The image of General George Washington leading troops in boats across the Delaware River is one of those iconic moments in the Revolutionary War that’s ingrained in the consciousness of every American student at a young age, even if teachers don’t necessarily explain the full context. Like many other scenes from Washington’s life, travelers can visit the area where history happened, tread the same treasured ground our forefathers did, and of course learn more about their feats from whatever museum, park, visitors center, statue, or plaque sprang forth to mark the spot.
In the case of this particular moment in time, visitors also need to make sure which “Washington Crossing” park they want to see.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
Once upon a time on Christmas Day 1776 and extending into Day After Christmas 1776, the Revolution was off to a rocky start. The Continental Army was encamped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, regretting its losses and wondering what to do next. The British had infested New Jersey. The harsh winter weather was in full force. Morale was critically low. With a bold plan put in place and General Washington at the fore, over two thousand of Our Heroes rode back across the Delaware in the middle of the night through Old Man Winter’s ugly onslaught, then waged battle upon the Redocats in general and Lord Cornwallis’ rear guard in particular. The Hessians had actually received intel on the plans, but their consensus was “Yeah, right, sure, those ragtag interlopers are gonna brave blizzards just so we can whip them again. Good one! Pass me another wurst, Dieter.” In conclusion, that’s why we’ve never had a state called Hessiaburg.
Once they cleared the Delaware, our guys marched forth and proceeded to win battles over the next nine days at Trenton, Assunpink Creek, and Princeton. This Continental hat trick counted among the first major victories in the war. Washington and his men — including fellow eventual President James Monroe — turned the tide in the future Garden State, boosted morale and recruitment efforts, and made Washington look pretty awesome in every dramatic reenactment and artwork inspired ever since.
Today those shores are home to two different institutions. On the New Jersey side is Washington Crossing State Park, which is a state park with state park stuff in it. I’m sure New Jersey’s side is nice and has plenty of space for keen picnics and family reunions and jai alai tournaments, or whatever Jersey residents play outdoors. It’s not the side we wanted. I was this close to following directions to it till I realized there was a reason I was seeing two different search results for two very similar names.
Across the river and the border in Pennsylvania is Washington Crossing Historic Park, established in 1917. Special features include the monument in our lead photo, erected where the crossing occurred or reasonably near it. Naturally there’s also a visitors center with artifacts and displays.
(The painting shows Washington and other soldiers standing up. Naturally we expect our war heroes to pose triumphantly, swell with pride, gaze sternly into the distance, and stay on constant guard in case of adventure. The truth is they stood up through the long ride across the river because they didn’t want to sit down in deadly freezing water.)
Other buildings around the park vary in significance and age.
Also, there’s nature’s biggest exhibit on the grounds, the Delaware River itself. It looked prettier and behaved better for us than it did for Washington’s crew.
We knew we needed to do lunch before proceeding to our next major city. To simplify matters we crossed the street from the park to Washington Crossing Inn, quaint and waiting for tourists to settle for their convenience.
Due to a broken steamer, our appetizer of pork dim sum dumplings had to be dunked in a fryer instead. The results were oily through-and-through. For budget’s sake we stuck to simple sandwiches, modestly priced and sized accordingly. It’s perhaps for the best that they weren’t Hungry Man portions anyway because the dumplings left me with an upset stomach for the next few hours.
We had neither time nor inclination to linger for too long in the area. Anne was satisfied with the general overview and ready to delve further into Pennsylvania. From here we moved on toward larger and louder neighborhoods, toward more classic American history in different forms, and eventually toward another great moment in George Washington iconography.
The next leg of our trip before w reached the next cool part took much longer than it should have because that particular stretch of interstate was in the process of being rearranged, including having all its exits renumbered because apparently someone thought the old numbering system wasn’t good enough anymore. We don’t know the full story. All I know is trying to keep track of two different interstate exit numbering systems at the same time made us miss our exit, required an irritating turnaround and tacked several more miles onto our already considerably journeying plans.
At least the weather was nice. Ours wasn’t the most physically challenging excursion ever taken in the area.
To be continued!
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