Princeton is an unusual river town, one that has historically been less dependent on the river than its neighbors. It found new life in the late 20th century as a bedroom community for commuters working in the Quad Cities.
Your best bet for information about Princeton is to stop at the library (see below).
Thomas Hubbard and Israel Atherton were among the first settlers; each ran a ferry to the Illinois shore. Brothers Giles and Haswell Pinneo arrived in 1836. According to one story, when Giles reached the Mississippi River, he hopped on a log and paddled his way to the other shore where he set up his home. Haswell built a cabin in what is now the south part of Princeton; this area became known as Pinneo’s Landing. Giles built northwest of Haswell; that area became known as Pinneo’s Grove. The villages of Pinneo’s Landing, Elizabeth City, and Pinnacle Point merged into the new town of Princeton in the mid-1840s and the village was formally incorporated in 1857; it had nearly 1,000 residents by 1860. Princeton had a stagecoach connection to Lyons (now Clinton) in the mid-1800s. A standard journey for the 40-mile roundtrip route took about 11 hours, including an hour for lunch in Princeton, assuming the road through the Wapsipinicon River wasn’t worse than its standard muddy mess.
Even though Princeton counted many riverboat pilots among its early residents, its economy was tied closely to agriculture. Throughout most of the 19th century, wheat was the crop of choice, but a series of dry summers in the late 1890s led most farmers to switch to other crops such as corn, oats, or hay. Princeton’s population has bounced around like a ping pong ball, dropping to 400 by the late 1880s before rebounding in the 20th century. After World War II, Princeton’s proximity to the Quad Cities spurred residential expansion and the population grew again.
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The Princeton State Wildlife Management Area (266th St.; 515.281.5918) is located just south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wapsipinicon Rivers; it is well-known for its wildlife and is a popular place to hunt, fish, and watch birds. If you are lucky, you may even come across a mink, muskrat, or beaver.
Princeton has two small parks next to the river at the marina on River Drive where picnicking is an option: Riverfront Park and Clemens Park. High atop the hills, Harold B. Woomert Park (Chestnut S. & 5th St.) has a nice view of the valley.
Blackhawk State Bank (335 River Dr.) has a dock for its customers who do their banking by boat.
On the north end of town, you will find the ruins of a stone house with a round silo-like structure next to it. These were built in 1891 by Aaron Lancaster; the round structure was a windmill, one of the first in the area. The top of the tower had a series of vertical and horizontal slats that connected to a system of pulleys and gears. Wind blowing off the Mississippi River provided enough movement to provide power for cutting wood.
Getting Out on the River
Princeton Outdoor Adventures (203 River Dr.; 563.289.5445; call in advance to arrange) rents canoes and kayaks from Princeton Beach Marina.
Entertainment and Events
The Princeton Day Celebration (563.289.5315), typically held at the end of August, is the town’s annual salute to itself.
Eating and Drinking
Go Fish Marina Bar & Grill (411 River Dr.; 563.289.5137) serves standard bar food but you won’t care much about what you’re eating when you are sitting on their second floor deck next to the Mississippi River.
Post Office: 634 US Highway 67; 563.289.4013.
Scott County Library—Princeton, 328 River Dr.; 563.289.4282.
Heading upriver? Check out Folletts.
Heading downriver? Check out LeClaire.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009