Photography by Jared Kofsky
Located less than 60 miles southwest of Newark and Jersey City, many of the streets of New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton, are lined with landmarks. These landmarks have been vital to not only the history of the state, but to the development of the country.
Trenton, which currently has just under 85,000 residents, is served at the Trenton Transit Center by New Jersey Transit train service to Newark and New York, River Line light rail service to Camden, Amtrak trains to communities across the East Coast, and SEPTA train service to Center City Philadelphia. The city is situated just a few miles from the New Jersey Turnpike, making it a convenient place to take a day trip whether by train or car.
Here is a look at a selection of Trenton’s most notable historic sites that you can visit.
New Jersey State House and Museum
Although a renovation of the New Jersey State House, which has long been the home to the New Jersey State Senate, New Jersey General Assembly, and Office of the Governor, is beginning, the historic center of state government is still open for tours. Located at the edge of Downtown Trenton at 125 West State Street, the building was constructed in several stages over a 119 year period, making it one of the oldest of its kind in the country.
According to the New Jersey Legislature, the first part, which is 2.5 stories tall, dates back to 1792, and was designed by Jonathan Doane from Pennsylvania. Additions were made in 1845, 1865, and 1871, until a fire struck in 1885, destroying parts of the complex.
Subsequently, a new rotunda and dome were constructed, as was an extension creating a new wing with offices along State Street, forming the facade that visitors to the State House see today. According to the State, free tours are offered hourly on weekdays from 10:00am to 3:00pm and two Saturdays per month.
A State-run welcome center with exhibits is also located on the grounds, as is the Petty’s Run Archaeological Site, which, according to Destination Trenton, features the remains of the Front Street Paper Mill and the Trenton Steel Works, “the only archaeologically documented colonial steel furnace in North America.”
Just a few doors down at 205 West State Street is the New Jersey State Museum, which features a planetarium along with exhibits about photomicrography, fossils in New Jersey, local artists, the state’s toy manufacturing industry, Civil War and World War I flags, the Delaware Native Americans, the September 11th attacks, and more. Admission costs $5.00 for adults, and children under 13 are admitted free. There is an additional charge for events at the planetarium.
Old Barracks Museum
Around the corner from the State House at 101 Barrack Street lies the Old Barracks Museum, which, as the name implies, is located within a complex that once was used to house American, British, and Irish soldiers. According to the Daughters of the American Revolution, it was built by the British government in 1758 during the French and Indian War to house 300 soldiers from the British and Irish armies, and is “is the only extant and restored military structure left in New Jersey that is associated with the Colonial Wars,” according to the museum.
Then, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, it was briefly occupied by the Continental Army before being used again by the British and Hessians in 1776 up until the Battle of Trenton. During the battle, there was a surprise attack by the Continental Army coming from Pennsylvania towards the barracks and the city, which the Americans won and were able to regain control of the complex. It later contained a Continental Army war hospital.
Today, visitors can come to the Old Barracks from 10:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays and Saturdays to take a tour of the complex and see reenactments. Tickets cost $8 for adults. Plus, groups of high school students can sleep overnight on the wooden bunk beds inside the barracks.
Adjacent to Downtown Trenton is the city’s picturesque Mill Hill neighborhood, where the scenic tree-lined streets are surrounded by historic homes, gaslights, and churches. For the last 50 years, many of the homeowners have been opening their doors to the public once a year as part of The Old Mill Hill Society’s Holiday House Tour in December, and horse and carriage rides are provided through the community during the event.
During the warmer months, residents and visitors flock to the annual Mill Hill Garden Tour in June and the Capital City Farmers Market on Thursdays throughout the summer and fall at Mill Hill Park along the Assunpink Creek, which features a variety of vendors, from bakeries to farms. The park is also home to the Levitt AMP Trenton Music Series, which features free concerts on Thursday nights. Plus, throughout the year, there are classes and events at the Artworks visual arts center and performances by the Passage Theater Company within the Mill Hill Playhouse.
According to The Old Mill Hill Society, the area “is a close knit, diverse, and civically active neighborhood” with homes dating back to as early at 1826. It is named for a gristmill that opened nearby in 1679.
Located about two miles northwest of Mill Hill and Downtown is Cadwalader Park, which is the home of the Trenton City Museum. Housed within the Ellarslie Mansion, which dates to 1848, the museum features exhibits about local art and Trenton’s history, including about the former Trenton Central High School building, the city’s industrial heritage, and Caldwalder Park’s development.
According to the museum, the mansion, designed by architect John Notman, was originally a summer house of Philadelphia resident Henry McCall, Sr, and later contained a museum owned by the city at the end of the 19th century. Since then, the building “has been a restaurant, ice cream parlor, and monkey house” before once again becoming a museum 39 years ago. Currently, it is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12:00pm until 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. Visitors can “pay as you wish” for admission.
Outside, Cadwalader Park, named for another Philadelphia resident, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, has been owned by the City of Trenton since 1888. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and once included a zoo and carousel. Today, it remains among the largest parks in the area, and is about to undergo a multi-phase rehabilitation.