TRENTON — Visitors can relive a crucial turning point in American history with the annual re-enactment of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day, the 240th anniversary of the iconic crossing that helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War at a time when the fledgling nation’s prospects seemed hopeless.
Visitors to Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, Mercer County, will be able to see the restored Johnson Ferry House, the only original structure on the park property that dates to the crossing.
The river crossing, beginning in the early hours of Christmas Day in 1776, is considered a pivotal event in the War for Independence, leading to strategic victories in Trenton the next day, followed by victories at Assunpink Creek on Jan. 2, 1777, and at Princeton the day after that. These victories helped establish Washington’s Continental Army as a viable fighting force that could challenge the British Army and their Hessian mercenaries.
“General Washington’s crossing of the Delaware was the opening round in what historians call the 10 Crucial Days of the American Revolution, a period when the teetering fight for independence desperately needed military successes to survive,” said Mark Texel, director of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks and Forestry. “This annual re-enactment has become a popular part of many families’ Christmas traditions, providing a glimpse into the sacrifices made by Washington’s soldiers.”
The re-enactment is free and runs from noon to about 3 p.m. this Sunday, kicking off with a brief lecture at the Nelson House on the New Jersey side of the river. At 1 p.m., a cannon will be fired from Washington Crossing State Park on the Pennsylvania side of the river, signaling the start of the crossing by some 100 re-enactors using four replicas of Durham boats.
“This event allows visitors to witness a key moment in our nation’s history and how our nation was created,” said Park Resource Interpretive Specialist and Historian Mark Sirak. “Many families make this re-enactment a regular part of their holiday celebrations. The view from the New Jersey bank of the river provides an excellent opportunity to view and photograph the boats and re-enactors heading toward you.”
Repairs and staining of the historic Johnson Ferry House, built in 1740, were completed in November. The restoration project was underwritten by the Washington Crossing Park Association-New Jersey, with the generosity of members and donors.
“The Park Service and the public owe many thanks to the Park Association and to its many members and contributors,” Texel said. “The efforts of the association, led by president Joe Carney, were key to the preservation of this historic structure. Their ongoing service to the park is invaluable.”
After the stealthy predawn crossing of the icy Delaware, Washington marched his troops south to Trenton, where they surprised Hessian forces and captured nearly the entire garrison. Prior to the crossing and the ensuing battles of Trenton and Princeton, the American Revolution was thought to be lost. But those victories turned the war around and led to the eventual defeat of the British in 1783.
The first re-enactment was in 1947; severe weather has led to some re-enactment cancellations.
Hot cider will be available. Free parking will be available on both sides of the river. On the New Jersey side, visitors should enter at the park’s main entrance on Route 546, where volunteers will direct traffic. Both parks are easily accessible to each other by a vehicle bridge that has a pedestrian walkway.
For a Discover DEP podcast on the crossing, visit Washington Cross Podcast.
For more information about Washington Crossing State Park, including directions and GPS coordinates, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html.
For more information on New Jersey state parks, including a link to the free New Jersey State Parks and Forests Pocket Ranger app, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/.