Princeton has a rich history of being on the right path and its prosperity has been intertwined with transportation since its first settlers arrived in the early 1830’s. Princeton was settled as a meeting place, half way between the land claims of several members of the Hampshire Colony Congressional Church. The original settlement was named Greenfield and later named Princeton after its first survey in 1832. Princeton was chosen as the County Seat in 1837 when Bureau County was formed and was incorporated as a Town in 1838. Princeton was chosen as Bureau County's seat of justice, not only because of its central location but also because of its easy access to Peoria and Galena via the Peoria and Galena Road, a main highway at the time, that linked lead mines in northern Illinois to Peoria and Galena.

In 1854, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad was completed. The railroad, passing through Princeton, brought much growth and fortune to the City. The railroad is now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and is heavily used for freight and Amtrak passenger trains. The railroad still brings prosperity to the City by attracting riders that use Princeton’s historic Amtrak station. The City was also on another historical route: several Princeton homes were part of the Underground Railroad that gave shelter to many runaway slaves before the Civil War. The Owen Lovejoy home was the most famous of the local Underground Railroad "stations".

With the adoption of the automobile came new major routes that passed through the City. The Grand Army of the Republic Highway (US Route 6) was built in the 1920s and stretches nearly coast to coast. US Route 34 was also completed in the 1920s and connects Illinois to Colorado. Interstate 80, a transcontinental route, was completed in 1966 and its proximity to Princeton continues to serve as one of the City’s main assets.

Single-family residential uses are the predominant land uses in Princeton and can be found throughout most sections of the City. Princeton supports diversity of architectural styles that reflect its agricultural history. A tour along Park Avenue East and West will reveal examples of classic Italianate architecture, and Georgian, Greek and Colonial Revival styles, some dating pre-Civil War, and many listed on the historic register compiled by the Bureau County Architectural Preservation Society.


The more traditional areas of the City are laid out in an orderly grid pattern, which encourages easy access. More suburban development patterns with cul-de-sacs and lots with large front setbacks are somewhat more prevalent in peripheral areas. Princeton uniquely contains a number of larger estate lots (.5-1.5 acres) throughout the older areas of the City. Neighborhoods are fairly well defined and the quality of development is generally excellent. Multifamily uses are relatively few in number compared to single-family units, but can be found dispersed throughout the City. The larger complexes are located near the periphery of the City, while converted single-family homes are spread throughout the older sections of the City. Additional multifamily units (e.g., apartments) are available along Main Street above small-scale commercial and retail uses.


Commercial uses in Princeton are primarily located along Route 26 (Main Street). The southern portion of Main Street served as the City's commercial and civic center when it was first built. However, when the railroad was built through the northern section of town, it provided the impetus for creating a new business center around the new train station. Today, the northern and southern historic districts along Main Street function as viable commercial areas, with their small town character and pedestrian orientation intact. Between the north and south historic districts is a commercial area comprised of small professional offices operating in converted residential structures.


Capitalizing on interstate access, newer auto-oriented commercial uses have developed north of the railroad tracks and south of I-80. Typical uses in this area include hotels, motels, fast food restaurants, and larger retail chains with parking fronting the street. This area draws travelers along 1-80 and local residents seeking services that large retail businesses can provide.

Large industrial uses are generally located on the north side of Princeton. Princeton has developed a 67 acre Technology Park located on Ace Road that is filling with light industrial/office uses. The new 130 acre Princeton Logistics Park is located just north of the built-out Princeton Industrial Park. Both new parks offer utilities to each development site, easy access to I-80, and allow for diversely sized development sites.