TITUSVILLE, NJ — Visitors can relive a crucial turning point in American history with the annual re-enactment of Gen. George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day — the 241st 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 the Washington Crossing State Park, located in Titusville, 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 late afternoon of Christmas Day 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 January 2, 1777 and at Princeton the day after that. This stunning string of victories helped establish Washington's Continental Army as a viable fighting force that could challenge the British Army and their Hessian mercenaries.
"Gen. 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 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., 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.
Traditionally, the re-enactment features some 100 re-enactors using four replicas of Durham boats. However, due to low water levels in the river this year, the crossing will be attempted using six shallower draft rowboats provided by Philadelphia Waterborne, a nonprofit that teaches boat-building skills to middle- and high-school students.
"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 2016. The restoration project was underwritten by the Washington Crossing Park Association-New Jersey, with the generosity of members and donors.
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 more information about Washington Crossing State Park, including directions and GPS coordinates, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html For a Discover DEP Podcast on crossing, visit: Washington Cross Podcast.