In the Footsteps of Greatness: Historic Washington Crossing on the Delaware River

Last Updated on April 15, 2014 by Jody Halsted

George Washington and his brave rag-tag army crossed the icy Delaware River on December 25, 1776 to surprise the Hessians that were groggy from Christmas festivities. Washington’s surprise victory became one of the most symbolic victories in American history. This first victory truly demonstrated the determination of the patriots as well as the strategic capabilities of Washington himself.

Growing up in New Jersey, the history of this battle became a bit intertwined with that of our family as we spent may afternoons picnicking on the shores of the Delaware River right at the very spot where Washington and his troops launched their battle. Today, the Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania and  Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey provide a window into this pivotal battle as well as a natural space ready for a family adventure.  Our family enjoys the Washington Crossing area not only as a place for a respite from the everyday but also for its significance in our nation’s history.

Washington Crossing on the Delaware River
Washington Crossing on the Delaware River

Washington Crossing on the Delaware River

The area hugging the Delaware River is picturesque on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides.  The preserves are filled with trees giving the area a rustic look along the river. During our last visit, we were blessed with a gorgeous, fall day. The foliage was brilliantly colored and really highlighted our walk along the river. On the Pennsylvania side, there are a number of colonial buildings to walk around. There are some picnic tables where you can grab a bite to eat while relaxing and enjoying the ambiance.  Like in Pennsylvania, trails wind through the New Jersey park and you can enjoy lunch al fresco at a picnic table. For my family, this location has long been a place where we have found solace no matter how hectic our lives are.

Buildings to Explore

A few buildings suited for exploration dot the area. In Pennsylvania, you can scale Bowman’s Hill Tower to enjoy impressive views. A pleasant Visitor’s Center will help you orient yourself while taking in some exhibits and visiting the gift shop. The Visitor Center is right next to a charming colonial village. Before ambling through the village, be sure to stop by the cannons just outside of the Visitor’s Center for a quick photo op! My husband and daughter had a fun time running around the cannons and having me take pictures of different poses!

Cannon at Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania
Cannon at Washington Crossing Historic Park

A walk through the colonial buildings really fills you with that patriotic spirit. The park has a building housing replicas of the Durham boats that Washington and his men used as they forged ahead towards victory. These very boats are used in the annual reenactment of the pivotal crossing–pretty neat! My daughter enjoyed taking a peek at the boats and learning about Washington’s crossing from our costumed tour guide. As  we continued down a path amongst the other buildings and encountered other costumed guides, we were really swept back to the time of Washington.

McConkey's Ferry Inn, Pennsylvania
Peek into colonial life at McConkey’s Ferry Inn

During our visit, traveling with a preschooler meant  that we were limited on time. We prioritized and visited the McConkey’s Ferry Inn on the Pennsylvania side. The inn served as a guard post during the crossing and may have been where Washington and his officers dined before the campaign. Choosing to visit the inn was wise on our part–our daughter loved it! The inn had some scenes set including traditional tavern games–which really spoke to my daughter! The tour guide was very patient with her questions and even demonstrated pieces that would entertain a child. The history of the building was amazing and you could still smell the fires that sustained inhabitants and visitors over the past centuries. I really miss the colonial feel from time to time—so I was immediately captivated!

Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania
Stopping for a peppermint stick at the Taylorsville General Store is a must!

Several other colonial and slightly post-colonial buildings pepper the park. A walk through the buildings in such a picturesque local was just breathtaking. As children, my brother, sister and I loved to amble through the Taylorsville General Store within the park, exploring items representative of colonial America. No visit would be complete without picking up a peppermint stick to savor on our ride home. Who can resist a sweet yet nostalgic treat?

On the other side of the Delaware, the New Jersey park has a Visitor’s Center Museum that houses exhibits on the Revolution with an emphasis on the days leading up to Washington’s victory. There also is a ferry house containing period pieces. The house is open several days a week. Additionally, the home is part of living history events at the park. The park is also a rustic preserve, so time to explore nature is a must! Between both parks, families can have a wonderful adventure that explores both history and nature!

Be a Part of History

Each park enhances learning by holding historical events throughout the year. Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania holds a reenactment of the crossing every year on December 25. The park also holds a dress rehearsal before the big event. The dress rehearsal not only includes a rehearsal of the crossing complete with General Washington himself but also period demonstrations and activities. While the crossing is certainly a highlight, the park holds other events throughout the year. This month, the park held a look at chocolate as a colonial drink and will even have samples for visitors. The park also will be hosting a sheep shearing demonstration this spring. These events provide such a tangible way to experience history!

Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey also holds enriching events like a history festival with historical demonstrations and exhibits. Additionally, they hold musket firing demonstrations–sure to be a hit with the kids! In addition to historical events, the park also holds events encouraging nature exploration.

The historic nature of both parks is truly something for families to explore.  During certain times of the year, the Washington Crossing Military Park has tour guides available and the Washington Crossing State Park has interpreters in the ferry house.  However, as with many historic buildings, hours are seasonal so you will want to verify that they are open before visiting.

Two Parks, One March to History

Washington chose his crossing location in order to not attract the attention of the British. Today, the beauty and historic significance of the region  truly beckon families. The significance of this location can be attested by the fact that both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have set aside parcels of land to commemorate Washington’s first march to victory. Beautifully nestled along the Delaware River, there is no denying the natural splendor of these parks. For our family, the parks provide a launching point for a peaceful respite while contemplating the actions of our forefathers.

Washington Crossing Historic Park is located at 1112 River Rd. in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.

Washington Crossing State Park is located at 355 Washington Crossing Pennington Rd. in Titusville, New Jersey.

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