8/2011: Due to damage sustained from flood waters during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the 1880s King Iron Truss Bridge that is an integral element to this historic landscape is being dismantled. The dismantling was approved by NJ SHPO, which indicates that the bridge abutments and wing walls are so compromised that they pose a threat to the bridge’s truss, which could be irreparably damaged if it were to fall into the creek bed below. The truss is being dismantled by the county according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and will be stored in preparation for reconstruction.
9/2011: Mercer County has announced a revised plan for the road realignment that much more closely follows the current road alignment, reducing the project’s impact on the landscape. The bridge remains targeted for replacement.
Additionally, the Bear Tavern Road/Jacob’s Creek Crossing Rural Historic Landscape has been recommended for inclusion on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. While this designation will not protect the place, any publicly-funded project that has the potential to impact the district will have to be approved by the NJ Historic Sites Council.
12/2011: The Bear Tavern Road/Jacob’s Creek Crossing Rural Historic District has been listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
2/2012: The NJ Historic Sites Council (HSC) has denied Mercer County’s application to realign the Bear Tavern-Jacob’s Creek Road intersection. The HSC was afforded review of the project once the resource was listed on the Registers. The denial now must be affirmed by the Commissioner of the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection.
3/2012: DEP has upheld the HSC’s February ruling and temporarily rejected Mercer County’s proposed realignment project. The DEP has requested that the county submit traffic studies and crash data demonstrating the need to realign the roadway. The county has 60 days to submit the requested information.
7/2012: NJ-DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has overruled the NJ Historic Sites Council’s denial of Mercer County’s application. The Commissioner’s ruling gives the County a final approval, meaning that as it stands right now, the roadway realignment can move forward as proposed. The Save the Victory Trail advocates are considering legal action.
New Jersey’s significance during the American Revolution cannot be overstated. The state was the scene of countless skirmishes and some of the toughest battles of the conflict, including the “Ten Crucial Days,” which included Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware River and the seminal Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Near the Bear Tavern Road Bridge across Jacob’s Creek in Hopewell Township is the only known major stream crossing made by Washington’s army on the way to the first Battle of Trenton. In the immediate area, the site topography and features retain the significant integrity of association with the late 18th century and the Continental Army’s celebrated December 26, 1776, march. As noted in Lieutenant Elisha Bostwick’s Memoirs and referenced in David Hackett Fischer’s Pulitzer prize winner, Washington’s Crossing, the Continental Army’s march down Bear Tavern Road towards Trenton brought them to a steep and treacherous wooded slope leading down to Jacobs Creek. “… ropes had to be brought out, and trees used as mooring posts for a mechanical advantage so that the guns could be lowered slowly to the bottom of the ravine… As the soldiers slowly advanced down the slope to Jacobs Creek and up the other side…” Indeed, the significance of the routes that Washington and the Continental Army took from Washington Crossing to Trenton and Princeton was originally commemorated with memorial markers in 1930, and reinforced by the New Jersey Legislature on June 1999 with a joint resolution designating these routes as the “Washington Victory Trail.”
Additionally, the Jacob’s Creek Crossing Rural Historic Landscape remains evocative of the landscape of rural central New Jersey through the early 20th century. The landscape, which has been determined potentially eligible for the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places as a historic district, includes Bear Tavern Road (known as the River Road during the 18th century), the documented route of Washington’s march to Trenton and an important local road to this day. The 1880s King Iron truss bridge that carries this road over Jacob’s Creek has individually been determined eligible for the New Jersey and National Registers. Additionally, the Mercer and Somerset Railroad tracks historically occupied the current location of Jacob’s Creek Road, shaping the environment east of the creek. Their late 19th century replacement with a roadbed helps tell the story of changing means of transportation and development in this area throughout history.
This complex rural landscape is endangered by a proposal by Mercer County to realign the intersection of Bear Tavern Road and construct a new, significantly larger modern bridge downstream from the location of the current Bear Tavern Road Bridge. The project would significantly undermine the landscape’s historic integrity. An alternative has been endorsed by Hopewell Township and many of its residents that would retain and rehabilitate the historic 19th century truss bridge at its current alignment. This course of action would significantly reduce the project’s impact on this rural landscape that remains much as it appeared during the 18th and 19th centuries, and recognize that its national significance calls for the preservation of its historic character.
The Jacob’s Creek Crossing Rural Historic Landscape is one of multiple overlapping layers of significance and varied levels of integrity. A group of local advocates has been working since 2009 to raise awareness and educate the public about the proposed road realignment project, and is currently completing a nomination for the landscape to the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Despite this advocacy, in March, the Mercer County Board of Freeholders voted unanimously to approve a contract to fund an engineering and design study for the proposed project.
Preservation New Jersey urges Mercer County to reconsider the proposed realignment of Bear Tavern Road and replacement of Bear Tavern Road Bridge. Evidence suggests that the municipally endorsed alternative bridge rehabilitation plan would provide for necessary improvements to the bridge, while protecting the surrounding irreplaceable landscape to the greatest possible extent.
The threat to the Jacob’s Creek Crossing Rural Historic Landscape is emblematic of the common conflict between historic resources and transportation-related infrastructure improvements. While various Federal, state, and local laws afford levels of recognition and protection to certain historic resources in many cases, the impact of these laws is strictly case-by-case. Preservation New Jersey recognizes the need for balance between the protection of historic resources and other goals, and maintains that cultural resources should be a priority consideration during projects of this nature.