Washington Crossing was first settled in the late 1600s or early 1700s and was known by several names including Bakers Ferry, McKonkeys Ferry, and Taylorsville until the name was changed around 1918 to commemorate Washington crossing the Delaware here. A park was formed here in 1917.

During the winter of 1776 the prospect of America winning the war was looking grim. The time for the enlisted army was about to expire on December 31 and most men were not interested in returning to the army. Washington realized that if he didn't make a move immediately he would lose most of his army. Then, in preparation for his surprise attack he ordered all boats along the Delaware River to be confiscated and brought to the Pennsylvania side. The river at that time was extremely icy and treacherous to cross, so Washington used professional boatmen from Massachusettes who could navigate the waters. Under the cover of night on Christmas night, 1776, Washington and 2400 men crossed the river at McKonkey's Ferry . It took until about 3 am for all of the men and artillery to cross, but not a single man, horse, or gun was lost in the crossing. Washington and his men then marched 9 miles to Trenton where they surprised the Hessian forces there and won the Battle of Trenton. This was one of the major turning points in the American Revolution.

The Hessians were German mercenaries hired by England to help fight in the war against the Americans. They were a professional and well-trained army, and often very cruel in their tacticts, even with prisoners of war. Some people think that Washington's forces were successful because the Hessians were drunk and celebrating on Christmas night. However, there is no evidence to support this. The German soldiers were well trained but probably didn't expect such a large attack given the terrible weather at the time.

Few people realize that there were actually several coordinated crossings taking place that night. Other groups were supposed to have crossed at locations further up the river and then join forces with Washington in order to overtake Trenton. But because the river was so treacherous that night, Washington's forces were the main group to cross and he never received the backup he was expecting, making it all the more impressive that he was successful in this risky campaign. General Washington wasn't the only future president to cross the Delaware that night--seventeen year old Lieutenant James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, also crossed the Delaware as part of the operation. It has been suggested that Coryell's Ferry (now New Hope) was the location of his crossing, but solid evidence is lacking regarding the actual site.

The first bridge at Washington Crossing was built in 1835. The current bridge, known as a double Warren Truss bridge, is almost 900 feet (275 meters) long and was built in 1904. The stone piers it rests upon are part of the original foundation from the 1830's. Although the current bridge was damaged during the major floods of 1955, it was repaired and still stands. The wooden bridge that preceded it was swept away by floods in 1903, and even before that the original bridge was swept away by an earlier flood in 1841.

This is a picture of the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware made by Emanuel Leutze. It is perhaps one of the best known images depicting American history. The very original painting was made in 1850 but was destroyed by a bombing raid in Germany in1942. Luckily, Leutze had painted another version, the one seen above, in 1850, which is 12 by 21 feet, and is now displayed at the Metroplotian Museum of Art in New York City.

Although a famous image, it is not true to historical accounts. A couple of examples are: (1) the actual crossing occured in the darkness of night and (2) the design of the flag painted in the picture did not come into being until about six months after the crossing,

An exact copy of the original painting, made in 1970 by Robert B. Williams was on display in Bucks County until January 1998. The copy is on a national tour and will unlikely return to the park. It was replaced with a digital photomural reproduction of the original painting at a cost of $10,000 by a fine-arts firm located in Minnesota.

The famous crossing has inspired other artists as well. The painting above, Passage of the Delaware, was painted in 1819 by Thomas Sully, a painter in the "Romantic School" of artists.

This was painted by George Caleb Bingham (born in 1811), and still does not accurately portray the events of crossing, especially with George Washington on top of a horse in the small boat.

The Crossing has inspired contemporary artists as well. This painting, by Peter Fiore is meant to be a historically accurate depiction of the crossing. This, and the painting below, were made for Lynne Cheney's (wife of Vice President Dick Cheney) children's book "When Washington Crossed the Delaware."

Another painting of Washington crossing the Delaware by artist Peter Fiore.

The famous scene, as depicted by Leutze, has even made it to legal tender. The 1999 State Quarter of New Jersey depicts the scene as envisioned by Leutze.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
What did the Delaware River look like in December 1776? Perhaps something like this photo from January 2014.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
Another view of the ice-chocked Delaware River at Washington Crossing.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The icy covered Delaware River at Washington Crossing, during the cold spell of January 2014.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The icy covered Delaware River at Washington Crossing, during the cold spell of January 2014.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The icy covered Delaware River at Washington Crossing, during the cold spell of January 2014.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The icy covered Delaware River at Washington Crossing, during the cold spell of January 2014.

These are replicas of the Durham boats that Washington and his men used to cross the river. They were originally designed to transport goods such as iron and lumber up and down the Delaware River and get them to markets in Philadelphia. The Durham Boat Company was located in the upper part of Bucks County in Durham Township. Robert Durham was an engineer at the company and had a prototype boat as early as 1757, almost 20 years before the crossing. As of 2006 another replica was being built at a cost of about $100,000. The replica will be 40 feet long and 10 feet wide and have four 18-foot oars.

The boats are stored in the Durham Boat House, a relatively modern 20th century addition to the park. This photo from October 2006 shows the fall foliage with such vibrant colors that it almost seems as if the roof is ablaze.

 
Photo by Chuck Rudy
 
Every year since 1954 a re-enactment is performed on Christmas day of Washington crossing the Delware. This is what it looked like on December 25, 2007, 231 years after the original crossing.

 
Photo by Chuck Rudy
 
Another picture of the re-enactment. Many people dress in period costumes to become a part of the event. These individuals were awaiting the approach of General Washington.

 
Photo by Chuck Rudy
 
The crowds watching the re-enactment unfold along the banks of the Delaware River.

 
Photo possibly by Al Barry
 

This photograph, circa 1956, is of St. John Terrell (1916-1998) dressed as George Washington. Here he is preparing to re-enact the crossing. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Terrell was born in Chicago and became an actor. He was very interested in theatrics and often performed a dramatic fire-eating act throughout his career. He was the person responsible for starting the tradition of the annual re-enactment, and the story of how this occurred is quite interesting.

In 1949 Terrell, who went by the name "Sinjin", founded the Lambertville Music Circus in Lambertville, New Jersey, directly across the Delaware River from New Hope, Pennsylvania. The summer theater was held outdoors in a round tent and became a popular attraction. In 1953, Terrell decided to re-enact the crossing of the Delaware with six friends, primarily as a publicity stunt for his Music Circus. The event became an instant hit and the tradition has continued every year since. Terrell himself played Washington for 25 years. When he stepped down from the role he passed it on to Jack Kelly, brother of Princess Grace Kelly, as well as the Washington Crossing Foundation. Terrell's re-enactment was not meant to be historically accurate but rather dramatic and entertaining for onlookers. Terrell was well-respected in the theater industry. He was also the founder of the Bucks County Playhouse, in New Hope, PA, which helped give rise to the current reputation that New Hope has for the arts. Photos of this playhouse can be found in the section on New Hope.

 
U.S. Patent Office
 

This image is from a U.S. patent filed in 1950 by St. John Terrell for a new type of tent he presumably used in his Lambertville Music Circus. In the patent description he provides the rationale for his invention: "...to provide a novel tent construction...to enable a maximum of visibility, induce a closer and more intimate feeling between the audience and the players or performers and at the same time will give a relatively wide, open space devoid of confinement, in which the performers or players and the audeince may be arranged in an intimate relationship without being divided in pockets and without undue confinement."

In a book called The Music Went 'Round and Around: The Story of Musicarnival By John Vacha, Terrell provides another rationale for the design of such a tent. He is quoted as saying, "The tent reduces the country people's distrust of the theater's forbidding formalities."

This is the McConkey Ferry Inn, dating from the 1750s, which is where Washington spoke to his troops before crossing the river. The Inn did not look exactly like this at the time of the crossing, however. Additions were made after 1776.

Another view of the McConkey Ferry Inn.

A close-up view of the inn showing the stonework and windows.

Another view of the McConkey Ferry Inn.

The Mahlon K. Taylor House is directly across from the MConkey Ferry Inn. It was built around 1817. Next to it is the Taylorsville store, built about 10 years later.

This is the Hibbs House, built circa 1830. It was also part of the Taylorsville community and was used as a tenant house for craftsmen.

Another view of the Hibbs House.

The Hibbs House surrounded by autumn foliage.

This is the current, "modern" bridge at Washington Crossing. It is already more than a century old. During the floods of 1955 the water rose up to the base of the bridge causing damage.

Looking across the bridge from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. This is a view that George Washington never had. Several times the water level of the River below was too low for the re-enactment of the crossing by boat and the actors were forced to cross on the bridge.c

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The story of Washington crossing the ice-choked Delaware River certainly would have been less compelling had there been a bridge there at the time.

This is a view of the Delaware River very close to the McConkey Ferry Inn. This is around the place where Washington crossed the Delaware. The exact area of the crossing has been lost to history.

An old cannon near the visitor's center, poised and aimed to fire on the parking lot.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The park in winter.

 
Photo by Rich Hanauer
 
The park in winter.

The Thompson-Neely house in Washington Crossing Park. This home has been called the "House of Decision", as it was thought that Washington and others planned the surprise attack at Trenton here. It is no longer clear whether or not this actually occured here. This house was used, however, as a military hospital during part of the Revolutionary War. During the war it was occupied by Robert Thompson and his son-in-law William Neely.

The house was built in sections. The first, central part is from around 1740, with other sections added in 1757 and 1788.

A barn near the Thompson-Neely house.

This is a picture of Bowman's Tower, located on a hill (Bowman's Hill) very close to Washinton Crossing. The hill was thought to have been used as a lookout point during the Revolution and later a 125 foot tower was built to mark the site by the Washington Crossing Commision. However, it is not clear if there is any true historical documentation supporting the claim that it was used as a lookout. The tower was built in 1930 and an elevator was added in the 1980's. The hill itself rises 380 feet above sea level and the views from the top of the tower are worth the trip.

Another view of Bowman's Tower. Another rumor, also untrue, is that gold treasure was buried somewhere in the vicinity of the tower. It is thought that the treasure myth came about from name confusion. John Bowman was a friend of Jonathan Pidcock, one of the original settlers in the area. A different John Bowman was a surgeon on one of the Captain Kidd's pirate fleets. The former John Bowman was buried somewhere near the present tower, although his grave was opened and plundered many years ago by those presumably looking for the treasure. Whether any parts of this story are true are not known, but it does make for an interesting tale.

Formed from parts of the original Washington Crossing park is the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve. Pictures here, not far from the entrance on River Road, is a close-up of a milkweed plant in Autumn.

A stone arch bridge spanning Pidcock creek within the boundaries of Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve. The bridge was built in the 1930's and is no longer open to vehicular traffic.

This is the Thompson-Neely Grist Mill. It was built in the 1830's. Water ran through the mill via a sluiceway which redirected water from the Pidcock Creek. The falling water powered a waterwheel which powered the mill. This mill has been restored and the sluiceway is visible. It is possible to see where the water enters the mill and also where it drains out at the bottom.

Another view of the Thompson-Neely Grist Mill, seen through the trees along River Road.

Related items of interest:

Article entitled Washington's crossing of the Delaware by Nance Bence from Teutopolis Press (featuring photos from this tour).

This is an original account of Washington crossing the Delaware from a letter dated December 30, 1776.

A description of the events leading to the crossing in George Washington's own words.