History of Princeton Nurseries
Encompassing nearly 530 acres in South Brunswick and Plainsboro townships, the Princeton Nurseries properties lie in the southern end of the Kingston greenbelt. These present sites of rich natural and historic interest, ranging from stream corridors and wetlands, woodlands, and prime agricultural lands to nursery structures of compelling historical and educational value.
Princeton Nurseries was established by William Flemer, Sr. shortly before the first world war and grew to become the largest commercial nursery in the United States by the time it left Kingston in 1995 (the operation moved to Allentown, NJ). In its 85-year history here, Princeton Nurseries introduced important plant varieties including the legendary, disease-resistant Princeton Elm, the ‘October Glory’ Maple, and the ‘Snow Queen’ Hydrangea, many of which still grow on the Princeton Nursery lands. The Flemers also developed innovative horticultural practices and technologies still used today, and fabricated the prototypes for many of their tools in the nursery workshops on Mapleton Road. At its peak, Princeton Nurseries farmed considerable land in South Brunswick, Plainsboro, West Windsor, and Franklin Township-1,200 acres in all. Today, more than 500 acres of the former nursery lands remain undeveloped in South Brunswick and Plainsboro, little changed from the days when Princeton Nurseries employed 300 at its Kingston operations-and provided the village’s water supply!
The story of the Princeton Nurseries site in Kingston starts in 1911. After a thorough search of sites in the eastern U.S., William Flemer, Sr. chose Mapleton, south of the recently completed Carnegie Lake, as a site for his wholesale nursery. At the time, commercial transportation moved by rail or boat, and the Mapleton location, halfway between New York and Philadelphia and astride both the D&R Canal and the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, offered great logistical advantages. The soil, rich loam created during the last ice age, is virtually free of rocks and stones, even though less than two miles north, at Trap Rock Quarry, a massive diabase ridge dominates the land.
Flemer purchased his first property, the sixty-five acre Myrick farm, for $9,000 in 1913. The adjoining sixty-five acre Higgins farm was purchased in 1914, followed by the 85-acre Van Dyke farm and the 70-acre Archibald Gulick farm. These four connected purchases totaled 265 acres. After serving in World War I, Flemer’s son William Flemer, Jr. returned and began purchasing additional adjoining properties, building the nursery holdings to about 1,200 acres. Wherever possible, Flemer bought both land and houses, in order to provide housing for nursery employees. Today, nearly 25 historic structures remain, including the Matthias Van Dyke house, “Mapleton”, the oldest section of which was built in 1742 and which still bears scars of British cannon fire and carved signatures and dates as early as 1777.
William Flemer Jr. was industrious and inventive. He built a system of greenhouses, installed a vast irrigation network and water tower that provided water for the nursery and nursery houses, as well as for the village of Kingston. Influenced by the French countryside he’d seen during the War, Flemer checkered the landscape with magnificent windbreaks, and lined Mapleton Road with an avenue of plane trees, now some 80 years old.
William Flemer III and John Flemer continued to nurture the business, overseeing the propagation of new ornamental trees and shrubs and bringing the nursery to national prominence. The nurseries were granted dozens of patents on trees including the ‘Shademaster’ locust and ‘Village Green Zelkova’ elm.
US Plant Patents associated with Princeton Nurseries and Wm Flemer III
PP1515 Gleditsia tricanthos ‘Shademaster’ a.k.a. ‘Princeton’ (1956)
PP3092 Amelanchier x ‘Cumulus‘ (1972)
PP4119 Campsis radicans “Crimson Trumpet” (1977)
PP4458 Hydrangea quercifolia “Snow Queen” (1979)
PP4540 Prunus subhirtella “Pink Cloud” (1980)
PP4632 Flowering Crab Apple Tree (Malus hupehensis x M atrosanguinea) “Strawberry Parfait” (1981)
PP5080 Zelkova Serrata Tree “Green Vase” (1983)
PP5524 Sophora japonica Princeton Upright (1985)
PP5730 Flowering Cherry Tree (Prunus yedoensis “Afterglow” (1986)
PP5800 Flowering Crab Apple Tree (Malus “Bridal Bouquet”) (1986)
PP6727 Princeton Gold (Acer platanoides) (1989)
PP7072 Amelanchier canadensis “White Pillar” (1988)
PP7147 Malus hupenhensis named ‘Cardinal’ (1990)
PP7203 Amelanchier laevis “Majestic” (1990)
PP7217 Acer palmatum “Crimson Prince” (1990)
PP9093 Quercus palustris ‘Pringreen’ (1995)
PP10481 Cletra lanifolia Plant Named ‘September Beauty’ (1998)
PP10557 Maackia amurensis Plant Named ‘Starburst’ (1998)
PP10989 Prunus sargentii Plant named ‘Princeton Snowcloud’ (1999)
PP11055 Forsythia Hybrid Plant Named ‘Princeton Gold’ (1999)
Princeton Nurseries started purchasing land in Allentown, NJ in 1962 and moved the entire operation there by the end of the 1990′s. The company closed operations in Spring of 2010.
Additional information on the history of Princeton Nurseries can be found on the Kingston Greenways Association web site at: http://www.kingstongreenways.org/pnl/pnl1recollector.html
Information on the history of Kingston can also be found on the Kingston Greenways Association web site at: http://www.kingstongreenways.org/history.html