Morristown National Historic Park in the rain

Morristown National Park

During our weekend getaway, Sunday proved to be a very wet and dreary day.  After the glorious day we had on Saturday, it was a shame we couldn\’t spend more time enjoying the fall foliage. The weather forced us indoors, and we chose to add History to our weekend agenda.

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All of our original plans required clear skies. Mother Nature was not cooperating.  We decided to take the slow crawl home, and found that Morristown National Park was along our route. It was decided – time to visit a National Park, get a passport stamp, and learn something about history. This was becoming a #DayOfDiscovery

And boy – did history crash in on me that day.  I was always very familiar with the story of Valley Forge.  Growing up in Philly, it was in our backyard. So Valley Forge and the tragic winter conditions that the Continental Army endured was well known since grade school.

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Washington\’s Headquarters

Ford\’s Mansion

The tour takes you into Ford\’s mansion. I learned Morristown was the first National park, and that a few dedicated men purchased the land and area to help preserve this important piece of our history.

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It was a rainy Sunday that I found myself standing in Ford\’s Mansion learning about the winter of 1779, Washington\’s winter headquarters.

  • Washington wintered at Mr. Ford\’s mansion, with Ford\’s widow and family residing in two small rooms.
    • Mr. Ford unfortunately passed earlier from pneumonia he caught while performing his militia duties
  • The Continental Army had to ask permission to stay at the Ford\’s home, and pay rent for their duration
  • The army would not take Ford\’s provisions nor share army provisions, but they shared the kitchen and pantry
  • The winter of 1779 was far worse than the winter at Valley Forge.
  • It was the infamous winter that froze NYC
  • The Hudson Bay froze solid
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    • The tour guide told us that it was possible to roll a large cannon across the ice without the ice fracturing or cracking
    • I remember reading about people who walked across the frozen bay
  • Despite far worse conditions, there were fewer deaths during this winter encampment, mostly due to the experience of the army (after Valley Forge)

My memory kept triggering all of the random stories that I suddenly connected together: the epic (and deadly) winter that was devastating the enter New England region, and how devastating it was for New Yorkers.   I had assumed those deadly winters were associated with Valley Forge winter. But Morristown corrected my knowledge.

Mercer, Hopewell, and Ford – oh my!

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As we were touring the mansion, I saw a fireplace iron plate. This connected the Mercer museum and the Hopewell Furnace experiences together.  There was a time in history when large metal plates were commonly used in fire places. The plates collected heat when the fire was going strong, and then radiated heat into the room as the fire died. It is very possible that plate in the Ford\’s mansion was designed and forged at Hopewell Furnace.  Later, when these plates were discarded by houses enjoying new heating solutions, Mr. Mercer collected such plates and used them to inspire his tile designs.  I may have seen fireplace plates at several locations, but this time when my eye fell on the plate, I had the knowledge learned at the Mercer museum to better appreciate what I was seeing.

After the mansion tour, we darted to the museum and toured the east and west wing rooms.  I was fascinated by the delicate sewing materials preserved and on display.  Plus the hipster \”beard bowl\” which is actually called a Shaving Bowl. (but let\’s all agree that Beard Bowl is better!)

Fort Nonsense

The rain slowed down to a soft drizzle, so we hopped in the car and made our way to Fort Nonsense.  Because anything named Nonsense is worth a visit.

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Fort Nonsense no longer exists.  But the park is located at the crest of a small hill, and it gives a stunning view. Unfortunately it never stopped raining. We quickly made our way to the Fort\’s outline (placed in the field), and the Information sign which told us how Nonsense got it\’s name. 🙂

The name appears to have been earned after the war.  It was called \”Nonsense\” because it was claimed that the task of building it was only to keep troops busy.  Ha! I totally relate to my 18th century friends suffering from busy work. Don\’t we all have a Fort Nonsense in our life??

Jockey Hollow

Jockey Hollow is where the actual troops\’ encampment was located.  We visited the office to get information and saw a wonderful remake of the encampment log cabins. I could easily imagine how difficult it would be to endure weeks – months! – confined in such a small place with so limited movement. And the only escape from a tight and choking house was to go outside into the bitter cold and snow. It must have been hellish.

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My idea of a rough winter is having to shovel the paths, and then binge watching Netflix while ordering pizza delivery.  Yeesh!

After leaving the small museum, the rain really kicked up a lot. All three of us were soaked from the short walk to the car.  But we drove around Jockey Hollow and tried to capture some images along the way.

 

 

 


Trip Summary

Trip Worthy?

  • Day trip? Yes
  • Weekend Trip? Yes, if you add other local items to the agenda.
  • Worth Going Out of Our Way?  Depends: are you a history buff? Then, yes!  If you are soft on history, this may underwhelm you. Consider this an add-on to other local events or tours.
  • Worth air-fare? Depending on your passion for history, but I would consider this an add-on to a regional tour and not worthy of a expensive diversion.

Kid / Pet Friendly?

  • School kids? Absolutely! But a bit dry.  If you do plan this trip, schedule it for a sunny day and mix outdoor activities with history and educational lessons.
  • Teens? Teens are never satisfied and may eye-roll at this history stuff. Make it worse by telling them it builds character or something.
  • Really young kids? Skip the mansion tour and head to Jockey Hollow. There is an entertaining and educational video, the cabin remake, and a large park in which to drive, walk, jog, and enjoy.
  • Pets? Visit the Fort Nonsense park, pack a lunch, enjoy the view. We saw joggers and dog walkers all along Jockey Hollow\’s roads.  Ford Mansion will not be pet friendly.

Enjoyment Level?

  • Frankly, our day could have been better. But weather was entirely responsible for this, not the location or tour. I love history, so this was very informative and eye-opening for me, therefore I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I fear that I may not have experienced this park in all it\’s glory, and might be giving a less-than-ideal summary.
  • If you are traveling with adults, this will be a wonderful place to visit, spend the day exploring, and find a lovely restaurant to close out a day tour.
  • There are many other historical locations, natural parks, and National Parks in the area which could be used to create an amazing weekend trip, including:
    • Great Patterson Falls
    • Edison National Park (and house tour)
    • Gateway National Recreation Area
    • Statue of Liberty ferry tour
    • Plus many charming New Jersey towns.
  • If we did this trip again, I would plan a relaxing day exploring the parks, enjoying a picnic, and then returning home late that evening. Or, I would use it as an add-on for a Delaware Water Gap, Edison Park, or NYC trip.