Home » New Visitor Center breaking ground at Washington Crossing State Park

New Visitor Center breaking ground at Washington Crossing State Park

by Amie Rukenstein

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently unveiled its plans via Facebook to begin construction of a new $14 million Washington Crossing State Park Visitor Center. Starting in late February, this project is one of several the State Park Service is undertaking in preparation for the United States’ Semiquincentennial Anniversary, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 2026.

Washington Crossing Park Association (WCPA) Executive Director Annette Earling told MercerMe: “It’s really happening! We campaigned hard for a more historic design, but lost that battle. Now we’re 100% on board for this new building, in the historic heart of the park, that will do justice to the amazing Swan collection of revolutionary war artifacts. It will feature amazing and accessible views of the site of the crossing, easy access to the Johnson Ferry House, and space for the George Harding mural that is currently under restoration. It will also be adjacent to the lovely and little used George Washington Memorial Arboretum…a space that we hope to take on as our next restoration project.”

The current WCSP Visitors Center Museum.

The existing visitors center was built in 1976 for the Bicentennial and is featured in the seminal book on Washington Crossing State Park (WCSP) history, Where Washington Once Led by Peter Osborne. The 1960s was a banner period for the WCSP, with construction of the popular open air theater (now deteriorated beyond use), the accession of many acres of land, and many plans for greater improvements. Due to conflicts between decision makers, most of those plans did not come to fruition and construction of the visitor center got a late start, not quite making the Bicentennia; but it was completed by the end of July 1976, according to Osborne.

The existing  building, now known as the Visitor Center Museum, “contains the Swan Historical Foundation’s collection featuring over 500 artifacts from the American Revolution. The museum has two galleries, one focusing on New Jersey’s role in the Revolution and the other discussing “The Ten Crucial Days” surrounding Washington’s Crossing and the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. The NJN produced film ‘The Ten Crucial Days: The Road to Liberty’ can be viewed in the auditorium,” according to the State Park website. Whereas the existing Visitor Center Museum is located in the middle of the unwooded part of the park, the new Center will be perched at the historic overlook near the Johnson’s Ferry House, with a view towards the Pennsylvania park.

WCSP Overlook

Osborne said about building the 1976 center: “When the state’s minimum plan was introduced, it included… a significant enhancement to the park’s interpretive programs. The plan proposed that the 1921 painting of the historic Crossing by known artist George Harding be reframed and installed in the Visitor Center.” This is the painting Earling referred to, above. It took 50 years, but as reported by MercerMe last year, through the hard work of the WCPA and former WCPA member and author Pat Millen, the Harding painting will grace the walls of the new center.

The stage of the Open Air Theatre, which was decimated by the 2021 tornado.

Some state-of-the-art features are anticipated for the new Visitor Center. According to the DEP Facebook post: “The new visitor center is designed to be built into the landscape, featuring a green roof, a multipurpose theater, and immersive exhibits.”

Information provided thus far does not put forth plans to address the decayed state of WSCP historic structures that once housed Revolutionary soldiers, their families, and other Hopewell colonists; or the Open Air Theatre, the Nature Center, or the arboretum.

The NJDEP has announced no plans to restore its 1761 Job Phillips house or any of the other historic structures it owns in the WCSP.

The DEP facebook post explains: “The construction will take place in phases, and according to the DEP, the first stage of work will include “site preparation, including tree removal, to prepare the grounds for construction. As part of this process the DEP plans that none* of the trees being removed were witness to Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. Trees that are removed will be replaced with new trees in the area of the new visitor center and other areas throughout Washington Crossing State Park in compliance with the New Jersey No Net Loss Reforestation Act.

“Funding for the project will be provided by constitutionally dedicated Corporate Business Tax revenue in accordance with the Preserve New Jersey Act. Additional support will be provided by the American Rescue Plan, according to the DEP,“made available by Governor Phil Murphy for projects supporting improvements to the State’s Revolutionary War historic sites in anticipation of the nation’s Semiquincentennial Anniversary.”

*Thanks to the eagle eyes of reader Lorraine Applebaum who wrote to ask about the quote from the facebook page indicating that what was originally written was “one of the trees…” I had just copied and pasted from the FB page, so that’s what it said when I copied it. It now says “none” of the trees. So, that’s a relief. thanks Lorraine! 3/4/24 9:27am.- AR

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MercerMe is Hopewell Valley’s own digital news source, delivering in-depth, hyperlocal coverage that informs and strengthens the community.


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