State to spend $25M on Revolutionary War sites to woo heritage tourists

By: - November 30, 2022 6:38 am

Washington Crossing State Park is known as the site where George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776 on their march to Trenton. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey will spend $25 million to improve 10 Revolutionary War sites in preparation for a wave of history-loving tourists expected to swarm the state in 2026 for the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding.

Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials announced the investment of federal American Rescue Plan funds at a news conference Tuesday morning at Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, a historic site that advocates say the state has long neglected.

Heritage tourism represents 6% of New Jersey’s tourism dollars, adding up to $3 billion in economic impact, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said. Still, many of the state’s historic sites have fallen into disrepair due to flatlined funding for state parks, which have a $500 million backlog of capital needs.

Murphy acknowledged Tuesday that the state has “not punched at our weight” in supporting its heritage sites.

“I will commit to you, as long as I’m governor, we’re going to punch at our weight, in terms of telling the story of the importance of New Jersey in the tale of the American Revolution,” he said. “I’m not sure if anyone’s counted, but there are probably more ‘George Washington slept here’ signs in New Jersey than anywhere this side of Mount Vernon. This is, after all, the state where more Revolutionary battles and skirmishes were fought than anywhere else.”

The money will go to Revolution NJ, the New Jersey Historical Commission, and Crossroads of the American Revolution to help restore these state-owned sites in time for the nation’s 250th anniversary:

  • Washington Crossing State Park
  • Trenton’s Old Barracks
  • Battle Monument in Trenton
  • Princeton Battlefield State Park
  • Monmouth Battlefield State Park
  • Proprietary House in Perth Amboy
  • The Indian King Tavern in Haddonfield
  • Wallace House in Somerville
  • Boxwood Hall in Elizabeth
  • Rockingham in Kingston

The Indian King Tavern and Wallace House also recently each got $500,000 grants from the National Park Service for restoration work.

New Jersey is home to the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. It’s one of 55 national heritage areas across the country — but the only one wholly dedicated to the American Revolution.

Carrie Fellows, Crossroads’ executive director, said the new funding will support historic restoration, facility upgrades, staffing, and other “visitor readiness.”

She welcomed the support — but warned that much more investment is needed.

“This historic investment by the state to get us ready for 2026 is the only the first step in raising New Jersey’s profile as the acknowledged Crossroads of the American Revolution,” Fellows said. “There’s still a great deal of work to do, including for Crossroads, to fully realize the potential impact.”

That includes drumming up private donations to build on the public support, she said. New Jersey is one of the few states that does not have a foundation to raise money for state parks. A bill now before legislators would create a state parks and forests foundation to facilitate private and corporate fundraising.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.