The Mission of the Princeton Battlefield Society
The Ionic Colonnade that graces the western side of the battlefield park stands near the original location of the home of William Clarke, one of the brothers who farmed the surrounding land at the time of the battle. The columns and lintel actually originated as the portico of the mansion of Philadelphia merchant Matthew Newkirk, who had commissioned Thomas Walter, later the designer of the dome of the U.S. Capitol, for its construction. When Newkirk’s home was demolished around 1900, the colonnade was salvaged and transported to Princeton become the entrance of Mercer Manor, another distinguished home that stood on the edge of the battlefield until it was destroyed by fire in the 1950s. At that time, the Institute for Advanced Study owned the property and donated its portico to the State of New Jersey. The Colonnade was dedicated where it stands in 1959, and declared a National Historic Monument in 1962.
The Colonnade is more than an architectural curiosity, though, since it is placed to serve as both an entrance and marker for the gravesite of fallen soldiers that lies nearby. A plaque on the portico notes:
“In the memorial grove beyond you, those who fell in the Battle of Princeton, both American and British, lie buried. The historic portico in which you stand was re-erected here to mark the entrance to the tomb of these unknown soldiers of the Revolution”
The memorial was erected in 1918, in memory of the thirty-six unknowns buried here, including fifteen American and twenty-one British soldiers. The words engraved on the tablet are those of Alfred Noyes (1880 – 1958), taken from his poem “Princeton” (1917). Noyes was a visiting professor at Princeton University, and later became Poet Laureate of England. He wrote his poem 140 years after the battle, at a time when American and British soldiers were fighting together in support of their common heritage of freedom. The opening lines of the poem are quoted on the plaque:
"Here Freedom stood by slaughtered friend and foe,
And, ere the wrath paled or that sunset died,
Looked through the ages; then, with eyes aglow,
Laid them to wait that future, side by side."
The Colonnade can be considered a fitting tribute both to the brave Americans who fell at Princeton and, by echoing the artistry of ancient Greece, a reminder of the long history of the ideals of freedom and self-government for which they fought.