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 most historic moments. You can celebrate this storied past and rich history through the state’s vast array of museums, living history villages, maritime marvels and important battle sites. You can also gain valuable insight into our diverse heritage by exploring our American Revolution and Black Heritage itineraries spanning destinations across the state. 
 
 

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 with its distinctive Archaeology & Ethnography, Cultural History, Fine Art and Natural History collections. Its Cultural History Collection includes over 13,000 artifacts documenting New Jersey's cultural, economic, military, political and social history, dating from the 17th century.

Newark Museum of Art is the state’s largest museum and holds major collections of American, decorative and classical arts, as well as arts of Asia, Africa and the Americas. The museum is also home to a newly reinstalled science collection with objects ranging from rare, exotic seashells and minerals to a mastodon skeleton and animal specimens. 

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 throughout the state.

Since you’re visiting the nation’s official “Garden State,” it’s only natural to make Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville 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 27 restored buildings on a 30-plus-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 Historic Village at Allaire in Farmingdale. Batsto Village in Hammonton features over 30 historic buildings and structures, including the Batsto Mansion. And Waterloo Village Historic Site at Allamuchy Mountain State Park offers an 1800s log cabin and 17th century Lenape village exhibit.

MARVEL IN THE MARITIME HERITAGE

Open daily in the summer months and Friday-Sunday 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. 

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 Lightkeeper’s dwelling 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 in North Wildwood is an operational lighthouse and museum offering both expert-led and self-guided tours that give a glimpse into the life of a 19th century lightkeeper.

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 and is now maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 172-foot lighthouse affectionately referred to as “Old Barney” was utilized as a WWI lookout tower for its commanding views of the Barnegat Inlet. Renovations began for the red and white Barnegat Lighthouse in March 2022 and are expected to be complete by October 2022. 

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 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 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 of New Jersey is in order (note: there are two locations: Sea Girt and Lawrenceville). Guests can view a lovingly preserved collection of artifacts, documents and memorabilia that carry historical significance for the National Guard and the 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. For more details and the most updated information, be sure to visit official websites and/or social media pages of destinations before you visit.