This year marks the 225 anniversary of the Independence of our nation, and we have seen flags flying as never before. It is the perfect year to engage fully as a participant in the making of our great nation. There is no better place to do that than to take part in all the reenactments that are being staged in and around Trenton and Princeton, NJ, where Christmas night of 1776 marked the turning point of the Revolutionary War, which the British felt they had won prior to that.
From the Capital of the Confederacy in Philadelphia, just 12 miles away, George Washington made a daring move. Instead of feasting in front of a Yule log, twenty-four hundred cold and hungry troops, demoralized by their many defeats, deserters, low provisions, and lack of warm clothes, were inspired by their general to take the offensive and make a surprise attack on the Hessians at Trenton. In cover of darkness, braving sleet and rain and a raging river filled with ice floats, General Washington succeeded in moving his troops and horses, 18 canons, and wagons of artillery, by Durham boats across the Delaware River. Through the snowy night they silently crept to take the town while the opposition slept.
Bring your children and grandchildren to watch this living history for a whole weekend celebration of our 225th year as an independent nation. You can watch this event and reenactments of the many battles in this area. Authentic replicas of soldier uniforms, muskets, and way of life will make you feel you have stepped back in time and are viewing the making of our great nation. There will be lots of smoke and loud artillery fire, but it is all safe, performed by over 1,000 members of National Reenactment Organizations who have practiced as Revolutionary soldiers for many years. Some are dedicated history buffs, some love the outdoor way of life of the eighteenth century, some are actually descendants of the original Revolutionary heroes. All are dedicated to making history live for themselves and for you.
Reenactments have been performed in Trenton on Christmas for 49 years, but this year, to mark the 225th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the War, the celebration will be huge and will continue on the weekend following Christmas. On December 25 crowds will begin gathering on each side of the Delaware River about 10 A.M. at Washington Crossing Historic Park, PA and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ, where official activities begin at 1:00 p.m. On the Pennsylvania side there is a lot of parking available at the Historic Park and at many designated sites along Routes 32 and 532. In New Jersey along Route 29 near Lambertville, there is also designated parking, and thousands will gather along the Delaware River to watch.
On December 29 at 6 a.m. visitors can take part in the historic march from designated places in Trenton to the Delaware River, where the reenactment of Washington’s Crossing will be repeated about 7 a.m. Shuttles will be available to return visitors who marched to the location.
In the streets of Trenton at 11 a.m. the battle reenactments will take place in front of The Barracks. Many other events are planned for the entire historic weekend.
TAKE THE REVOLUTIONARY BARRACKS TOUR
At Trenton this summer I visited the restored Revolutionary Barracks, the only ones still in existence, and found the tour to be the most fun and informative of any historical tour I have ever participated in. You will actually be inducted into the continental Army here and learn to shoot a musket and to march. In the infirmary the 1776 nurse will demonstrate the original medical tools, check your teeth, and give you the gruesome details of the two weeks new inductees had to spend in this infirmary to prepare for army life in the field.
As we have heard a lot about smallpox in the news recently, it is very interesting to learn that in this Infirmary George Washington figured out how to keep his army from being devastated by the disease. In this Infirmary all soldiers were inoculated with human smallpox (before vaccinations had been discovered) and were nursed back to health again during their two weeks of terrible illness. The General strictly enforced health conditions and good sanitation at camp and in the Barracks because disease and infestation had taken a greater toll the previous year than had the battles. The Old Barracks Museum is a great place for everyone to really absorb the enormity of the soldier’s life and sacrifices that were made. Here at Trenton is truly the source of our freedom, the battles that turned the tides of the War for Independence. Do not miss this exciting weekend in this special year of the 225th anniversary of the Revolution.
To continue the activities, there will be a Memorial Service for the Slain at 2:30 p.m. in First Presbyterian Church. At 3 p.m. witness the Second Battle of Trenton and then the 5 p.m. Grand Illumination of the Old Barracks, complete with fife and drum and full costume. This commemorates the ten days that turned the tide of the War and gave the Continental Soldiers the heart to continue at a period when they were ready to quit. Washington’s genius was in tactics, health standards, and heartening of his soldiers.
If you are in the area December 15th you can enjoy the twelfth annual Capital Ball in grand colonial style with drinks, dinner, dancing, and viewing of the new Hessian Exhibit at the Old Barracks Museum.
On Sunday, December 30, the weekend enactment continues with the March to Princeton Battlefield at noon from Nassau Hall and Quakerbridge Road in Princeton, NJ. Be sure to note the marvelous statue at the entrance to the town, commemorating the Revolutionary War. The reenactment battle at Princeton Battlefield State Park relives the fiercest fight of its size during the War. Today this 85-acre site has lovely trails for hiking, walking, and cross-country skiing.
You may want to take a tour of the University while you are here, and it also includes Nassau Hall, which was the only building for The College of New Jersey in 1776. Students were sent home in November that year, and on December 2 Nassau Hall was occupied by the British. It was retaken on January 3 by the Continental Soldiers and became the barracks and hospital for soldiers on both sides for the remainder of the War. In 1783 the Continental Congress met here and learned of the signing of the Peace Treaty.
While at Princeton, you must have a drink or a meal at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room in the Nassau Inn on Nassau Street. Here Einstein doodled on the table and drank many a tankard. You’ll see other famous faces of grads on the wall: from movie stars to astronauts. Over the bar is the original Norman Rockwell painting of the Yankee Doodle Soldier. The meals are hearty here and the portions huge. I tried to eat all of the delicious philly cheese steak sandwich, but I don’t think two men could have finished it! The signature warm chocolate bread pudding is as yummy as it sounds.
How to Get There and Where to Stay
Although the historical enactment of the Crossing of the Delaware takes place each year on Christmas Day, this year’s celebration of the 225th anniversary is far greater and lasts throughout the week. Although this is a very popular event for area people, space is still available for those who need accommodations.
SPECIAL DINNERS AT THE GRAIN HOUSE RESTAURANT
In the town of Basking Ridge on Route 202, not far from the above historical events, you can enjoy a very special Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day meal in an authentic Revolutionary War setting. The location is on the Passaic River where the miller Samuel Lewis in 1768 built a water-powered grist mill and barn on land in Franklin Corners, originally acquired from William Penn. The Grain House Restaurant is in the barn which was the storehouse for the desperately needed flour, meal, and feed for the Continental Army encampment at Jockey Hollow in the winter of 1777. The Grain House Restaurant features special events many times during the year, some of which benefit local charities.
There is still time to make your reservations for Chef John Tomaszek’s memorable Christmas Eve buffet, with seatings every half hour from 2 – 8 p.m. Prices for adults are $32.95, children 3 – 10 are $15.95, and under 3 years are free. Or you may prefer to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the elegant seated dinner. Seatings at 6:30 p.m. are $99 per couple; at 9 p.m. the seatings are $129 per couple and include a midnight celebration. Also this year for the first time the restaurant will prepare a delicious New Year’s Day buffet. You can call 908-221-1150 for details and reservations.
I recently enjoyed a delectable meal there and found the food superb. Prepared with freshly herbs and specialties from Chef John’s own on-site garden, his innovative recipes and presentation are exquisite! The Grain House is open daily for lunch and dinner. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings there is also live music in the Coppertop Pub, which is located in the 1777 horse stable of the old grist mill. The Restaurant is on site at the Olde Mill Inn, which is a “perfectly inn-timate place” for any special and romantic stays. For more information you can go to www.oldemillinn.com
Feature Written 2001