The early settlement of Princeton began in the 1830’s when families from New England and later the Mid-Atlantic states traveled west seeking good farm land. Princeton proved to be an ideal location because the land was an undulating, mostly treeless, grass-covered plain. In addition, the soil was very fertile and well drained.
When settling new land, it became common for new arrivals to come in groups to ensure congenial neighbors, schools and religious affiliations. The Hampshire Colony is believed to have been the first of these organizations to settle in Northern Illinois. The settlers arrived in Princeton in 1831, the same year the city was surveyed and a rough draft was laid out. They soon built the Hampshire Colony Congregational Church and employed as one of its earliest pastors, Owen Lovejoy, the well-known abolitionist. In addition, Reverend Lovejoy used his own home to hide runaway slaves and in 1854 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Prior and during the Civil War, Princeton became an important station on the Underground Railroad.
Shortly before the Civil War broke out, the citizens were able to convince the Burlington Railroad to lay its rails within a mile of the city. Within a few years the community had expanded its main street to meet the railroad and this action indeed benefited the community and insured its future growth.
The first high school in the state of Illinois was built in Princeton between 1866 and 1868 with the first commencement taking place in 1870. Unfortunately, this building was destroyed by fire in 1924 and was replaced by the present building in late 1925.
Those early settlers to Princeton thrived on the rich prairie and many became very wealthy. Thus, they were able to contribute in many ways to the growth and development of the community. As they retired and passed their farmland to the next generation, it became a tradition for retirees to move into town and build a grand home for their retirement years. Many of these large, beautiful homes remain and are lovingly cared for by today’s residents.