Known as the “Crossroads of the American Revolution,” New Jersey played a crucial role in the nation’s quest for independence. Many important battles took place right here. In December 1776, General George Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River and into the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. The American Army defeated British forces in both battles to control much of New Jersey. This greatly improved the morale and unity of the colonial army and militias. These battles – along with other key moments from the American Revolution – have helped make New Jersey, and the United States, what it is today.
One organization, the non-profit Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area, aims to promote, protect and educate individuals about the impact the American Revolution had on the Garden State, and to raise awareness of the common heritage that is shared by those that live, work and play in New Jersey.
“We are one of 49 national heritage areas in the US,” says Noreen Bodman, executive director of Crossroads. “These areas are legislated by the US Congress and go through a process to prove that they are areas of significant value in the tapestry of American culture, heritage, etc. We partner with historic sites, societies, preservation groups, state, county and local governments, schools, businesses, museums, libraries and other organizations to work together to share the history of the American Revolution and New Jersey’s significant contributions to our nation.”
The Crossroads National Heritage Area encompasses approximately 2,155 square miles in New Jersey, including 213 municipalities in 14 counties. The National Park Service serves as a key partner and advisor in providing financial and technical assistance. Bodman says Crossroads receives funding from the US government and is required to match it dollar-for-dollar. It raises money on its own through donations, fundraisers and business partnerships.
Bodman says that storytelling and interpretation at the heritage areas around the state is a critical part of what Crossroads does to help educate audiences and support community pride and revitalization.
“One of the programs we offer, for example, is called Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors,” she says. “We tell stories about people who lived, worked, played, suffered and fought during the American Revolution. And, it’s not stories about General Washington and the like, but stories about people you wouldn’t normally hear about. The message we try to get across is that every person counts and the issues they dealt with are very much contemporary issues today. We use these stories not only as a lesson, but as an engagement to get people to participate in their communities.
“I think learning from these stories is a big part of community and economic revitalization,” Bodman concludes. “A large part of what brings communities together and businesses into our state is the quality of life. And, a big part of our quality of life is our arts, culture and education. We make history every day in New Jersey. So, we need to continue to share the state’s past and build on that strong tradition to make it a better place.”