, 2009. REUTERS/Steve James</p>

Another U.S. President, Grover Cleveland, settled in Princeton after his second term in 1897 and lived on Hodge Road. He died in 1908 and is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

Paul Robeson, born in 1898 at 110 Witherspoon Street, was an athlete, singer, actor, law school graduate and political activist, for which he was persecuted during the McCarthy era.

And Albert Einstein lived at 112 Mercer Street from 1936 until his death in 1955. His theory of relativity made him a world-wide celebrity and in 1921 he received an honorary degree from Princeton. Today his home is a private residence.

Although it is not the state capital, the New Jersey governor’s official residence -- the magnificently named Drumthwacket mansion -- is in Princeton. Guided tours are available on request.

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8 p.m. - Dinner at Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau Street. The dining room is on two levels facing the huge vats in which beer is brewed (tours of the brewery are available). Entrees range from $15 (Fish and Chips) to $29 (Porterhouse Steak).

Saturday night DJ starts at 10:30 p.m. (cover $5)

SUNDAY

9 a.m. - Drive 10 miles to Trenton or take New Jersey Transit train ($8.50 round-trip) or bus ($2.30 each way) to visit the Old Barracks Museum, on Barrack Street (open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Adults $8)

Staff in colonial costume explain the pivotal Battle of Trenton on Christmas Day 1776, when Washington’s rag-tag army crossed the Delaware River in a snowstorm and overpowered the British garrison of mostly Hessian troops. Barracks staff also demonstrate aspects of life in colonial America and there is a collection of archaeological finds from beer tankards to musket balls and English coins.

1 p.m. - Back to Princeton for lunch at the Alchemist & Barrister (28 Witherspoon St) - an old-fashioned pub with domestic and imported beers on tap, burgers for $13 or fish tacos, lamb stew and shepherd’s pie.

2 p.m. - Continue the historical theme, with a visit to the site of the 1777 Battle of Princeton, where Washington followed his Trenton victory with one against British forces commanded by Gen. Charles Cornwallis. There is a monument at Battlefield Park on Mercer Street, about 1-1/4 miles west of the town center. The Historical Society of Princeton (158 Nassau Street) is open on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

4 p.m. - You can’t leave town without visiting a local tradition -- the Princeton Record Exchange (20 South Tulane St). Browse for rare vinyl records, CDs and DVDs among more than 150,000 titles -- the largest selection of any independent music store in the Northeast.

Reporting by Steve James; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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