From Battlefields to Lighthouses…Discover New Jersey’s Rich History & Heritage

By the time our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, New Jersey had already played host to some of our nation’s most historic moments. You can celebrate this storied past and rich heritage through the state’s vast array of museums, living history villages, maritime marvels and important battle sites.

Discover the Museums

New Jersey boasts more than 100 museums, ranging widely both in size and scope. We recommend that you start with these five:

An accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums, the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton is like four attractions in one with its distinctive Archaeology & Ethnography, Cultural History, Fine Art and Natural History collections. Its Cultural History Collection features over 13,000 artifacts documenting New Jersey's cultural, economic, military, political and social history, dating from the 17th century.

The Newark Museum of Art is the state’s largest with 80 galleries and the National Historic Landmark Ballantine House (closed for renovations through Spring 2023). Collections feature both permanent installations and an exciting rotation of exhibitions celebrating arts and culture from across the country and around the globe. 

Three additional museums celebrate New Jersey’s industrious heritage, including the Red Mill Museum Village in Clinton, The Museum of American Glass in Millville and the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison.

Experience History…LIVE!

If you prefer to get hands-on, New Jersey brings the past to life in distinctive historical sites located throughout the state.

Since you’re visiting the nation’s official “Garden State,” it’s only natural to make Howell Living History Farm one of your stops. Nestled in a rural setting, the horse-powered operation demonstrates farming practices common in the 1890 to 1910 timeframe and plays host to year-round public events.

Throughout the state, you’ll also find seasonal villages that celebrate New Jersey’s yesteryear. Historic Cold Spring Village in Cape May showcases more than 20 restored buildings on a 30-acre site, where interpreters in period dress demonstrate the crafts and trades of the 1800s.

Three additional sites also bring the 19th century to life. You can visit the 1836 industrial town of Allaire Village in Farmingdale. Batsto Village in Hammonton features several historic structures, including Batsto Mansion. And Waterloo Village in Allamuchy Mountain State Park offers an 1800s log cabin farm site and old-growth forest showcasing Lenape village life.

Marvel in the Maritime Heritage

Open daily in the summer months and weekends throughout the rest of the year, the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven maintains a collection of rare nautical artifacts, photos and volumes of record books from the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

And those looking to tour the beacons of New Jersey’s coastal heritage have an array of lighthouses to discover. The Twin Lights of Navesink in Highlands solidified their place in history by laying claim to numerous “firsts”—including the nation’s first use of the Fresnel lens and the first lighthouse to generate its own power.

First lit in 1857 and standing 171 feet high, Absecon Lighthouse is among the oldest in the nation and the state’s tallest. The public is invited to explore the Keeper’s House Museum or climb the lighthouse’s 228 stairs to the top for uninhibited views of the Atlantic City skyline.

Listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is an operational lighthouse and year-round museum offering both expert-led and self-guided tours that give a glimpse into the life of a 19th century light keeper.

The oldest working lighthouse in the country stands at the northern end of Sandy Hook. The octagonal tower of Sandy Hook Lighthouse has been in operation since 1764. Now maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, visitors can explore the grounds featuring informal interpretive pop-ups as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Visit Sites of Our Past Victories

New Jersey is nicknamed the Crossroads of the American Revolution, and you’ll see why with a visit to Trenton Battle Monument where the first Battle of Trenton became the turning point in the war. Explore more of the nation’s military might at the Old Barracks, which now stands as a museum offering tours and interpretations of life in the Colonies.

One of the American Revolution’s longest battles took place in Manalapan in the fields and forests that now make up Monmouth Battlefield State Park. You can explore the rural 18th century landscape of this epic fight, which includes a carefully restored farmhouse, or plan a visit for the third weekend in June for the annual reenactment of the battle, complete with costumed actors depicting every aspect of life during our young nation’s first war.

Fort Lee Historic Park showcases authentically recreated 18th century soldiers’ and officers’ huts, along with a well, woodshed and baking oven for another look back at Revolutionary War living.

More than a century later in our nation’s military history, a nine-gun battery was built at Fort Hancock to defend New York Harbor against enemy warships. The plan met with resounding success, as not one battleship ever attempted an attack along that coastline. Today, visitors can tour the fort as part of the Gateway National Recreational Area.

For those seeking a more broad-based military experience, a visit to the National Guard Militia Museum is in order. Guests can view a collection of artifacts, documents and memorabilia honoring the state’s Militia and National Guard from the Revolutionary War right up until today. The Museum also boasts one of the largest collections of Civil War research material directly related to New Jersey.

Dreaming of a revolutionary getaway? Look no further than our multi-day American Revolution itineraries. For more trip ideas, download a free NJ travel guide and stay in-the-know about the state’s offerings when you sign up for e-news from New Jersey Travel and Tourism. As always, we recommend checking out the official website or social media channels of any attraction before you head out the door for the most up-to-date visitation information.