Princeton and Local History: A Resource Guide

The Princeton Room, on the library’s second floor, contains the Local History neighborhood. This collection features a variety of books and information about the history of the people and institutions of Princeton. Included are maps, census information, local newspapers on microfilm, city directories and a vertical file with a variety of uncatalogued clippings, small publications and ephemera. The resources provide the casual researcher or student an opportunity to become familiar with Princeton and its history. Materials about the surrounding area which establish historical context are also available. Also found in the Princeton Room is a collection of general genealogy reference material, African-American genealogy and history resources and first editions of books by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Princeton author John McPhee.

The Princeton Room includes some original art of specific importance to Princeton and the library. Bordering the ceiling is a series of 13 ceramic tile panels depicting scenes from Princeton’s history such as the Mercer Oak, The Witherspoon Street School and the Dinky. The panels, created by artist Katherine Hackl, were designed specifically for this space. A bronze bust of singer, actor, athlete, activist and Princeton native Paul Robeson is also on display in the Princeton Room. It was created by sculptor and painter Antonio Salemme, who was a friend of Robeson’s, in 1928 and donated to the library by Mrs. A. N. Spanel in 1986.

Periodically, the Princeton Room hosts exhibits on topics related to Princeton history in collaboration with the Historical Society of Princeton. Some of the exhibits, such as “A Prologue to the Chapters that Follow”: Princeton and Paul Robeson,” become digitial exhibits available on the Historical Society of Princeton’s website. Other exhibits of interest are: Princeton and Women’s Suffrage: “The Greatest Question of the Day,” “World War II on the Princeton Home Front” and “The Princeton Plan: 70 Years of School Integration.”

Use the links on the Princeton: A Visitor’s Guide on our website for links to walking tours (or see below) and historic sites within walking distance of the library.

Please Note

For additional information about this collection, please contact or call the 2nd floor Information Desk at 609.924.9529, ext. 1220.

Book Collection

This collection is a mixture of circulating and non-circulating titles covering topics that include the history of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, the schools and the education system, churches and organizations, architecture and parks, Princeton University history, buildings and people, and general history of Mercer County and New Jersey. There is a small but growing collection of Princeton High School yearbooks. Also included are biographies of local residents, including historical figures such as John Witherspoon and Paul Robeson as well as a modest collection of resources on African-American history and genealogy. All works are listed in the online catalog and can be searched by author, title, subject, and keyword.


The library currently receives the weekly copies of the Town Topics. Only the two most recent months can be found in the Newsroom on the 2nd floor. The library does not keep back issues of these papers in print but instead relies on the searchable online database, Papers of Princeton, for digitized copies of historical newspapers, as well as the Princeton Packet and Town Topic online archives and our microfilm holdings (listed below). Refer to the section below, Local Newspaper Indexes and Online Databases, for detailed information about the Papers of Princeton, what it includes, plus how to access and search this vital resource.

Back issues of the Princeton Packet are available on microfilm. These are being slowly digitized and added to Papers of Princeton, under their original names (Princeton Whig, Princeton Press, Princeton Standard, etc.). The online version of the Packet with recent articles can be found here. Back issues of the Town Topics are on microfilm through 2009. Current and archived past issues of Town Topics are available on their website and digitized issues for the years 1946-2013 are available through Papers of Princeton. The Woman’s Newspaper of Princeton is also included in Papers of Princeton as are the Princeton Herald and the Princeton Recollector.

Princeton news can also be found in other area newspapers, many of which have been digitized. The New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project, an ongoing project at the New Jersey State Library, includes a list of digitized newspapers and how to access them, along with a link to the fully digitized book, Directory of New Jersey Newspapers, 1765-1970. The library owns a print copy of this title. Also found here is a link to a list of localities (place names) in the state.

The New York Times also includes quite a bit of Princeton news, particularly from the past. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: US Major Dailies 1849-2019 can be used to access these articles. All visitors to the library have access while in the library and library cardholders can access this database from home. Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers, a project of the Library of Congress and NEH, is another excellent resource for information about historic newspapers.

Local Newspapers on Microfilm

The library has the following local newspapers on microfilm. To access these, please ask for assistance at the 2nd floor Information Desk. Click on the title of the newspaper to view the online catalog record for more information. Use Papers of Princeton whenever possible.

The Princeton Packet [July 12, 1839 – present, with gaps]. Name changes many times over the years.

1839-1854: Princeton Whig and Mercer County Advertiser, reels 1-7
1854-1860: Princeton Press, reels 7-10
1859-1870: Princeton Standard, reels 11-14
1870-1872: Princetonian, reels 13-14
1873-1916: Princeton Press, reels 15-54
1916-1920: Princeton Packet, reels 54-58
1920-1955: Packet, reels 58-59
1955-10/1955: Princeton Packet, merging w/Hopewell Herald, Nov. 1955, reel 79
Nov 1955-April 1956: Princeton Packet and Hopewell Herald, reels 79-80
1956 to present: Princeton Packet, Reel 80+

Princeton Herald  [November 1923-December 1966]
The Princeton Recollector  [May 1975 – Autumn 1986]
Town Topics  [March 17, 1946 – December 20, 2009]
Woman’s Newspaper of Princeton [April 6, 1982 – December 1991]

There is a Crowley UScan HD+ microfilm/microfiche reader printer in the Business Center on the 2nd floor. Library users are now able to print and/or email images as well as save to a flash drive or to a variety of cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox. The library is unable to lend microfilm through interlibrary loan so please contact us if you have questions regarding the microfilm.

Local Newspaper Indexes & Online Databases

Currently, there are a only a few newspaper indexes for the newspapers owned by the library or others in the Princeton area. However, each index has its own rules for what was included and they are often incomplete, with varying dates of coverage and with many articles from the newspapers not appearing in the index at all, particularly the library’s own Princeton Packet and Town Topics Index. See specific notes in the entries below. Please contact us or visit the 2nd floor Information Desk if you need assistance with your research.

Papers of Princeton

The Papers of Princeton is an online searchable database of full text digitized images from area publications including Town Topics, Princeton Herald, Princeton Recollector, The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University Weekly Bulletin, Local Express, and Nassau Literary Review, plus early issues of Princeton Packet (under its earlier names) and The Woman’s Newspaper of Princeton. With many options for searching, including name, subject, keyword, date, title of newspaper, as well as the ability to save, download or print articles or even read an entire issue cover-to-cover, this is the best, most complete resource available for accessing historical newspapers specific to Princeton.

This database is a collaboration between Princeton University, The Historical Society of Princeton and the Princeton Public Library. It is an ongoing project and we anticipate more titles and dates being added in the future. Please check the database for current coverage. Read more about the descriptions of the included publications here. Learn more about the ongoing digitization project here.

Local Newspaper Index

This index was created and maintained by library staff and volunteers for a limited number of years, first as card catalog (see below) of article citations which then moved to the more accessible online version. Princeton Packet and Town Topics index began in the mid 1990s, covering the years 1983-2006, with some gaps in the earlier years. Obituaries from both newspapers are indexed back to 1975 and from 1892 to 1950 for the Princeton Packet only. It includes the indexing of more articles from both newspapers than appears on the microfilm index, but is still limited in scope to Princeton Borough and Princeton Township people, places, and events, and not the surrounding areas. Search by name, keyword, controlled subject heading, date, newspaper name, and type of article. Due to the limited scope and possible gaps in coverage, not finding a reference in the index does not necessarily mean the article was not in the newspaper.

This is not a full-text database and will only give a citation for an article. The complete article will be only be found on the library’s microfilm collection of the Princeton Packet. Town Topics articles can be found in the Papers of Princeton database.

For the researcher, this means that even if the article or subject is not in the index, it could still be in the newspaper, but will require more effort to locate it. Please contact us at or call us at 609.924.9529, ext. 1220 and we will help you navigate this resource.

Princeton Packet and Town Topics Index on Microfilm

As part of a bicentennial project (around 1976), the library began indexing the two local newspapers, the Princeton Packet and Town Topics. This was a physical card catalog that was microfilmed and includes the dates from 1975-1986 and now exists on 7 reels of microfilm. The card catalog is no more. This index is the precursor of the Local Newspaper Index, and these card catalog/microfilm entries were added to the Local Newspaper Index online version. These is almost no reason, except curiosity, to search this resource as its information is now available online.

This was a highly selective index, with a very narrow scope, focusing specifically on articles about Princeton Borough and Princeton Township people, places, and events, and included nothing from the surrounding areas, even if it appeared in the issue of the newspaper. In addition, only a few of the articles that fell within this scope were actually indexed from each issue. It was at the discretion of the volunteer indexer. While the date and page number information should be correct for entries found, the headlines were often changed depending on the indexer’s decision at that moment.

For the researcher, this means that even if the article or subject is not in the index, it could still be in the newspaper, but will require more effort to locate it. Please contact us at or call us at 609.924.9529, ext. 1220 and we will help you navigate this resource.

Town Topics Archive

A searchable, full-text version of the Town Topics is available in Papers of Princeton, an ongoing project to digitize local papers. Coverage is March 17, 1956 through December 2013, with some gaps. For more recent issues of the Town Topics, visit their website and access the archive of back issues in addition to the current issues. For a more comprehensive list of options for accessing Town Topics issues, click here.

Princeton Packet Archives

As part of an ongoing project with Princeton University, the Princeton Packet (under its variety of earlier names) is in the process of being digitized and images are being added to Papers of Princeton. Recently added are Princeton Whig, Princeton Press, and Princeton Standard, for roughly the years 1834 to 1870 with huge gaps. See the database for specific years and issue dates that are currently viewable. See also the Local Newspaper Index.  For dates between 1956 and 2013, you might find references to events that were reported in Town Topics, which is digitized and searchable through Papers of Princeton. You can then manually search the Princeton Packet microfilm around the relevant dates to see what was reported in the Packet, if anything.

More recent issues of the Princeton Packet, 2016 to present, are available online. Click on the “Papers” tab and scroll to the bottom of the list to “Read Digital Issues Online.” Also found on this site are the Archives for 2000-2015. Or use this link to page through the complete issue of more recent dates. For a more comprehensive list of options for accessing Princeton Packet issues, click here.

Princeton Recollector Index

This is available in print in the Local History Neighborhood and is not all that helpful.  Call number: Local History REF 071.4965 Sub. The digitized version of the Recollector newspaper is now included in the Papers of Princeton.

Maps: Print & Digital

The map case in the Princeton Room includes a small but interesting collection of historical Princeton Borough and Princeton Township printed maps. These include zoning maps, street maps, and bicycle maps. Search for a specific map in the library’s online catalog if you know of words from the title of the map. Or view a list of all cataloged maps using this link for the Princeton Public Library Map Collection. In the catalog record, look under “About” and click on “Full Details” to learn more.

Additional printed maps can be found in some of the Polk city directories, in old phone books, as part of individual books that are part of the Local History neighborhood and in the Princeton Architectural Survey. There may also be uncatalogued maps in the Vertical File.

Many of these maps were donations from Princeton University and may be part of their Digital Maps & Geospatial Data collection which also includes the Sanborn Insurance Maps for Princeton. There are quite a number of map collections accessible online that offer fully digitized maps, both historical and more current.

For a list of these digital map collections, complete with links for easy access, please refer to this document.

City Directories & Telephone Directories

The library has a variety of directories for locating addresses of Princeton residents and local businesses as well as Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary students. City directories can include professional and marital status of the occupants as well as a list of other members of the household.  Some of the directories also include maps. Phone directories may include both white and yellow pages. Criss-cross directories include listings by (listed) phone numbers and street address. To access these, please ask for assistance at the 2nd floor Information Desk.

Princeton Directories and Polk’s Princeton Directories

In print: the library has 1916-1917 to 1982, with some gaps.  Click here for complete holdings and click on “Availability by Location” on the right hand side of the screen.

On microfilm: the library has City Directories of the United States, Princeton including the years 1901-1935, on 3 reels of microfilm.  For access, please ask for assistance at the 2nd floor Information Desk.

Online: A smattering of years are available via the HeritageQuest database. These years are: 1901-1915, 1919, 1921-1928, 1931-1936, 1938-1942, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958. Princeton Public Library cardholders can access this database from home.

Some of the older directories also include maps.

Princeton Community Phone Book

These items are uncatalogued and are not in the online catalog.  Years held: 1961, 1963-1989, 1997-2001 and 2003.

Yellow Book Princeton

These items are uncatalogued and are not in the online catalog. Years held: 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2014-2015, 2015-2016.

Princeton and Suburban Trenton, including Trenton Phone Book

These items are uncatalogued and are not in the online catalog. Years held: 1979, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016.

Criss-Cross Directories

The titles have changed over the years, but include Hill-Donnelly and InfoUSA City directories as title variants. The library has Princeton and Suburban Trenton versions which can include  Bordentown, Ewing, Mercerville, Trenton, Allentown, Cranbury, Hightstown, Hopewell, Lambertville, Lawrenceville, Pennington, and Plainsboro. These are organized by listed phone number or street address.

Click here for complete holdings and click on “Availability by Location” on the right hand side of the screen. 

Census on Microfilm

There is a small collection of census information from New Jersey Census Schedules and United States Census Schedules available on microfilm. Information recorded by the census includes identifying the head of each household as well as the names, dates of birth, race, age, marital status, etc. for every individual within.

New Jersey Census Schedules

1885 Mercer County
1895 Mercer County
1905 Mercer County
1915 Mercer County

United States Census Schedules

1830 Somerset, Middlesex, and Hunterdon Counties
1840 Mercer County, complete
1850 Mercer County, complete
1860, Mercer County, excludes Trenton
1870, Mercer County, Parts 1 and 2
1880, Mercer County, Parts 1 and 2
1890, Special Censuses of Union Veterans and their widows
1910, Hunterdon County, Mercer County: E. Windsor, Ewing, Hamilton, Hightstown, Hopewell, Lawrence, Pennington, Princeton, Washington, W. Windsor, Trenton, Parts 1 and 2
1920 Mercer County, Trenton City

Princeton Vertical File

The Princeton Vertical File was once the only means to keep track of local information of interest at that moment or historical information, prior to the internet and online resources. The material found here was actively collected from the 1970s to the 1990s and is not currently updated. Material found here can include newspaper clippings, brochures, flyers, handouts, directories, meeting notes and minutes, newsletters, and more. The information is organized by subject, including the local Princeton governments, schools, buildings and institutions, people, and organizations. Individual items are not cataloged.


There is a small but growing collection of “The Prince,” the Princeton High School yearbook. Check here for the complete holdings. Click on “Availability by Location” on the right hand side of the screen.

Additional Princeton History Resources

Walking Tours

Download the Historical Society of Princeton’s app and take a walk through the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District on “The Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour: African American Life in Princeton,” narrated by Shirley Satterfield, a longtime Princetonian and local historian. The tour is also available on the web. You can also explore Hamilton’s Princeton as a virtual tour or discover Princeton in the 18th century with the Green Oval Tour.

Take the Witherspoon Jackson Historical and Cultural Society’s Heritage Plaque tour of the same historic district, either virtually or on foot. The first plaque of the tour is on the plaza side of the library, honoring Albert E. Hinds, whom the plaza is named for.

There are a number of University walking tours available through GuidiGo, either online or through the app. Topics include stories of women, traditions, African American life, “Firsts,” and Asian American life.

Visit the many sites that are part of the Arts Council of Princeton’s Tour of the Public Art Around Town.

Libraries, Historical Societies, and Special Collections

A wealth of information can be found in other collections, including at the Historical Society of Princeton. Visit its website to see resources such as a digital database of photographs and easy access to their digital walking tours of Princeton neighborhoods.

Also explore:

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