MORRISTOWN – George Washington spent a lot of time here.
That was once common knowledge, as was New Jersey’s pivotal role in the American Revolution, but as time passes, history fades.
It’s that seeming, fast-moving of time, however, that presents opportunity. The year, 2026, – the 250th birthday of the United States – will be here in a little more than two years.
Planning is already underway – with an understandable local touch.
“We can tell the whole story through New Jersey,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill as she joined Sen. Cory Booker on Monday for a tour and discussion about the coming anniversary at the Washington Headquarters Museum.
“It’s not that far away,” said Booker.
The museum is part of Morristown National Historical Park, which also includes an historical mansion, Fort Nonsense and Jockey Hollow, the site of a Continental Army winter encampment in 1779-1780. The park just turned 90 and is the nation’s first official historical park.
Sherrill said it’s become common for some to think of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts when the Revolution is raised. It’s true that such locales as Valley Forge and Philadelphia and events like Paul Revere’s ride and the Boston Tea Party command attention.
But Washington “crossing the Delaware” and the subsequent Battle of Trenton remains a seminal event in the entire war.
Monday’s discussion included representatives from an array of historical organizations on all levels of government.
One of the goals is to use the nation’s 250th anniversary to attract heritage tourism to New Jersey. There is some precedent here.
Officials said that during the country’s bicentennial in 1976, about a million people visited the park, an impressive number to be sure.
Those old enough will remember that the centerpiece of the 200th birthday of the United States was a parade of tall ships sailing up the Hudson.
Whatever happens in two-plus years, practicalities can’t be overlooked.
To the end, it was noted that the park has gotten federal funds to improve an access road, pave a parking lot and repair the old soldiers’ huts in Jockey Hollow.
Attracting tourists interested in America’s history to New Jersey is important, but perhaps not as critical long term as understanding the values of the revolution.
Booker struck that philosophical tone, saying that the current times are a “critical point” in the evolution of democracy in America.
The senator, who is on his customary August tour of all 21 New Jersey counties, stressed the willingness of our forefathers to “sacrifice everything” for liberty.
One of those individuals was Thomas Paine, whose writings gave comfort to and inspired the Revolution. Paine, it was noted, did some of his writing while embedded with the Continental Army in Fort Lee. Always a Jersey connection.
“It’s very hard for us to continue to bear the fruits of democracy without recognizing the roots of democracy,” Booker said.
Paine would have agreed.