From 1775-1783, the American Revolutionary War pitted British soldiers against American colonial forces. In many cases, it pitted neighbor against neighbor. While many colonists were fighting for independence from the British crown, others wanted to remain citizens of the United Kingdom. New Jersey was at the heart of the fighting. Nicknamed the “Crossroads of the Revolution,” New Jersey was one of three states that saw the majority of the fighting, the others being New York and South Carolina (via
Over two hundred battles were fought across the state, and through this blog, my wife and I have visited many of those sites. From a
naval battle at the Jersey shore, to General George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania, to American forces holding out in the mountainous region of central New Jersey, my small home state is dotted with places that were once the scenes of armed conflict. On a beautiful, if windy and chilly, Sunday in January, my wife and I loaded up the Accord once again to explore yet more historic sites, this time in the northeastern section of the state. Revolutionary North Jersey
Drawing again from a map of important sites that is published by Revolutionary NJ (a nonprofit organization that is supported by the NJ Department of State), my wife organized a fun day of exploration. Our trip would take us to eleven locations in about six hours.
After trips west to Wisconsin and south to Cape May, we pointed the Accord toward northern New Jersey. As we drove up the NJ Turnpike, we passed under US 1-9, also known as the Pulaski Skyway, which should be familiar to readers after our tour of filming locations from The Sopranos. Weehawken Dueling Grounds
Our first stop was not, strictly speaking, a Revolutionary War battleground. However, Hamilton Park in Weehawken has a claim to the history of that era – it is the site of the 1804 duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.
Then, as now, you can see Manhattan directly across the Hudson River. In 1804, Weehawken was a popular dueling ground, as it was situated on a cliff that was only accessible from the river; duelists would row across the Hudson from New York.
Owing to Hamilton reportedly speaking negatively of Burr to others at a dinner party, a conflict between the two men quickly escalated into a formal challenge of a duel. On July 11, 1804, Burr and Hamilton faced each other in Weehawken in the early morning. Hamilton’s bullet hit a nearby tree, while Burr’s struck Hamilton in the chest. Hamilton died the next day, and Burr, having participated in an event that was illegal, fled to Pennsylvania to escape prosecution (via revolutionarywarnewjersey).
While I had known about the Burr-Hamilton duel from history class in high school (and, of course, as dramatized in the musical Hamilton), I hadn’t realized that Weehawken had been so popular for this grim way of settling scores. At least 18 duels were held in this location, including the duel that killed Alexander Hamilton’s son in 1801 (via Wikipedia). This is one tradition I’m glad to see consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Although the history of the Burr-Hamilton duel undoubtedly draws a high number of visitors, Hamilton Park, with its amazing view of the Manhattan skyline, is well worth the visit, even without the history lesson! Fort Lee Historic Park
We traveled about twenty minutes further north, to a park set high atop the Palisades (the cliffs that overlook the Hudson River from both New York and New Jersey) in the town of Fort Lee.
The park offers a fantastic view of the Hudson River, including the George Washington Bridge. I have a personal connection to the town – my Mom was born in a hospital in Fort Lee, and her childhood home was located only a few blocks from the park.
The town takes its name from the fort that was built during the Revolutionary War. Fort Lee sat on the banks of New Jersey, and Fort Washington was directly across the river in New York. The goal was to prevent British warships from sailing up the Hudson River.
Many of the structures are recreations of what would have existed at the fort. One example is this soldier’s hut. Measuring twelve feet long by nine feet wide, eight soldiers would have called this cabin their home. I can’t imagine that was a comfortable living arrangement!
Despite its impressive earthwork fortifications, colonial troops had to retreat from the fort when Fort Washington in New York was overrun by the British.
Although the location of an American defeat, the park was preserved as a historic site in 1908, and then in 2004, the fort itself was recreated, allowing visitors to better learn about the history of the location (via Wikipedia).
As we looked across the river at the George Washington Bridge, my wife spotted a small lighthouse at its base.
Jeffrey Hook Lighthouse was originally built in Sandy Hook, NJ in 1889. It was moved to the Hudson in 1921 to aid ships traveling on the river. Standing only 40 feet tall, this lighthouse gained fame through the 1942 children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Lynd Ward. Slated for demolition, the book was so popular that the lighthouse was saved, and turned into a museum (via Wikipedia).
Although most famous for its involvement in the American Revolution, Fort Lee has another, lesser-known footnote in history: in the era of silent movies, it was the major film production location in the United States. Before the movie industry moved to Hollywood, it was the birthplace of many of the biggest film studios in our country, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal (via history.com). After enjoying a walk through the park, my wife and I took one last look at the view before setting off for our next destination. The Van Allen House
Our next stop was to Oakland, New Jersey. Built in 1740, the Hendrick Van Allen House was part of a large farm. This house gained fame when General George Washington used it as his temporary headquarters on July 14th. The house now acts as a museum for colonial life of Dutch settlers.
The Van Allen House, like many locations we visited, is currently closed due to the pandemic. I wandered the grounds for a few minutes, and this bench caught my eye. With the Presidential Inauguration later this week, it seemed an appropriate photo to add. Historic New Bridge Landing
Our next destination was New Bridge Landing, where General George Washington led his soldiers in a retreat from advancing British forces. A wooden drawbridge that once existed here was the only path of escape for the American army (Among the retreating soldiers were those who had been forced to abandon Fort Lee). This iron swing bridge was built in 1889 to replace the old bridge. It cost $4,000 to build – which would have been only $115,000 in 2021.
The Steuben House, built in 1752, sits at the foot of the swing bridge. This house served as George Washington’s headquarters for a two week period in 1780. After the war, it was gifted to Baron Von Steuben, who you may remember from a previous post – he helped train the Continental Army, instilling tactics and discipline. It has been a museum since 1939.
Some of the original buildings of the community of New Bridge Landing still stand, including the Campbell-Christie House, built in 1774. New Bridge Landing was a major commercial center in the 18th century, where people would come from far away to buy and sell goods. Think of it like a colonial-era Mall of America (via Wikipedia).
Not all of the structures are original to the village – the Westervelt-Thomas Barn was built in 1889 in nearby Washington Township. It was moved to the New Bridge Landing historic village in 1955. Belcher-Ogden Mansion and Boxwood Hall
Our next stop was to the city of Elizabeth, to see the Belcher-Ogden Mansion. Originally this was the home of Governor Jonathan Belcher (who would later sponsor the founding of Princeton University). During the Revolutionary War, this house would host notable guests including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Only a few blocks away from the Belcher-Ogden Mansion is Boxwood Hall. It was built in 1750 by the mayor of Elizabeth (then named Elizabethtown), Elias Boudinot. Boudinot was selected as President of the Continental Congress in 1782, and then would serve three terms in Congress in the House of Representatives. Later in his career, as a Presbyterian theologian, he would argue forcefully for the rights of African-American and Native American peoples. Fun fact: on the way to his inauguration as the first President of the United States, George Washington stopped here for lunch. It’s Inauguration Week, so I’ve got to include some fun facts! First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth
Our tour would take us to three Presbyterian churches, including the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth. Given the influential role that the Presbyterian Church played in American civic life leading up to the Revolution, the British leaders would often refer to the war as “the Presbyterian Rebellion” or the “Presbyterian Revolt” (via both my dad, and the Presbyterian Historical Society).
The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth has long existed in this location – it was established in 1644, and the cemetery was founded in 1687. The original church was burned down in 1780, and the current building was erected in 1789 – the same year as the creation of the US Constitution!
As we were wandering the cemetery, my wife spotted this large monument, dedicated to one of the church’s pastors. My father has spent his career as a Presbyterian minister – I can only hope that his church plans something similar when he finally takes the long train to glory (I kid – anyone who knows my dad knows that this is the last thing he would ever want). Liberty Hall
Our next stop was to Kean University (pronounced “Cane”) in the city of Union. We had planned to visit Liberty Hall, a 14-room mansion that was built in 1772 and hosted guests such as George Washington (who else?), Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Liberty Hall sits on the grounds of the Liberty Hall Museumat Kean, which was unfortunately closed to visitors when we arrived.
One cool building we were able to see is The Blue House (accurately named, I think!). It was built in 1790, but is most famous for being the home of Mildred Barry Hughes, the first woman elected to serve in the New Jersey Senate. Among Mildred’s accomplishments, she sponsored a “Good Samaritan” act to protect people from lawsuits if they help at an accident, and a law to improve mental health services. Liberty Hall looks like an amazing museum, and they do offer timed tours with social distancing… we might just have to come back and explore another time! Caldwell Parsonage
The Caldwell Parsonage was the home of James Caldwell, minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth. This is the second Caldwell Parsonage. Caldwell fought on the side of the American colonists, and British forces burned his original house to the ground. Caldwell’s wife, Hannah, was killed in the house by British soldiers in 1780 during the Battle of Connecticut Farms. The murder is memorialized on the official seal of Union County, NJ.
Connecticut Farms First Presbyterian Church
Built in 1730, the original Connecticut Farms First Presbyterian Church was burned to the ground by British forces. The American colonists had halted the advance of the British army toward Morristown, and so as the Redcoats retreated, they left a path of destruction behind them. This church was built in 1782 to replace the original sanctuary. Cannonball House
The Osborn House, built in the early 1700s, plays a minor, although fascinating role in the Battle of Springfield. A Colonial soldier fired a cannon at advancing British troops, but it ended up striking the side of the house instead of enemy soldiers!
After withstanding the blast, the house became known as the Cannonball House. First Presbyterian Church of Springfield
Our last stop was the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. This church was also put to the flame in 1780 by the British – the current building was constructed in 1791.
During the Revolutionary War, the church served not only as a religious house of worship, but as a storehouse for ammunition by colonial soldiers (via Springfield Presbyterian Church). As a lifelong Presbyterian, my biggest take-away from the trip was learning how deeply involved Presbyterians were in the founding of our nation.
Six hours after leaving our house, we returned home, heads full of history, and the camera full of cool photos. The Accord, meanwhile, crossed yet another marker: 166,000 miles. Less than 34,000 until we hit the big 200… onward! Updates
It has been a while since I’ve offered automotive updates, but I have a couple items I wanted to share with my readers.
High Mileage Updates
You may remember my friend Justin, whose 2003 Honda Accord V6 was profiled in a previous blog post. He recently crossed a major milestone – 750,000 miles! Remember: his car is still on its original engine. Way to go, Justin! Looking forward to watching your quest for 1,000,000 miles continue!
A bit closer to home, my Dad sent me an odometer shot of his own – his 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6 passed the 90,000 mile mark! C’mon, Dad, only 10,000 miles until you join “The Open Road Ahead High Mileage Club” at 100,000! Wrapping Up
Crossroads of the American Revolution is a website that details the historic sites of New Jersey that are tied to the American Revolutionary War. Spanning over 2,100 square miles of the state, through 14 counties and over 200 towns and cities, you can spend a day (or a week!) learning more about my home state’s ties to the founding of our nation. So many buildings, artifacts, and writings remain available to see, that anywhere you turn in New Jersey, you are reminded of the Revolution. So the next time you’re driving down the Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, follow those road signs, take that exit ramp, and explore! You’ll have a great time.
Thanks, as always, for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.