Friday, September 18, 2009

William Trent House

I had a meeting in Trenton today, so I decided to stop by the 1719 William Trent House before heading home. I have never been here before (unlike the Old Trenton Barracks – which is a must-see site that I’ve promised myself to revisit sometime this year to blog on).

The Trent House is kind of a peculiar addition to this blog. While the building is most certainly coincidental with the Revolutionary War period, the interpretive strategy focuses more on illustrating early 18th century domestic life rather than any role it played during the war. It is basically the birthplace of Trenton, so you’ve got to take a look.

Let me start by saying that I found the focus on this as an exemplar of 18th century a bit amusing. William Trent was a very wealthy Philadelphia merchant who was looking for a place to build his country home. Imagine this huge Georgian house going up in the middle of nowhere, basically 100 years after New Jersey was first being settled. Then building a village (“Trent’s Town”) around it to serve the needs of the inhabitants.

Now, imagine 300 years from now, people going on tours of Donald Trump’s Manhattan Penthouse to show them what life was like in the early 21st century. That’s what I was picturing as I toured the Trent House.

A recent college grad named Diedre gave me the full tour even though I was the sole visitor on this Friday afternoon. Like the Donald, William Trent had unfashionable taste in furniture. He favored the chunky, overbearing Jacobean style for his tables and chairs – not exactly au courant in 1719. However, the house itself is light and airy, with high ceilings on both floors and lots of “wasted” space on the landings (nice if you could afford it).

Look for the floorboard that is about twice as wide as the others. It’s called the “King’s Board.” Supposedly, this board came directly from the King of England’s personal forest and was an obvious sign that the homeowner was tight with the royal clan. Either that, or the board was contraband and the owner was simply rich enough to pay off the tax inspector. Either way, old Bill Trent clearly wasn’t hurting.

The house tour is really set up to accommodate school groups. There are 18th century games and toys that visitors can play with in the children’s bedroom. And there is an archeological “dig” activity in the cellar. So, this is a decent place to take the kids.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer Recap

Labor Day seems as good a time as any to recap where I’ve been so far. While all the sites I visited this summer are intriguing and worthwhile in their own right, a few really stand out in terms of their appeal for the casual historical tourist. These include:
-- East Jersey Olde Towne and the Cornelius Low House, just across the river from New Brunswick with its own Revolutionary War connections (not to mention bevy of great restaurants); and
-- the City of Burlington, which offers a veritable smorgasbord of historical sites spanning both the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Proprietary House in Perth Amboy and the Wallace House in Somerville are also worth a visit when they are open, as the cities in which they are located offer other attractions as well.

Some of the other sites may only be worth a visit if you are in the area and can verify they are open when you plan to go. However, I’d also like to see more visitor information available for places that are infrequently open – please see my Middlebrook entry for more on this. I think simply providing better, or indeed any, exterior interpretive signage can greatly enhance the experience of the serendipitous tourist, and thereby increase their desire to return again to the site.

OK, so I didn’t get to as many sites as I had hoped this summer. But if the Continental Army could hunker down in New Jersey for the harshest winter it experienced, I can certainly forge ahead with my own travels during the oncoming cooler seasons. Stay tuned!