History Books Are Nice…But New Jersey Brings the Past to Life!

By the time our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, New Jersey had already played host to some of our nation’s proudest 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 sites in your discovery process:  

An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, Trenton’s New Jersey State Museum is actually four attractions in one. 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.

Newark Museum is the state’s largest with 80 galleries and the show-stopping Victorian-era Ballantine House, a National Historic Landmark. Two floors of the 1885 mansion showcase the museum’s House & Home collection, which includes eight period rooms, two hallways and six themed galleries—all filled with items that might have been found in people's homes from the 1650s to the present.

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!

Peering into glass display cases isn’t for everyone, so 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 past. Historic Cold Spring Village in Cape May showcases 26 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 33 historic structures, including Batsto Mansion. And Waterloo Village in Allamuchy Mountain State Park offers an 1800s log cabin farm site and 17th century Lenape village exhibit.

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, the first kerosene-fueled lamps and the first electrically powered lighthouse. 

Built 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, it is open to the public on weekends, April through mid-December, and weekdays in July and August.

The 165-foot lighthouse affectionately referred to as “Old Barney” was utilized as a WWI lookout tower for its commanding views of the Barnegat Inlet. Today, visitors can explore the painstakingly restored red and white Barnegat Lighthouse as a stop on the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail.

Visit Sites of Our Past Victories

Ask any American Revolution enthusiast and they’ll tell you that The Battle of Trenton was the turning point in the war for our nation’s freedom. Bearing witness to that pivotal historic moment was the Old Barracks, which now stands as a museum offering tours and interpretations of life in the Colonies.

One of the American Revolution’s final 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 weekend visit in late 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 decade later in our nation’s military history, the Army Quartermaster Department began building a nine-gun battery at Fort Hancock to defend New York City against enemy warships. The plan met with resounding success, as not one battleship ever attempted an attack along that coastline. Today, visitors can take a walking tour of 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 lovingly preserved collection of artifacts, documents and memorabilia that carry historical significance for the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard and the Naval Militia of New Jersey.

These featured attractions just skim the surface of the Garden State’s treasure trove for history buffs. To discover even more and gain an insider’s edge, you can download a free NJ travel guide and sign up for e-news from New Jersey Travel and Tourism.