The 2015 Tour de Trenton celebrates this year’s 240th anniversary of the outbreak of the American revolution — a revolution rescued at Trenton in late 1776 — by surveying the remains of the 18th century town.
Some of the sites have been preserved as polished historical gems; others have faded anonymously into the neighborhoods that developed around them in the waves of 19th century industrialization and 20th century urban renewal, decay, and deindustrialization. In discovering the remains of what Trentonians built in that century of revolutionary change, participants in this year’s Tour will see New Jersey’s capital city in a new way.
Our thanks to the Trenton Historical Society for helping identify the 18C structures that guide this ride.
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Our Tour starts here:
- Assunpink Creek and Stacy’s Mill (1679). The first English settler at “ye Falls of the Delaware” was Mahlon Stacy, who built a mill, of which only traces survive, on the Assunpink Creek just west of our departure point.
2. Alexander Douglass house (c. 1766), 165 East Front Street. George Washington may not have actually slept in the Douglass house, originally located on the south side of the Assunpink Creek on what is now South Broad Street, but he did convene his officers here to discuss what to do as British reinforcements rushed to Trenton at the start of 1777 hoping to reverse the unexpected defeat of their Hessian contingent.
3. House (c. 1775), 17 Greenwood Avenue. This simple 2-story structure is, according to tax records, the oldest in what is now the Mill Hill historic district.
4. Eagle Tavern (1765), 431 South Broad Street. The building provided Trentonians and visitors with needed refreshment and lodgings as both tavern and inn from 1765 until 1896, and was inscribed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
5. Church hall (c. 1775), 128 Centre Street. Tax authorities date the oldest part of the current campus of the First Baptist Church, the church hall annex, to the start of the Revolution. The Baptists organized their congregation here in 1801; the current church building at the corner of Bridge Street replaced their first church 60 years later.
6. Warden’s house, State penitentiary (1798), Second Street. The Legislature in 1797 directed construction of the State’s first penitentiary in the area currently defined by a concrete wall along today’s Cass Street, in what was then open country a mile south of the Trenton settlement. The original penitentiary campus included the warden’s house, whose plaque over the front door succinctly defines the new republic’s philosophy on corrections. The original Penitentiary House itself was demolished in stages after a new, state-of-the-art State Prison was built in brown stone next door in 1836, and the land then housed the Arsenal of the State Militia; the Warden’s House has remained. The arsenal was relocated to Sea Girt in 1929 and its space returned to prison use, eventually for an expansion of the historic prison on the facility’s east side in 1980. Thanks to the Warden’s House, New Jersey State Prison holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating state prison in the United States (though New York’s Auburn prison boasts the oldest continuously used cell blocks to house inmates).
7. House (c. 1800), 603 Centre Street.
8. Riverview Cemetery. Founding settler Mahlon Stacy was buried on the bluff that originally looked out over the last navigable stretch of the Delaware River. The cemetery shelters the remains of worthies from later centuries as well; the Tour will pass the column marking the resting place of former governor George B. McClellan, who had served as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac.
9. Abraham Woglum house (c. 1784), 1126 Lamberton Street. Woglum built his house overlooking the Delaware above a ferry to Pennsylvania.
10. Delaware Inn (1798), 1024 Lamberton Street. John Clun received a tavern license in 1773 and built the current structure to serve river travelers and local imbibers in the early years of the post-revolutionary republic. In the 20th century it became the headquarters of Champale, Inc., which produced a frothy Trenton-made malt liquor for half a century. The vacant building is now owned by the city.
11. William Trent house (1719)**, 15 Market Street. “Built by wealthy Philadelphian William Trent as a summer home,” the Michelin Guide writes in awarding the Trent House two stars (“worth a detour”), this “early and excellent example of Georgian architecture” is the oldest intact building in the city that took his name.
12. Old Masonic Lodge (1793), 102 Barrack Street. The secret rituals of the Masons are recalled in the decoration of the upper-floor meeting room of the Old Masonic Lodge, which was superseded by the classical-style Masonic Temple built next door in 1927. The structure now serves as the city’s Visitor Center.
13. Old Barracks (1758)*, 101 Barrack Street. Of the eight barracks built in Britain’s American colonies to house soldiers during what the colonists called the French and Indian War, this is the only one that remains today. “These unfortified urban barracks were designed to replace the practice of quartering soldiers in colonists’ homes,” Michelin explains in awarding the Barracks one star for national sight-worthiness. It was here that Britain’s Hessian mercenaries were quartered till the nasty surprise of Washington’s crossing.
14. Petty’s Run (remains dating to c. 1740). Excavations on the East Lawn of the State House behind the Old Barracks have revealed a long-buried stream, Petty’s Run, and the remains of a water-powered forge and steel furnace from colonial times and an early bridge linking the town to the new State House in the early years of the Republic.
15. State House (1792), 125 West State Street. New Jersey’s original State House was built at a cost of 250 British pounds ($400) and consisted of seven bays radiating off a central hall, surmounted by a bell tower. Subsequent additions on the north, south, and east sides conceal the core of the original building, but much of it may still be seen on the west side, where the Governor’s office has displaced what was originally the chamber of the Legislative Council (Senate). It is the second oldest state capitol in continuous use in the American states.
16. Emlen House (1796), 312 West State Street. This house, one of the last extant stone houses from the era to have been built in the town, is Trenton’s only 18th century building whose land abuts the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which was built at its rear in 1834.
17. House (c. 1800), 27 South Eastfield Avenue. The house, built at the end of the 18th century in open country two miles west of the newly constructed State House, is of wood-frame construction.
18. House (c. 1776), 843 Carteret Avenue. This modest house, built in open fields as the conflict between colonists and the Crown was about to engulf New Jersey, is of wood-frame construction.
19. Hermitage (1784), 46 Colonial Avenue. Philemon Dickinson moved to the Hermitage estate in 1767. He became commanding general of the New Jersey militia in revolt against the Crown in 1776, and suffered the ignominy of his estate being used as an advance sentry post by Trenton’s Hessian occupiers. The first shots of the Battle of Trenton occurred here when the Hessian sentries discovered American soldiers advancing down River Road and fired on them before fleeing to the center of town. At war’s end Dickinson remodeled his estate’s principal house to its current dimensions, while serving on the Legislative Council to which he had been elected by Hunterdon County voters under the Independent State’s 1776 constitution. After adoption of a federal constitution his fellow legislators elected him to the U.S. Senate (1790), but he retired to this house in 1793 and died here in 1809. It is currently in private hands and used as an apartment house.
20. Little Hermitage (1760), 72 South Hermitage Avenue. This brick house was a dependency of the Hermitage estate that Dickinson acquired in 1767.
21. Stone barn, 48-50-52 Passaic Street. This structure, now partitioned into three houses and serving as rental housing, is believed to have originally served as a barn. On the other side of Passaic Street runs the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
21. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (1747), 140 North Warren Street. Colonists adhering to the established Church of England organized a congregation in Hopewell Township in 1703 and built St. Michael’s four decades later. As passions deepened during the political crisis of 1776, the congregation–evenly split between Loyalists and revolutionaries–disbanded and closed the building. Hessian soldiers of the Crown killed during the battle at year’s end were buried here; so too, years later, was David Brearley, delegate to the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia, signer of the constitution it proposed, and first chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. St. Michael’s was host in 1801 to the first General Convention that adopted the 39 Articles establishing the Episcopal Church in the United States as an independent church in communion with Canterbury. The building was renovated in 1810, when its turreted façade was added, but much of the core is original to the 1747 construction.
22. Trenton Battle Monument (1893). Yes, we know it’s not 18th century, but the Trenton Battle Monument—sadly unappreciated, not least by the State government that owns and supposedly operates it—commemorates the city’s signature 18C moment in world history. With a design and height based on the 1671 Doric column commemorating the Great Fire of London (claimed by London to be “the tallest isolated stone column in the world”), the Battle Monument features two bronze relief panels by Thomas Eakins depicting the American forces’ river crossing (west side) and Alexander Hamilton’s artillery battery at this site preparing to fire down King (now Warren) Street (south side over the entrance). The bronze statues of Continental soldiers flanking the entrance and the colossal (13-foot) George Washington at the top are the work of sculptor William Rudolf O’Donovan.
23. Friends Meeting House (1739), 142 East Hanover Street. The Meeting House of the Society of Friends is Trenton’s oldest continuously operating house of worship, reflecting the religious traditions of settlers making their way upriver from the Quaker colony at Philadelphia (including Mahlon Stacy). The structure is in the austere style of the Society; its burial ground includes the above-named revolutionary general and post-revolutionary politician Philemon Dickinson; Thomas Cadwalader, first burgess of the borough of Trenton (1746-50); Richard Howell, the second governor of the independent state (1792-1801); and George Clymer, a signer of the Declaration of Independence for Pennsylvania.
First Presbyterian Church (1726/1839), 120 East State Street. The Presbyterians who founded Newark and later the College at Princeton made their appearance in the Trenton settlement in 1712, and built a stone church here in 1726. That building was replaced in 1805 and again in 1839; the Greek Revival building we see today includes nothing of the 18C original. However, the burial ground provides repose to many 18C inhabitants, including the Chambers family; Col. Johannes Rall, the Hessian commander killed in the battle of Trenton; and pastor David Cowell, whose gravestone tells us that he was “Born in Dorchester 1704/Graduated in Harvard Colledge [sic] Cambridge N.E. 1732/Ordain’d at Trenton 1736/Died 1760”.
Photo credits: Donald Pillsbury and Jeffrey Laurenti
Text: Jeffrey Laurenti
Thanks for research assistance to Sally Lane of the Trenton Historical Society; Linda Reid and Rita Balestrieri of the Trenton tax assessor’s office
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