Saving History in New Jersey

Preservationists Hope for Victory on Victory Trail

Two hundred thirty-five years after George Washington crossed the Delaware River and triumphed in the Battle of Trenton, another battle is raging nearby.

Preservationists in Hopewell Township, N.J., are at odds with Mercer County officials over the future of the historic Jacob's Creek Bridge, an iron truss span located near the trail Washington followed to Trenton. The bridge is unstable and has been closed to all automobile traffic since September 2009. County officials are conducting an engineering study for the construction of an entirely new bridge, as well as working to introduce a new road alignment, which would destroy a significant portion of Washington's Victory Trail.

"Not only are they messing with a 19th-century bridge, they are also messing with an 18-century landscape," says Walter Gallas, Director of the Northeast Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "That's a disruption of two tiers of history."

Preservationists from both Preservation NJ and Crossroads of the American Revolution are fighting the county's plans. They believe the bridge can be rehabilitated and the current path of the roadway, retained.

Rehabilitating the old bridge and inserting a new concrete support system underneath would cost $2 million and could be completed in a year, preservationists say. Michael Markulec, deputy mayor of Hopewell Township, calls this approach "the best of both worlds." The county plan for an entirely new bridge, by contrast, would cost approximately $7 million and the span would not be completed until 2015.

On September 28, the New Jersey State Review Board for Historic Sites will consider the bridge and surrounding area for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Though listing would make it more difficult for the county to move forward with realignment and bridge construction, it would not have the power to halt construction. 

"Being on a historic registry doesn't preclude the county from constructing a new, safe bridge," said Julie Willmot, a county spokesperson. County officials noted that there is no definitive design for the potential new structure. 

"[The county] wants to proceed on a pathway that could destroy the very thing that's unique about this place," says Gallas.

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