Princeton, NJ

This post office began its life in 1896 as one of a pair of Princeton dormitories — Upper Pyne and Lower Pyne — located just outside the campus gates. The buildings were named for Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921), one of Princeton’s benefactors. Architect Raleigh C. Gildersleeve modeled them on Tudor-style houses in Chester, England, and designed them with space for shops at the street level, and dormitory rooms on the floors above.

Directories show that the Princeton post office was operating in Lower Pyne as early as 1903, and remained there through 1934. The postcard shown dates from about 1912.

The postal history of this site, however, pre-dates the building of Lower Pyne by almost a century. The town of Princeton was on the first post-road between New York and Philadelphia, and received mail weekly as early as 1720. By 1791, Princeton had its own post office, and as early as 1804, that office was at “the old post office corner,” i.e., the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon Streets.

Major Stephen Morford, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, lived in a house there, where he and his family kept the Princeton post office for 30 years. Major Morford was the postmaster, then his son William, and, from 1824 to 1834, his oldest daughter Frances Witherspoon Morford.

Major John A. Perrine was the next postmaster and kept the office in the same spot, but in 1841, Robert E. Hornor was appointed and moved the post office to a building he owned. The office followed postmasters from house to house for the next 60 years or so, until it again found a home at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon, in the newly built Lower Pyne.

Images of Upper and Lower Pyne appear in at least two novels, one by Princeton alumnus F. Scott Fitzgerald who in This Side of Paradise (1920) described the buildings as “aristocratic Elizabethan ladies not quite content to live among shopkeepers,” and in another by Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman (1966).

Of the man for whom Lower Pyne is named, Moses “Momo” Pyne, one could write all day. A wealthy member of the Class of 1877, he was elected to the Princeton Board of Trustees while still in his twenties, and didn’t miss a meeting for 36 years. His extraordinary generosity to Princeton was accompanied by acts of kindness, frequently anonymous, on behalf of faculty, students, alumni and townspeople. The grounds of Pyne’s nearby estate, Drumthwacket, were open to students, and included a woods, lakes, a deer park and formal gardens. One account maintains that even the black squirrels today roaming the estate and the Princeton campus were imported by Pyne, a unique reminder of his legacy.

Miracle of miracles, Lower Pyne still stands at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon; it is the home of a jeweler, on the ground floor, with offices and apartments on the upper floors.

* * *

My thanks to Eileen Morales at the Historical Society of Princeton and Terri Nelson of the Princeton Public Library. Sources include: History of Princeton and Its Institutions ( 1878 ) by John Frelinghuysen Hageman; A Princeton Companion ( 1978 ) by Alexander Leitch; and Wikipedia for Moses Taylor Pyne.

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