Princeton, Illinois, has long been considered a charming, historic town. With its brick streets, fine architecture and stately trees, the setting is idyllic. Situated on the rolling prairie land of north central Illinois, Princeton began as a transplanted New England community.
The early settlement of Princeton began in the 1830s when families from New England traveled west in search of new land. In March 1831, the Hampshire Colony Church was organized at a meeting in Northampton, County of Hampshire, Massachusetts.
By May, the colony left for Illinois and settled in Bureau County. They named the town Greenfield, but it was soon renamed Princeton. Four years after their arrival, the settlers built a wood-framed church on the Court House Square. Later, a new church was built on South Church Street.
In 1838, Owen Lovejoy came to Princeton, then a village of about 200 people, and assumed the ministry of the Hampshire Colony Congregational Church for the salary of $600 a year. He held that position for 17 years, preaching his views against slavery. By 1905, the old church was demolished and construction began on a new stone church, which still stands today.
Lovejoy was an abolitionist who preached his views from the pulpit and harbored runaway slaves in his home. Unlike most Underground Railroad conductors who operated in secret, Lovejoy openly proclaimed his willingness to assist fugitive slaves.
A former station on the Underground Railroad, the Lovejoy Homestead, shown in the Then photograph, is located at the eastern edge of Princeton, Illinois, and was the home of the Denham and Lovejoy families for nearly 100 years.
Lovejoy was its most famous resident and occupied the house from 1838 until his death in 1864. Lovejoy became the minister of the Hampshire Colony Congregational Church.
While living in Princeton, Lovejoy resided with Butler Denham and his family. When Denham died, Lovejoy then married his widow. Lovejoy was prominent in the abolition movement and the Underground Railroad, a founder of the Illinois and national Republican Party, and a congressional leader.
As an outspoken abolitionist, he openly proclaimed his willingness to assist fugitive slaves. The Lovejoy home became one of the most important stations on the Underground Railroad in Illinois. The Owen Lovejoy Home, a National Historic Landmark, now belongs to the city of Princeton and was opened as a museum in 1972.
The Now image shows a view of the historic Owen Lovejoy Homestead today.