Princeton Junction, NJ (PJC)
The station sits on the south side of the Northeast Corridor; travelers headed for downtown Princeton and its famous university can catch the “Dinky” train on a nearby platform.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 15,118
- Facility Ownership: New Jersey Transit Corporation
- Parking Lot Ownership: New Jersey Transit Corporation
- Platform Ownership: New Jersey Transit Corporation
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For those unfamiliar with the area, Princeton Junction is often mistaken for the picturesque college town three miles to the north. But as its name reveals, the rail station sits at the juncture of two rail lines: Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor (NEC) linking Washington, D.C. and Boston, and a short line maintained by New Jersey Transit that whisks visitors directly to the southern end of the Princeton University campus. The Amtrak station sits on the south side of the NEC, and those travelers wishing to catch the university-bound shuttle—affectionately known as the “Dinky”—must walk underneath the tracks and board at a separate platform. Princeton Junction is also served by local and regional busses.
The current two-story station opened to the public in 1987 and is fronted by a small pond ringed by groupings of trees. The structure’s contemporary design includes exterior walls composed of rough textured concrete masonry units in shades of light brown. The undulating surface of the modular blocks—characterized by ridges and valleys—helps create an ever changing interplay of light and shadow as the sun moves across the sky.
To access the waiting room and the platforms, passengers must go up to the second level since the tracks are on an embankment. Inside, a welcoming atmosphere is created by abundant natural light that spills through the windows lining the southern exposure of the waiting room; it also enters through a set of windows in the upper end of the steeply angled roof. Deep blue tile wainscoting covers all but the southern wall and provides a strong contrast to the warm, golden wood tones of the benches and the accent trim on the windows. Canopies around the second floor of the station and along the platforms protect passengers from inclement weather as they wait for the arrival of the train.
Prior to European colonization, central New Jersey was largely occupied by the Lenape American Indians. The Dutch were the first to settle in the vicinity of New York, and early histories record that they traded with the Lenape in the Princeton area during the first half of the 17th century. In 1664, the English gained control over the Dutch possessions in America, and New Jersey was divided into eastern and western sections. When the boundary was later surveyed, Princeton ended up in the eastern portion.
The first permanent European settler in the lands east of present-day Princeton was Henry Greenland, an immigrant from New England. About 1683, he constructed a house and tavern near the crossing of the Millstone River and the King’s Highway that ran between New York and Philadelphia. These towns grew into two of the most important in the British North American colonies, and the increase in trade and travel between them benefited outposts along the rough-hewn roadway. A village sprung up around the tavern, and by 1704 it was known as King’s Town, later changed to Kingston.
A few miles southwest, another settlement began on the banks of the Stony Brook. Much of the land was originally owned by William Penn, a devout Quaker and the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony on the far side of the Delaware River. In the 1690s, six Quaker families established farms along the stream. Within two decades, a boat landing and a grist mill were constructed. The stone meeting house, erected in 1724 and rebuilt in 1760, still stands close to the creek near the Mercer Road crossing.
In the 17th century, immigrants were attracted to central New Jersey for its rich farmlands. The Princeton area straddles the boundary between the sandy soils to the southeast that eventually become the Pine Barrens and the hills and mountains to the northwest. Typical crops included grains such as wheat, rye, and oats, as well as vegetables and fruits such as peaches, apples and cherries. As more people moved to the region, Stony Brook and King’s Town were supplanted by Prince’s Town—later Princeton—located about halfway between the two earlier settlements.
Although Princeton appears in local records by the 1720s, the origin of the name is unclear. Some historians suggest that it was chosen to honor William III, Prince of Orange and Nassau, who after the Glorious Revolution became King William III of England in 1689. Others believe that it may have followed a local pattern, as the towns of Kingston and Queenston were nearby; after Princeton was founded, Princessville was established further down the highway towards Trenton. Like its counterparts, Princeton began as a resting place for travelers and counted a tavern among its early buildings.
From one among many, Princeton was soon elevated above its neighbors when it was chosen as the new home of the College of New Jersey. Originally founded in 1747 in Elizabeth, the school was intended to train men for the Presbyterian ministry. It later moved to Newark, but in the early 1750s the trustees began looking for a permanent campus. Princeton won out over New Brunswick, a more established town and port on the Raritan River, because of its generous offer of land and money. The first building on campus, Nassau Hall, was ready for occupation in 1756. Constructed of sandstone and topped with a wooden cupola, the three-story building was one of the largest in the colonies and contained the dormitories, classrooms, and a chapel. The arrival of the school energized the town, and its campus became the center of local life, a trend that remains unabated.
Princeton prospered until the Revolutionary War. The corridor between Philadelphia and New York was well trodden by the American and British armies, especially during the first years of the conflict. In January 1777, Princetonians witnessed the war first hand during the battle that came to bear the name of their town. In the waning days of December, General George Washington and his troops had successfully engaged the Hessians—hired by the British army—at Trenton. In response, reinforcements were sent to attack the Americans. General Washington and his commanders decided to circle around the advancing British forces and attack from behind.
On January 3, the armies met on fields southwest of Princeton, and the Americans emerged victorious. It was Washington’s first victory over the British Regulars on the field and indicated that perhaps the Americans could indeed hold their own against the skilled British force. Fighting extended into town, where British troops barricaded themselves in Nassau Hall before surrendering. Damage from cannonball fire is still visible and is pointed out by students giving tours of the campus. Outside of town, the battlefield is now a state park, and features a monument to Washington and his troops as well as a small museum.
After the war, Princeton again found itself in the spotlight. The Continental Congress met in Nassau Hall from June to November 1783 after fleeing Philadelphia in the face of potential unrest. The area returned to its agricultural roots and the college expanded with new buildings. The highway linking New York and Philadelphia was also improved, but the state and investors began to consider other options for improving the speed of travel. Industrialization took hold in New England in the 1790s, creating new demands for the quick and efficient shipment of raw materials as well as finished goods.
In 1815 the state of New Jersey granted inventor John Stevens a charter for a steam-powered railroad to run between Trenton and New Brunswick. Although nothing immediately came of the idea, his sons Edwin Augustus and Robert Livingston took up his mantle and were instrumental in founding the Camden and Amboy Railroad (C&A) in 1830. The entire family did much to advance the cause of railroading in the United States. Robert Stevens is acknowledged as the creator of the all iron “T” rail that became a standard across the industry. The C&A is also credited with developing ties, spikes, and rail connectors that were later adopted by other railroads.
The C&A planned its initial line to take advantage of the fastest and straightest path from South Amboy, a city located on the Raritan River where it meets Lower New York Bay, to Camden on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia. The C&A gained its state charter by compromising with the rival Delaware and Raritan Canal (D&R), which also wanted the legal right to build a transportation line across the center of New Jersey. Working together as the Joint Companies, it was determined that the canal would take a more westerly route than the rail line. The C&A would focus on the passenger market while the D&R dealt with heavy freight. The first section of the C&A opened between Bordentown and South Amboy in 1832, and the link to Camden was completed two years later.
Newly arrived Irish immigrants provided much of the hand labor needed to dig the 44 mile, 7 foot deep canal, which was completed in 1834 from Bordentown on the Delaware River to New Brunswick. Paralleling Stony Brook, the canal passed about a mile south of Princeton, and was linked to downtown via Canal Road (now Anderson Road). On either side of the street were basins where boats could unload their cargos and turn around to reverse course; the northern one remains visible while its counterpart was filled in. The area around the basins and the crossing of Canal Road over the waterway became a locus for new businesses and warehouses.
In 1837, the state amended the C&A charter to allow for a branch line from Bordentown to New Brunswick via Trenton. The full line, which paralleled the D&R for half of its route—including the portion below Princeton—was completed in early 1839. South of New Brunswick, the C&A branch line linked with the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company (NJRR), which had finished its line between Jersey City and New Brunswick in 1838. By sharing tracks, the two railroads cut down the Philadelphia-New York run time to approximately five-and-a-half hours. The canal and C&A boosted manufacturers across central New Jersey by giving them access to larger regional and national markets. Near where Canal Road bridged the waterway and the tracks, the Railroad Hotel served travelers.
In the late 1850s and 1860s, the C&A realigned the branch line due to poor soil conditions along the canal; the new right-of-way largely conforms to that used as part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The improved, straighter track was located a few miles east of the canal, leaving Princeton without a rail connection. To rectify the situation, the C&A built a short line that branched off of the main line at a point in Bear Swamp. Accordingly, the area became known as Princeton Junction and was designated a hamlet within the Township of West Windsor. The railroad opened its junction depot in 1865. From early photographs, it appears to have been a picturesque one-story Carpenter Gothic structure with board and batten walls. Its gabled roof was supported by large brackets and fanciful machine-sawn trim was applied to the edge of the eaves. It was later replaced with a two-story Colonial Revival brick depot.
Opened in May 1865, the short line crossed the D&R canal just beyond the northern turning basin and paralleled Canal Street to terminate at a depot on the southern end of the college campus. Turntables at either station allowed the train to be reversed for its return run. Early on, Princetonians humorously referred to the line as the “Princeton Junction & Back” to highlight its limited number of stops. According to historic accounts, the Princeton station was a long wooden building with a gabled roof; a door at its southern end allowed the train to enter, therefore protecting passengers from rain and snow. A bell on the roof was rung to alert passengers to the train’s imminent departure.
When the Tudor Gothic styled Blair Hall was completed in 1897, its massive arched passageway became the “front door” for rail travelers arriving at the university. Interestingly, Blair Hall was made possible by a bequest from John Insley Blair, a major railroad investor who helped organize the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad in Pennsylvania’s coal country, as well as the Union Pacific Railroad out west. In 1918, the third depot near Blair Hall was torn down to accommodate new school buildings. The station site was moved a quarter of a mile south to its present location where the current Tudor style stone station opened in 1920.
To consolidate control over the lucrative rail corridor between New York and Philadelphia, the C&A and the NJRR merged in 1867 to form the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company. Four years later, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) leased the company for 999 years, in part to gain the company’s water and ferry rights over the Hudson River. The PRR would not gain direct access to Manhattan until it completed a pair of tunnels beneath the river in 1910 and opened the magnificent Pennsylvania Station in Midtown.
Princeton never experienced an industrial boom, as most of its energies were devoted to education and academic pursuits. Even after the railroad’s arrival, the canal continued to carry freight, and by the 1870s and 1880s, approximately 80 percent of its cargo was quality anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania. In the surrounding farms, fruits remained important crops and could be shipped to New York and Philadelphia within a few hours. Equidistant between those two major cities, Princeton also became an attractive suburb since it was only an hour away by rail.
In the late 19th century, Princeton developed a system of elective studies and established a graduate school. The campus was transformed over the next few decades into a collection of quads with Tudor Gothic buildings sporting turrets, crenellation, and leaded glass. This Collegiate Gothic appearance, derived from English precedents, was, and still is, imitated at schools across the country. One of America’s first female landscape architects, Beatrix Farrand, was hired in 1912 to develop a master vision for the landscape. For more than 30 years, she reworked her designs to create an aesthetic environment conducive to contemplation and learning. Native trees, shrubs, and flowers that bloomed in spring and fall were chosen to coordinate with the academic calendar when most students would be on campus.
Woodrow Wilson spent much of his formative years at Princeton as a student, professor of jurisprudence, and finally the President of the University. His tenure at the helm is noted for curriculum reform that reverberated across the American educational system. Under Wilson’s plan, students followed a unified course of study for the first two years before specializing in a particular field in their junior and senior years. For the most part, this system remains the standard in American universities. Emphasis was also placed on small group study and discussion lead by assistant professors. Wilson entered politics in 1910 when he was elected governor of New Jersey. Two years later, he became President of the United States and is the only Chief Executive to have earned a doctorate degree.
One of Princeton’s best known 20th century residents was Albert Einstein. Considered a leading mind in the realm of physics and mathematics, he first came to town in 1932 as a resident scholar at the university’s Institute for Advanced Study. The rise of Hitler in Einstein’s native Germany convinced the scientist to settle permanently in America, and he taught at Princeton for more than two decades. His house on Mercer Street is a popular destination for snapshots, but remains a private residence.
Today Princeton is known for its charming downtown streets. Within view of Nassau Hall is Palmer Square, a town center developed in the 1930s. Its Colonial Revival buildings house popular shops and restaurants that draw in both locals and visitors. Many people also come to stroll through the university campus and visit its famed art museum which holds impressive collections of Chinese and Pre-Columbian works. Nature lovers enjoy walks along the old D&R canal, which is now a state park. Its tree lined banks are a sanctuary for numerous bird species such as blue herons, orioles, warbling vireos, and barn swallows. Just west of downtown, the Drumthwacket estate serves as the official residence of the Governor. Built in the 1830s by a Princeton merchant who had made a fortune in New Orleans, the Greek Revival house was later expanded and the grounds were landscaped in the Italian fashion. The public rooms, furnished with fine antiques, are open throughout the year for guided tours.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- Quik-Trak kiosks
- Ticket sales office
- Accessible Restrooms
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible ticket office
- Accessible waiting room
- Accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- High platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift
|Mon||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Tue||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Wed||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Thu||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Fri||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Sat||07:00 am - 03:30 pm|
|Sun||07:00 am - 03:30 pm|
Ticket Office Hours
|Mon||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Tue||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Wed||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Thu||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Fri||05:15 am - 08:00 pm|
|Sat||07:00 am - 03:00 pm|
|Sun||07:00 am - 03:00 pm|