Princeton’s Summer Trips Across North America

Although traveling significant distances is routine for many Princetonians these days, traversing North America was not always as easy as it is now. Our records reveal a variety of both academic and pleasure trips over the years that have used horses, trains, cars, and bicycles to reach their destinations.

Most of the lengthy North American journeys Princetonians took in the 19th century were scientific expeditions, starting with the astronomical expeditions of the early part of century. Most of those were along the east coast, but in July and August 1869, with help from institutional and federal funding, a group of Princetonians took trains to Ottumwa, Iowa, to view a total solar eclipse. It took nearly five days to reach Ottumwa and three days to return. One student later wrote that aside from the spectacular event of the eclipse itself, “The great impression I received was concerning the magnitude of our country. We had passed through very varied scenery for nights and days, travelling over a country large enough to comprise all the kingdoms of Europe, all teeming with life and prosperity, and yet had only passed over about one-third of the extent…”

The first Geological Expedition took its participants (18 students and two professors) further into the American west on an 11-week trek to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah in the summer of 1877. Three Princeton juniors (William Berryman Scott, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Francis Speir) had taken a geology course with Arnold Guyot and had read reports about fossil-collection trips Yale had taken. They were determined that Princeton should not be left out of these types of adventures and convinced others to join them.

They took a train to Denver. Princeton had two cars of its own, one for baggage and one for passengers. The expedition party boarded at the Dinky station at about 8:00PM on June 21 and arrived in Denver on June 25 after a few stops along the way, including Chicago and Kansas City. In his memoir, Some Memories of a Palaeontologist, Scott described the journey this way:

Of our journey, novel to most of us though it was, there was not much to be said. The Middle West was not then the busy, prosperous region it has since become, and the principal impression which it made upon me then was one of crudeness and shabbiness. The roads were quagmires of black mud; the towns were chiefly of wood and sadly in need of paint and, though there were a great many fine-looking farms, the journey was a depressing experience. (p. 60-61)

In Denver, the faculty secured horses and wagons and the group set up camp just outside the city, then a town of about 25,000 people, for a few days, where one traveler wrote that they “slept soundly in our blankets using our saddles as pillows.”

The Princeton Scientific Expedition camping out at Fairplay, Colorado, in the summer of 1877. Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection (AC012), Box 3, Folder 2.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, ABC features the campus in a documentary about gay activism, a train passes through advertising the benefits of living in Florida, and more.

June 7, 1977—A discussion between gay activists and Princeton students is featured in a documentary on ABC.

June 8, 1990—DeNunzio Pool is set to be dedicated, but does not open on schedule. It will open in September 1990.

June 9, 1890—“Florida on Wheels,” a special train car, demonstrates what life in Florida might have to offer to Princeton residents.

Advertisement from Daily Princetonian.

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