By Merle Rosenstein
Families flock to Jersey’s famous shore each summer for quality beach-time. Beyond the beachfront, the state’s proud past is on display in former battlefields, historic homes and lighthouses, in local museums, and along wooden boardwalks. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the genius of New Jersey inventors in their well-preserved estates and workshops.
Referred to as the “crossroads of the American Revolution,” New Jersey played a pivotal role in the fight for American independence.
In the 1800s, this was a hotbed of economic activity launching the textile, firearm, and locomotive industries with electrical power from the Great Falls of the Passaic River.
In 1913, Woodrow Wilson left his post as governor of New Jersey to become president of the United States and helped put through welfare reforms to protect industrial workers.
With the industrial revolution and the movement of people from farms to cities, New Jersey built canals and roads. John Stevens created the first operating steam locomotive in the United States. Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera. Fort Lee became the motion picture capital in the early 1900s. On May 3, 1919, the first passenger flight in American history was flown from New York to Atlantic City.
Here are some other historical highlights that you won’t want to miss.
Atlantic City: Playground of the Nation
Atlantic City opened as a resort in June 1880. The famed wooden boardwalk linking hotels, baths, theatres, and amusements was built in 1870 to keep sand from lavish hotel lobbies. Boardwalk piers featured acts to suit every taste such as the Diving Horse, Dr. Couney’s Premature Infant Exhibit, and marathon dance contests. In the 1920s, the boardwalk overtook the beach as the key attraction with stunts, the era’s greatest Big Band music, parades, and the original Miss America pageant.
New Jersey Division of Travel & TourismIn the 1950s and 1960s Boardwalk stargazers saw the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, Annette Funicello, and The Beatles among a galaxy of other names. In the 1970s, Atlantic City legalized gambling, drawing hoards of tourists to try their luck at the tables.
New Jersey’s Famous Lighthouses
New Jersey’s 18 lighthouses stood watch over sailors in the Atlantic and on the intercoastal waterways for more than a century. Located in some of the state’s most beautiful settings, the lighthouses are rich in architectural detail with hewn rock foundations, spiral staircases, and sloping towers. The devotion of lighthouse keepers and their heroic rescues under challenging circumstances attracts visitors to these sturdy structures. Of the state’s 18 lighthouses, 11 are open to the public, including the 52-metre-high Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City at Pacific and Rhode Island avenues. This yellow and black beacon was built in 1857 and draws many visitors to climb its 228 steps.
Among the others, Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park was built in 1859 and is still guiding ships to safety as far as 15 kilometres out to sea. The 1874 Hereford Inlet Lighthouse resembles a summer home with its five fireplaces and lovely living area. A small museum and flower and herb garden are added attractions. And Sandy Hook Lighthouse on the grounds of Fort Hancock is the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Its octagonal tower dates back to the 18th century.
Stunning architectural style
Across New Jersey, historical homes, estates, and buildings span the centuries.
The city of Bridgetown boasts the state’s largest historic district with over 2,000 Colonial, Victorian, and Federalist buildings covering a period of over 250 years. Built in 1914 by a businessman in Bridgetown, Hannan House is a fine example of Scottish influenced Dutch Colonial style. Potters Tavern was a popular drinking spot around the time of the American Revolution and housed New Jersey’s first newspaper The Plain Dealer. Other examples of historic homes are Francis B. Minch House, R.W. Shoemaker House and Nail House.
With nearly 600 historical buildings, Cape May is a must-see for history buffs and lovers of fine architecture. A trolley tour of the historic district rolls by dozens of Victorian B&Bs. Built by William and Sarah Hancock beteen 1728 and 1734, Hancock House, in Woodstown, New Jersey, was the site of the British massacre of local militia in retaliation for British losses at Quinton Bridge. The house reflects the building style of the English Quaker Colonists.
Historic parks and sites
New Jersey’s rich history includes victories won during the American Revolution and the discoveries of Thomas Edison that changed the day-to-day lives of Americans. Sites commemorating these accomplishments blanket the state.
On December 25, 1776, General George Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River at the site now known as Washington Crossing State Park. The men marched to Trenton and defeated Hessian troops in an unexpected attack. This was followed by victories at the Second Battle of Trenton and Princeton.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park is the site of one of the largest battles of the American Revolution. Visitors can witness the perfectly preserved rural farmland and a restored Revolutionary War farmhouse.
Morristown National Historic Park houses the Ford Mansion, Washington’s winter headquarters from December 1779 to June 1780, and Washington’s Headquarters Museum. The area is close to New York City, which was occupied by the British.
The Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange is the site of the inventor’s home from 1886 until his death in 1931, his laboratory complex, invention factory and workshop. Visitors can also tour Glenmont, the estate where the Edisons raised their family.
From 1892 through 1954, the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal played a big role in immigration. After passing the Statue of Liberty and moving through Ellis Island, immigrants boarded trains to take them to their new homes.
With so much to offer, is it any wonder that New Jersey is a family vacation favourite? For more information go to www.visitnj.org.