Sunday, August 12, 2012

History at every turn: strolling through Bordentown

Fresh off our Clara Barton discovery, Ivan and I drove to downtown Bordentown to see what other treasures were there for the finding. What we found was a quaint downtown, more of a 19th century feel than Burlington or Mount Holly, but still a throwback. Bank buildings were large and stately, the streets were wide and welcoming, and the architecture is Colonial with a mix of Classical and European influence.

Bordentown NJ
Some of the yards were fenced off with very cool wrought iron.
Oh, and there were some cute shops and eating places, too. It's a nice place to stroll and browse on a summer afternoon.

Important to us, sites of note were clearly marked. Bordentown is clearly proud of its heritage, both as a hub of transportation and as home to a cast of characters who might be considered rabblerousers of the Revolution. Starting in colonial times, the town's location made it a key spot for travelers between New York and Philadelphia, so it was a natural base of operations for revolutionary notables.

Since it's the kind of place where we could reasonably expect that the attractions listed in the WPA Guide to New Jersey still exist, I took it with me after we parked the car. I didn't want us to miss anything important. Within walking distance, we found a wealth of history:
  • Thomas Paine, the noted patriot and author of Common Sense, lived in Bordentown when he wasn't in France. You may recall that we first ran into his New Jersey exploits at New Bridge Landing, where Washington's 1776 retreat inspired Paine's classic, The American Crisis.
  • Francis Hopkinson house Bordentown NJ
    Francis Hopkinson's house.
  • Lawyer and artist Francis Hopkinson stayed in town after marrying the daughter of the man for whom Bordentown is named. Hopkinson not only signed the Declaration of Independence, but was a talented satirist and is credited with designing the New Jersey state seal. He's definitely a subject for a future Hidden New Jersey post, but for now we'll say that his poems and jingles inspired patriots both to fight for independence and to have a good laugh at British military.
  • The tracks of New Jersey's first railroad, the Camden and Amboy run on the bed of a sub-surface cut through downtown. Just a mile away, the state's first steam locomotive, the John Bull, was built and tested in 1831.
  • The Delaware and Raritan Canal's western end is at the base of a steep embankment just outside the business district.
  • The home of Patience Wright, who was America's first sculptress of note, well, when she wasn't spying for the colonists in London.
We also found a bit of fun in the shops around town. Crammed with all kinds of pop culture musts, Randy's Man Cave lacks for floor space to walk on, but more than makes up for it with Beavis and Butthead bobbleheads, loud music and Quisp cereal (really!). There was a bit too much Phillies memorabilia, but given the location, I guess that can be forgiven.

Point Breeze Bordentown NJ Bonaparte
Apparently the entrance to Bonaparte's estate.
We heeded the sign's direction.
The marquee explorer's site in Bordentown, of course, is Point Breeze, home of the exiled Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and Naples. Much of the site is overgrown and foreboding, with the remainder taken over by the Divine Word Seminary, so we left it unexplored, regrettably. Given the dense vegetation and the connection to noted ornithologist Charles Bonaparte, it would have been a kick to do some birding there.


  1. Bordentown is indeed a hidden treasure trove of history. I hope you stopped in at The Old Book Shop, which has one of the biggest NJ used book sections and pamphlets I've seen.
    Something else that caught my eye there is all of the fall out shelter plaques on the banks and post office.
    As always, thanks for the blog!

  2. Glad you're enjoying, Nik! Unfortunately the book shop was closed when we were there (summer hours, I think), but it sounds like a reason to return. Funny you mention the fallout shelter signs -- they caught my eye, too. I guess Bordentown is the place to be in case of nuclear war.


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