The Crossing.

“Accordingly a part of the army, consisting of about 2,500 or 3,000, passed the river on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty, with eighteen field-pieces. The floating ice in the river made the labor almost in-credible. However, perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible.” -Henry Knox, officer in the Continental Army, in a letter to his wife.

It is late December, 1776. The Continental Army, military force to the thirteen colonies rebelling against British rule, has suffered a string of defeats. Having withdrawn the army from New York to relative safety in Pennsylvania, General George Washington devises a plan to attack Hessian mercenaries, German soldiers who had been hired by the British army, in Trenton, New Jersey. Motivated to attack quickly, in part because many of his soldiers’ enlistments were due to expire within a month, the leaders of the Continental Army decide to cross the Delaware River on Christmas Night. Battling rain, sleet, snow, wind, and ice, nearly 2,400 soldiers row across the river, the crossing not finishing until three o’clock in the morning. Given only an hour of rest, the soldiers march to Trenton and win a surprising victory, killing 22 Hessian soldiers and capturing upward of 1,000 more. The victory helps to improve morale in Washington’s Continental Army, bringing in new recruits to an army that had previously known mostly defeat (via Wikipedia).

Having grown up in New Jersey and also having spent several years in Massachusetts, I sometimes take for granted the easy access to historical sites that were pivotal to the founding of the United States of America. Places that are named in history books that every child reads in school always seemed nearby. Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania and Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey, located 45 minutes north of Philadelphia, are two parks that commemorate this Revolutionary War battle. With a beautiful day in early June unfolding before me, I set off to explore these sites and learn more about this important moment in US history.

Map of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a red pin in the location of Bowman's Hill Tower, northwest of Trenton.
Today’s destination? Washington Crossing and Bowman’s Hill Tower. When I was a child, my grandmother had told me often about a family trip years ago that she, my grandfather, my Dad, and my uncle took to Washington Crossing State Park. I decided to finally take her advice and go see it for myself.
Painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware.
How many of us probably imagine the scene of Washington Crossing the Delaware – this 1851 painting by Emmanuel Leutze. As I learned today, however, it has many inaccuracies. It has the wrong flag (the stars and stripes flag did not exist yet). The Crossing took place in the middle of the night, so there would have been no sun in the sky. The boats pictured are much smaller than the boats that were actually used. Finally, had Washington actually stood up, the boat would most likely have capsized (via Wikipedia, image Public Domain).
Washington Crossing State Park visitor's center. A small cannon is on the floor in the foreground. In the background is a display with various soldier's uniforms.
My first stop at Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey is the Visitor’s Center, which has a small museum.
Power horn and rifle, in a display of Revolutionary War-era documents and items.
The powder horn was once owned by a soldier who fought at the Battle of Lexington in Massachusetts. The powder horn held gun powder for the muskets that soldiers carried. A good soldier could fire three shots in one minute by using the following steps: (1) pour powder down the musket barrel (2) pour in the powder charge (3) ram a lead ball down the musket (4) pour a finer powder in the rear of the musket. Once that was all done, in the midst of battle, with cannons and gunfire all around you, the musket was ready to be fired.
Frying pan, on iron cooking stove.
Soldiers would carry these frying pans with them, cooking over either open wood fires or iron stoves (such as the one pictured).
Wooden church collection box.
As the son of a Presbyterian minister, I’m familiar with “passing the collection plate,” but how about the collection box? This box, in use from 1760-1798, was from the Old First Presbyterian Church of Morristown, NJ. George Washington worshipped in that church when his army was camped nearby.
Revolutionary War era field medical kit.
A Revolutionary War-era battlefield medical kit. I’ve said it before… I’m glad to live in the present age if for no other reason than the level of medical care we have now.
Entrance to Continental Lane. Sign on the ground says CONTINENTAL LANE - Road per which Washington's Army Began Its March to Trenton December 26, 1776.
Leaving the Visitor Center, I headed down to the Delaware River. I walked down Continental Lane, the road over which Washington’s Army marched to Trenton. The park has preserved the road so you too can walk on it.
Johnson Ferry House. A sign in the foreground says STATE OF NEW JERSEY HISTORIC SITE - JOHNSOn FERRY HOUSE CIRCA 1740.
Next, I came to Johnson Ferry House. General Washington and other Continental Army leaders used this house as their headquarters during the crossing of the Delaware.
Ferry boat behind the Johnson Ferry House.
Besides farming, the Johnson Ferry House was also the site of a thriving ferry service. Ferry boats, such as this one, would have been used by Continental Army soldiers to bring their cannons across the river.
Stone marker. It reads: Near this spot WASHINGTON and his army crossed the Delaware on the night of December 25, 1776. Erected by New Jersey State Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
Near this very spot, Continental Army soldiers under Washington’s Command would have disembarked from their boats to begin their march to Trenton.
Banks of Delaware River, New Jersey side in foreground, Pennsylvania side in background.
Standing along the banks of the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, Pennsylvania does not seem very far away. While I’m certainly no Michael Phelps, I don’t think swimming across would pose much of a challenge. But drop the temperature to below freezing, fill the river with ice, and attempt to cross the river in small boats in the middle of a vicious winter storm… it puts things in perspective.
Exterior of Thompson-Neely Farmstead.
Crossing the Delaware (by bridge, not boat!), I stopped by Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania. The Thompson-Neely Farmstead was used as a field hospital for sick and wounded Continental Army soldiers in the weeks leading up to the Battle of Trenton. Soldiers who died are buried on the grounds of the farmstead. One soldier who was treated here would later go on to be President of the United States: James Monroe.
Sheep grazing in front of barn at Thompson-Neely House.
The farm still has livestock – mostly sheep and goats – and is open to the public to visit.

Having taken in my share of history for the day, I then detoured to a very cool, and lesser known, site nearby. Bowman’s Hill Tower is a 125-foot tall stone tower which commemorates Washington crossing the Delaware River. Completed in 1931, the tower is built with 2,400 tons of stone, sand, and cement. On a clear day, visitors can see as far as fourteen miles. While an elevator is the usual mode of transport to the top, on the day I visited, the elevator was out of order. Instead, I hiked up the 132 steps to the top.

2012 Honda Accord in parking lot. The base of the tower is visible in the background.
The tower is located at the top of a 310-foot tall hill. The road that leads to it is surprisingly steep. At times, it almost felt like the drive up Mt. Washington again.
Bowman's Hill Tower.
Arriving in early afternoon on a weekday, I had the tower to myself.
Spiral stone staircase.
An out-of-order elevator meant I’d be taking a spiral staircase to the top. As I’ve mentioned before… I hate heights. Ah, the things I do for this blog!
View from the top of the tower.
As much as I did not enjoy the walk, the view from the top was spectacular. The 125-foot tall tower sits atop a 380-foot tall hill, giving you a commanding view of the surrounding area. The Delaware River is visible in the middle of the photo, and the Thompson-Neely House can be seen in the lower right.
View of the Pennsylvania countryside.
Looking west at Pennsylvania.
2012 Honda Accord in front of Bowman's Hill Tower sign.
Mandatory car photo to mark the end of yet another fun trip! The Accord, now at over 108,500 miles, continues to roll along without complaint.

If you decide to visit Washington Crossing State Parks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, a camera… but don’t worry about bringing too much cash! The parks are free, and the only money I spent was the $7 ticket to climb Bowman’s Hill Tower. Bowman’s Hill Tower is open from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, seven days a week. Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania is open every day from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey is open every day from 8:00 am – 7:00 pm. Make sure you plan to spend the better part of a day visiting all the sites in the area. Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Crossing.

  1. Love the history and education that I get with these posts! I was amused at the number of inaccuracies people point out in some of the paintings. And agreed – it seems like sometimes we take for granted some of the important historical destinations that are located in our own backyards! Nice view from that tower – and I can just picturing you counting the steps during your ascent! Thanks for taking us along. DH looks great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! As I’ve said before, polished metal metallic does a great job of hiding the dirt.

      Glad you’re enjoying the posts. This blog has been a great way to see all those places that otherwise I’d drive by and say “Oh, I’ll go see it later.”

      Like

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