Certain family names are synonymous with the history of the United States. Names such as the Rockefellers. The Roosevelts. The Kennedys. The du Ponts. The Vanderbilts. In New Jersey, the Stockton name is seemingly everywhere. A wealthy colonial-era family, the Stocktons rose to prominence when Richard Stockton signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. His children achieved even more fame, as his eldest son Richard was a United States Senator, and his son Robert served in the US Navy, fighting in several conflicts. The name lives on, from a town along the Delaware River in western NJ, to a major university, to numerous streets and avenues, to a travel plaza along the NJ Turnpike (is there anything more Jersey than having a rest stop named after you?), the Stockton family continues to be associated with the Garden State.
On a beautiful Saturday in April, my wife and I learned more about the Stockton family because of… crepes! We had not visited Princeton since the pandemic began, and now that we have had both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, felt confident enough to return and visit one of our favorite lunch spots: Jammin’ Crepes. Looking for some activities to do after lunch, we discovered Morven, the family home of the Stocktons that is now a museum.
Come along with us on a journey to feast on a delicious lunch, explore a 250-year old building, and wander through the town of Princeton. Afterward, I will share some automotive updates, a cool bit of news about this blog, and some other cool information as well. Let’s begin!
Crepes and a Mansion
Our destination: Morven Museum, a three-hundred year old mansion located in Princeton, NJ.
As we meandered our way through central New Jersey, this small house caught our eye. Built around 1830, it was part of the Blackwells Mills bridge across the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
The Delaware and Raritan Canal connected the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, to speed traffic and cargo between Philadelphia and New York. A swing bridge once stood on this spot, and the two-story house across the street was built for the bridge tender and his family. The tender would rotate the bridge to allow boats up and down the canal (via Wikipedia).
Most trips on the blog involve a tourist destination or two, and then we try to discover a cool place to eat. This trip was the exact opposite: Jammin’ Crepes was our destination, and any other cool sites would be a nice bonus.
With only outdoor dining available at the restaurant (and all the tables full), we took our lunch to this small park near the Princeton Battle Monument.
With temperatures in the high 60s, it was perfect for a picnic! I had the Spicy Chicken Cheesesteak crepe (chicken with Italian herbs, sautéed onions, bell peppers, aged provolone, and aioli), while my wife had the Bahn Mi (Black Forest ham, picked radish & carrots, cucumbers, aioli, and cilantro) with gluten free dough. Jammin Crepes sources all of its ingredients from local farms, and the batter is made fresh daily. So, so good!
After stuffing ourselves with crepes, we wandered the park, checking out some of the statues. Man Reading Newspaper by J. Seward Johnson has been a fixture in this park since 1975. The grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I (who founded pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson), J. Seward established Grounds for Sculpture, the art museum and sculpture garden that my wife visited a few years ago.
This bust of famous Princeton resident Albert Einstein is part of an installation called EMC Square, named after his most famous equation.
In a corner of the park is this bell from the USS Princeton, a steam-powered warship that suffered a horrific accident in 1844. During a cruise with numerous dignitaries including President John Tyler, one of the cannons exploded during a ceremonial firing. Several guests on board were killed, including Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur. After the ship was decommissioned, the bell was displayed at Princeton University, before being moved to a permanent exhibit at this park.
The centerpiece of the park is the Princeton Battle Monument. Built in 1922, the 50-foot tall monument commemorates the American victory over the British in the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
I thought the most eye-catching section of the statue was the head of George Washington’s horse. The monument was designed by sculptor Frederick Macmonnies and architect Thomas Hastings. Macmonnies and Hastings had previously worked together on a 72-foot tall statue in Meaux, France that was a gift from the United States of America, to honor French casualties from the Battle of the Marne in World War I (via Wikipedia).
We had a timed entrance to the Morven Museum at 2:00. We spent some time after lunch wandering through Princeton. Trinity Church, established in 1833, looms over Mercer Street. According to a small marker in the corner of the grounds, it was on this site in 1781 that General George Washington and French General Rochambeau encamped en route to the Battle of Yorktown, a pivotal victory during the Revolutionary War.
This gargoyle on the side of the church caught my eye. I’d be interested to know if it is purely decorative, or acts as a drain spout like the ones at Notre-Dame de Paris.
Stone markers like these can be found all over Princeton, indicating movements of Washington’s army through the town during the Revolution.
We also passed by Princeton Theological Seminary, the primary graduate school for pastors and theologians in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Among its graduates is my father, a lifelong minister in the church.
Down the street from Princeton Theological Seminary is this modest two story home that once had a rather notable owner: Albert Einstein lived here for two decades while a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.
At 2:00, we made our way over to Morven for our tour. Built in the 1750s, generations of the Stockton family would live here until the early 20th century. Morven is Gaelic for “Big Hill” (via Morven Museum & Garden).
The tour begins in the lobby. The building has been renovated and altered several times since the 18th century, and Morven functions as both a museum and an ongoing archeological site. During renovations to the museum, the original brick hearth was discovered hiding behind a wall, which is now prominently displayed near the entrance.
The museum tells the story of the house chronologically. The first room you enter is filled with items from the lives of Richard Stockton and his wife Annis. A mural of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where Richard was in attendance, fills the room.
The museum addresses head-on one of the most problematic aspects of New Jersey history: slavery was legal in the state until 1804, making it the last northern state to ban the practice of owning other human beings. The Stocktons were slave holders into the early 19th century – among the evidence on display is this reproduction of a tax record that showed slave ownership. The museum does an excellent job of presenting this information in a way that creates a complete picture of the both the Stockton family and the home.
The next room was dedicated to the children of Richard and Annis. A large portrait of Robert Stockton hangs in the room. Robert was a US Navy war hero, rising to the ranks of commodore. Among his many accomplishments, he served as a military governor of California (before it achieved statehood), he was a US Senator, he was a Commodore in the US Navy, he purchased property at the New Jersey shore that eventually became the town of Sea Girt, and he helped to found the nation of Liberia in Africa. Robert was an interesting contradiction: he was a noted abolitionist in the north, seeking to end slavery, while also owning a large plantation in Georgia that was operated by over 100 slaves.
After the Stockton family sold the house to Governor Walter Edge, Morven became the state’s Governors Mansion for twenty-five years. This room tells the story of the five men who made this house their home while leading the state.
Of all the things in the room that caught my eye… of course this is what I post! I wonder how this license plate would look on a certain 2012 Honda Accord…
Our tour over, we headed outside to amble through the gardens. From the earliest days of the mansion’s history, a garden was part of the estate.
While the earliest blooms of spring had begun to fade, these tulips were in full bloom.
These red and yellow tulips also caught our eye.
These small narcissus (daffodils) were also in bloom. Dear readers, if I’ve misnamed any of these flowers, please feel free to correct me. I’m in no danger of winning a Jeopardy category about flowers anytime soon.
Before departing from Morven, I pulled the Jeep in front for the mandatory photo. Inspired by a postcard I saw in the gift shop, I thought I’d have a little fun when I processed the photo on my computer.
And home! After sitting on the sidelines for a few weeks, it felt good to give the Jeep some exercise. Having crossed the 66,000 mile mark, the Grand Cherokee continue to run well… more on that below! So. Many. Updates.
In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of news to share. From car updates, to a cool visit to the Jersey shore, to this blog getting some press, I have several items I want to pass along to you, dear reader. So sit back, relax, and allow me to share all the news that’s fit to print!
First, and perhaps most importantly, my wife and I both received our second dose of the COVID vaccine. As the numbers of people receiving the vaccine continues to grow, I’m excited for the possibility of life returning to something approaching normal.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I once again returned to the Jersey Shore. We took a different route than usual, and along the way we spotted Mr. Bill, one of the “muffler men.” These fiberglass statues once dotted the highways and byways of the nation. This statue, which stands outside of Mr Bill’s Ice Cream and Burger Co., is one of only twelve remaining “muffler men” statues in New Jersey (the statues were termed “muffler men” as they were often used to advertise car repair businesses, and would often be holding a car muffler in their hands). Side note: I appreciate that Mr. Bill is wearing a mask.
On the way to Cape May, we stopped once again at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor. This egret made for a cool subject.
This tri-colored heron was the highlight of the trip! My wife nicknamed him the “Punk Rock Heron,” and I agree.
And once again, takeout in Cape May means delicious seafood from Fish & Fancy. Crab cakes for me, broiled seafood combo for my wife, and happy tummies all around.
We stopped by the South Cape May Meadows, a bird sanctuary, and caught these ibis in the early morning sky.
On the way home from Cape May, we decided to stop by Ocean City, New Jersey, to check out yet another “muffler man,” housed at the Golden Galleon miniature golf course on the boardwalk.
Inspired by seeing Mr. Bill the previous day, we enjoyed seeing another surviving “muffler man,” this one dressed as a pirate on an 18-hole miniature gold course. The weather was so beautiful that my wife and I decided to play a round of miniature golf. With no one else near us on the course, we felt appropriately socially-distance to enjoy 18 holes among the pirates of the Caribbean. Who won, you ask? Well… ummm… I’m sure I’ll share that in another post. Maybe.
As we departed Ocean City, we spotted signs for a historical site, so of course we had to explore! What we found was Somers Mansion. Built in 1720, it is the oldest surviving building in Atlantic County, NJ. The Somers family were among the earliest settlers of this area of the coast, and the town of Somers Point is named after them.
On the way home from the shore, my Accord broke the 171,000 mile mark. Less than 29,000 miles until the big 200k rollover now! Automotive Updates
The Jeep recently went in for maintenance. Aside from an oil change, tire rotation, and new air filters, the Grand Cherokee needed no other work. Glad to see it’s holding up well – 70,000 miles is the next big barrier. Onward!
I also received the oil analysis from Blackstone Laboratories. After my last oil change, I sent a sample of used oil to Blackstone to see how my car’s engine is holding up after 170,000 miles. All is well. My favorite line? “You’re doing all the right things with your Accord.”
And one other thing… The Wetland Institute of Stone Harbor came across my blog post from when I visited earlier in the month, and shared it on their Facebook page. So cool! Wrapping Up
Princeton is always a fantastic town to visit, especially on a beautiful day in the spring. Whether you’re in the mood for great food, shopping, history, or simply a walk through a cool town, it is well worth a stop. If you want to follow in our footsteps, Morven Museum & Garden is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm for timed tours. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $8 for students and active military, and admission is free for children 6 and under. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of New Jersey, Morven is a fun place to visit.
Thanks for coming along on this historic tour along the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.