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A print of the work "Washington Crossing the Delaware," with George Washington standing on a boat, approaching a river bank. He is with 11 other men, one of whom is holding the American flag.
Washington crossing the Delaware. Paul Girardet, engraver. 1853. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Washington Crossing State Park: History and Community

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The following is a guest post by Jenifer Gundry, a former intern with the Digital Resources Division of the Law Library of Congress.

To celebrate one of my favorite fall locations, I explored the origins of the beautiful and historic Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, New Jersey. Its storied existence is a testament to the dedication of volunteers, historians, artists, governmental officials, and legislators who have sustained the park from the late 19th century to the present day.

The park’s geographic significance in the American Revolution is celebrated as a pivotal landmark in the country’s early history. The site is where George Washington and the Continental Army made a perilous crossing of the icy Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, before marching to Trenton to surprise the Hessian mercenaries early the next day. This event became a crucial turning point in the war.

Citizens, community leaders, and historians were driving forces in the long road to establishing the park. In February 1910, New Jersey Governor John Franklin Fort worked with local community leaders to draft and deliver a proposal to the state legislature for a commission to explore the commemoration of the site as a possible park. Later that year, the New Jersey legislature enacted ch. 33, a law creating the “Washington Crossing Commission,” a body charged with identifying, acquiring, and making available lands for a public park.

A sample of text from ch. 33, a New Jersey law. The title reads, "An act creating the 'Washington's Crossing Commission,' and defining its power and duties.
Screen capture of chapter 33 from Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey (1910).

Local newspapers, historical groups, and writers kept the public interested in the project. Lambertville resident, T. J. Walker’s 1912 poem “Washington’s Crossing,” printed and distributed by the New Jersey chapter of the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America, helped inspire new legislation, chapter 32, to establish what was at the time a 100-acre park later that year. In 1914, a descriptive sketch of the area was published titled, “The Washington’s Crossing Sketch Book.”

A black and white image scanned from a historic postcard showing a sketch of the Johnson Ferry House, which served as Washington’s Headquarters in the Revolutionary War.
Washington’s Headquarters, Washington’s Crossing, N.J., Five Miles from Pennington. NJSL Postcard Collection. 1907. Retrieved from the New Jersey State Library Postcard Collection, Digital Jerseyana Collection.

Since its dedication, the park has grown substantially in terms of its size and amenities. Today, the park comprises over 3,500 acres and hosts events and programming all year, including the popular annual Christmas Day reenactment of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware. The Swan Historical Foundation maintains a collection featuring over 500 artifacts from the American Revolution in the Washington Crossing Visitor’s Center Museum. The Washington Crossing Park Association works to preserve and advocate for the park today. The park in New Jersey is distinct from, but has a strong collaborative relationship with, the Washington Crossing Historic Park, across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.

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