Tusculum and the John Witherspoon Woods
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey
58 acres


Located north and east of Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and Community Park North. The John Witherspoon Woods borders Mountain Lakes Park and is contiguous with the portion of Tusculum.

From Nassau Street in downtown Princeton take NJ 2-6 north for less than one mile to Mountain Avenue.  Turn left on Mountain Avenue and follow for a short distance to parking area for Mountain Lakes/North Side Community Park on the right.  Mountain Lakes is adjacent to the west side of this park.


large diabase rocks


1723  -- John Witherspoon born in Scotland.

1768  -- Witherspoon comes to the American colonies to be the sixth president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton College).  He lived at first in the President's House (now called the John Maclean House).

1772   after several years at Maclean House, he moved about a mile north of the village to "Tusculum,'' a handsome residence he built.  The house still stands on Cherry Hill Road. The street named for him follows the route he would take to and from the College.  He named the house Tusculum, after Cicero's Roman summer home.  The original wooden house burned down soon after it was constructed.

1773  --   the house was rebuilt, but this time of stone. 

The house and 20 acres surrounding it are recognized by the National Register. The barn is one of the best examples of early 18th century barns in New Jersey.

1776 -- Witherspoon signs the Declaration of Independence.

1782 (November) --  he resigned from Congress.

1789  -- death of his wife.

1791  -- marries a woman of 24, which caused a lot of gossip. 

1792  --  Witherspoon becomes blind.

1794  -- death of John Witherspoon.

1998  -- the house was reconstructed.

The Pardee family formerly resided at Tusculum.

Part of Tusculum, the John Witherspoon Woods, was donated to Princeton Township by the Pardee family.  Another piece, adjacent to Mountain Lakes and the John Witherspoon Woods, was acquired with the help of Mercer County when the new owners of Tusculum took possession.


John Witherspoon Woods Trail inaugurated October 6, 2002..  It starts at Mountain Lakes Park.

The woods were given to the township by the Pardee family, which formerly resided at Tusculum. Tusculum is located on Cherry Hill Road and was the country home of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and early president of Princeton University.

The Greater Mountain Lakes Open Space Area (315 acres) has been called the "central park" of Princeton.  It consists of three sections: Mountain Lakes Preserve and Mountain Lakes North; John Witherspoon Woods; and Community Park North.


woods, streams, field


The yellow blazed John Witherspoon Trail was a joint project of the Friends of Princeton Open Space and the Garden Club of Princeton. The trail begins at Mountain Lakes Park. The trail is contiguous with the portion of Tusculum that was acquired through a project initiated by the Friends of Princeton Open Space and funded by Mercer County.

The mile to mile-and-a-half loop extends a linked system that includes Coventry Farm, Mountain Lakes, Community Park North and the back part of Tusculum, a large farm located on Cherry Hill Road.

The Friends of Princeton Open Space hopes to link more Princeton parks and open spaces through additional trails and land acquisitions.

map at: http://www.njtrails.org/trailmap.php?TrailID=16

10/09/2004.  After a morning trip at Autumn Hill Reservation, Rosemary Cooney, dog Sonar, Sarah-David Rosenbaum and I parked at the Mountain Lakes Park parking lot.  We walked past the restrooms and picked up the asphalt road heading north.  After a short walk we come to the intersection with the James C. Sayen Trail on the left and the John Witherspoon Woods Trail on the right.  There is here a kiosk with a map of the area. We turn right to take the Witherspoon Woods Trail with its yellow metal discs with a hiker emblazoned on it.  We pass a sign that says turn right for Mountain Lakes House; we go straight.  We follow the trail and come to a large field with lots of purple top grass.  We head into the field to find some new plant species for our plant list.  We return to the trail which has lots of white pine on the right and Norway spruce on the left.  We come to a T-intersection a the Loop Trail.  We turn left and head over a stream and then uphill for on a short rise.  We walk along with a stream and a fence set up to protect private property on our left.  We see a terrible sight of a field of Japanese stilt grass.  We pass over a gas pipe power cut. We see more open woods with fields of Japanese stilt grass.  Sign for Mountain Lakes North, the trail heading left.  We continue on.  As we approach the sign for Stuart Road we were a bit confused but found that continuing on past the sign is the way to go.  We then come to an area filled with large boulders.  There is a cave up the hill created by large boulders having fallen on each other just the right way.  We continue on and come back to the stream we had passed earlier and then come to our original T-intersection marking the start of the Loop Trail.  We retrace our steps the way we came in back to the parking lot. 

We found a mystery shrub that was very prevalent in the area.  The shrub with its prominent red berries makes for a pleasing sight.  The toothed leaves vary a bit but there are many that are obovate, looking like an upside-down tear drop. 

Dr. Patrick L. Cooney, Sarah-David Rosenbaum
* = plant found in bloom on date of field trip, 10/09/04

Acer negundo (ash-leaf maple)
Acer platanoides (Norway maple)
Acer rubrum (red maple)
Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven)
Betula lenta (black birch)
Carpinus caroliniana (musclewood)
Carya glabra (pignut hickory)
Carya ovata (shagbark hickory)
Carya tomentosa (mockernut hickory)
Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)
Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Ilex opaca (American holly)
Juniperus virginiana (red cedar)
Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum)
Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
Morus alba (white mulberry)
Nyssa sylvatica (tupelo)
Ostrya virginiana (American hop hornbeam)
Paulownia tomentosa (empress tree)
Picea abies (Norway spruce)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Pyrus malus (apple)
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus palustris (pin oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust)
Salix sp. (willow)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Tilia americana (American basswood)
Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock)
Ulmus americana (American elm)

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry)
Euonymus alatus (winged euonymus)
Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel)
Ligustrum sp. (privet)
Lindera benzoin (spicebush)
Lonicera mackii (Amur honeysuckle)
Lonicera morrowii (Morrow's honeysuckle)
Mitchella repens (partridgeberry)
Pachysandra terminalis (pachysandra)
Photinia villosa (Oriental photinia) ? this horticultural plant is very common especially along the park road
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry)
Rubus phoenicolasius (wineberry)
Rubus sp. (black berry)
Sambucus canadensis (common elderberry)
Viburnum alnifolium (hobblebush viburnum)
Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum)

Celastrus orbiculatus (Asiatic bittersweet)
Dioscorea villosa (wild yam root)
Hedera helix (English ivy)
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
Smilax glauca (sawbrier)
Smilax rotundifolia (round-leaved greenbrier)
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
Vitis sp. (grape)

Acalypha sp. (three-seeded mercury)
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow)
Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common mugwort)
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit)
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)
Aster divaricatus (white wood aster) *
Bidens sp. (beggar ticks)
Boehmeria cylindrica (false nettle)
Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower) ?
Chelone glabra (white turtlehead) *
Cichorium intybus (chicory) *
Cirsium discolor (field thistle)
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace)
Epifagus virginiana (beech drops)
Epilobium coloratum (purple willowherb)
Erythronium americanum (trout lily)
Eupatorium rugosum (white snakeroot) *
Geum canadense (white avens)
Impatiens sp. (jewelweed)
Lespedeza cuneata (Chinese bush clover)
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs) *
Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco)
Lycopus sp. (water horehound)
Lysimachia nummularia (moneywort)
Mimulus ringens (monkey flower)
Oxalis sp. (yellow wood sorrel) *
Penstemon sp. (beard tongue))
Pilea pumila (clearweed)
Polygonum cespitosum (cespitose smartweed) *
Polygonum hydropiper (water pepper) *
Polygonum sagittatum (arrow-leaf tearthumb))
Polygonum virginianum (jumpseed)
Potentilla canadensis (dwarf cinquefoil)
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaved mountain mint) )
Smilax herbacea (carrion flower)
Solanum carolinense (horse nettle)
Solidago caesia (blue-stem goldenrod) *
Solidago rugosa (rough-stemmed goldenrod) *
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
Verbena urticifolia (white vervain)

Juncus tenuis (path rush)

Carex laxiflora type (loose-flowered type sedge)
Carex lurida (sallow sedge)
Scirpus atrovirens (dark-green bulrush)

Andropogon virginicus (broom sedge grass)
Bromus inermis (smooth brome grass)
Cinna arundinacea (wood reed grass)
Elymus hystrix (bottle-brush grass)
Elymus sp. (wild rye grass)
Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stilt grass)  -- fields and fields of it
Panicum clandestinum (deer-tongue grass)
Phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass)
Phragmites australis (giant reed grass)
Setaria faberi (nodding foxtail grass)
Setaria glauca (yellow foxtail grass)
Sorghastrum nutans (Indian nut grass)
Tridens flavus (purple top grass)

Ferns and fern allies:
Equisetum arvense (field horsetail)
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern)
Polypodium sp. (rockcap fern)
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)
Thelypteris noveboracensis (New York fern)
Thelypteris hexagonoptera (southern beech fern)

Source: "Friends toast $1 millon -donation milestone." Packet Online. 10/15/2002. http://www.pacpub.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=5710995&BRD=1091&PAG=461&dept_id=346950&rfi=8