Our Story

The Historical Society of Princeton headquarters is at Updike Farmstead at 354 Quaker Road. A hub for cultural enrichment, experiential education, and stewardship of collections and places, HSP preserves and shares Princeton’s diverse, important, and fascinating stories with wide audiences. In so doing, HSP enhances community vitality and builds historical literacy, cornerstones of healthy civic culture.

Our Mission

Nassau Street after a snowstorm, ca. 1910
Nassau Street after a snowstorm, ca. 1910
Collection of the Historical Society of Princeton

Inspired by the worldly and entrepreneurial spirit of the citizens of Princeton, and graced by the important legacy of the town, the Historical Society of Princeton develops signature programs of learning and discovery to connect the lessons of the past to the issues which inform our future. Using our historic sites and collections, we teach local and international visitors that history is relevant in daily life, and can be used to explore a shared connection among people; to celebrate a love of place; and to promote conversations on creating a better future.

Our Vision

If we are successful in our mission, our audiences will have a passion for history and will appreciate its importance in connecting with others and learning about the world around them. By inspiring children and adults to be curious history stewards, we hope to pass along the important lessons of the past. We believe our work will ultimately lead to respectful and responsible behavior among people, toward each other, and toward the built and natural world around us.

Programs

Since its founding in 1938, the Historical Society has amassed, recorded, and exhibited a collection of over 100,000 artifacts, manuscripts, photographs, decorative arts objects, artworks, and articles of clothing dating from the 17th century to the present.This collection underscores a broad range of educational services and activities that HSP offers to local residents, students, scholars, and visitors from around the world, including walking tours, lectures, reenactments, recreational activities, and education programs for schools and the general public. The Historical Society presents these programs and more throughout the year, all aiming to enhance the interpretation of Princeton’s history and build excitement for history in general.. Every Sunday at 2pm, come join a guided walking tour of downtown Princeton and learn all about Princeton’s people, its architecture, and historical moments from an HSP-trained guide. Check our calendar for special walking tours, including the Princeton University Architecture tour and the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour: African-American Life in Princeton. The Historical Society’s lectures and panel discussions feature well-known speakers covering historical topics in Princeton, New Jersey and national history. A full slate of education programs is available to school children from kindergarten through high school.

Exhibitions

Since its founding, HSP has presented over 125 different on- and off-site exhibitions on a variety of engaging and thought-provoking historical, fine art, and community themes. Today, changing and permanent exhibitions are featured on the first floor of the Updike farmhouse. The Updike Farmstead’s permanent gallery, the Einstein Salon and Innovators Gallery, features an intimate and up-close look at highlights of HSP’s Einstein furniture collection with interpretation and photographs of Einstein’s time in Princeton from 1933-1955. The gallery is also home to a rotating display celebrating a Princeton-based innovator. On the first floor of the Updike farmhouse, visitors can also expect to learn about the history of the farm site (who owned it; how it was used; and its present-day rehabilitation) and see artwork by Rex Goreleigh, the A-Team Artists of Trenton and the Princeton Photography Club.

The Historical Society also collaborates on exhibitions at other cultural institutions in Princeton, including NEIGHBORHOOD PORTRAIT: Documenting the Witherspoon-Jackson Community at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts of the Arts Council of Princeton and an exhibition of vintage photographs at the Charles Schwab office at 132 Nassau Street.

Collections

At the heart of the Society’s ability to serve the community are its important museum and library collections. Used by scholars, students, genealogists, architects, local business people, and the general public, the collections document daily life in Princeton from early settlement through the 20th century. Items include furniture, paintings, clothing, household objects, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, directories, and manuscripts, and range from a 1760s tanner’s account ledger to a silver boudoir set owned by the daughter of Grover Cleveland. The Society’s Einstein Furniture Collection includes 65 pieces of furniture owned and used by Albert Einstein while he lived in Princeton from 1933 to 1955. This collection was supplemented in 2016 by the gift of the Gillett Griffin Collection of Einstein Ephemera, which includes, among other things, Albert Einstein’s pipe and compass and the only known self-portrait of Einstein. The Society’s library and photo archives comprise more than 38,000 manuscripts, photographs, glass-plate negatives, maps, and architectural drawings. The extensive manuscript holdings include the papers of the Stockton and Olden families, two of the town’s founding families; the papers of pioneering geologist Arnold Guyot; and the records of local organizations such as the Friendship Club, an early 20th-century African-American women’s civic group.

Preservation

Since 1989, the Historical Society of Princeton has recognized extraordinary efforts toward historic preservation in Princeton through our Preservation Awards. Past award winners have included the homeowners of such residences as Westland and Tusculum; local government agencies, including the State Division of Parks and Forestry; and educational institutions such as Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. The Historical Society also supports active preservation campaigns by providing educational and historical resources to community preservation efforts.

Membership

The Historical Society of Princeton is a private, non-profit organization. Its activities are made possible through individual contributions; grants from corporations, foundations, and government agencies; and earned income. Membership fees are an important source of income. In addition to supporting one of Princeton’s most important historical and educational resources, members enjoy the following benefits: invitations to exhibition previews and special events, discounts on Society-sponsored programs, and much more. See our Membership information page for details.