The South Broad Street Bridge over the Assunpink Creek near Trenton’s Mill Hill Park needs work and the New Jersey Department of Transportation has a plan to fix it. Normally, this would be cause for celebration. Unfortunately, in this case, the DOT’s plans for a utilitarian, run-of-the-mill solution are inappropriate and will be a huge missed opportunity for a revitalizing city seeking to capitalize on its remarkable history.
Although there is little today to indicate its importance, this site is one of the most historic spots in the nation. It was here, on a winter’s afternoon in January of 1777, that George Washington stood on horseback against a bridge railing and rallied his army to turn back a much larger British force led by General Cornwallis. American blood was shed, and brave men died that day, but Washington’s action at the Assunpink Bridge saved the Continental army and secured the future of our nation.
The location is also the birthplace of Trenton. It was here that Mahlon Stacy, the city’s first European settler, established a grist mill in 1679 that became Trenton’s first business and the focal point for the colonial village that grew up around it. William Trent, the city’s founder and namesake, later purchased the mill and rebuilt it as one of the largest in New Jersey. The mill’s reconstruction marked the beginning of Trenton’s long and storied industrial history.
It was also here that George Washington was so warmly welcomed by the people of Trenton as he traveled from Mount Vernon to New York for his first inauguration. This inspiring event is beautifully interpreted in the grand painting by N.C. Wyeth that now hangs in the main entry to Thomas Edison State University on West State Street.
It is true that the current bridge spanning the Assunpink Creek is not the same one upon which Washington stood. However, the core of the existing bridge dates back to the mid-19th century. It is a grand, twin-arched stone structure whose beauty and grace have been hidden by excavated fill and “road improvements.” We believe that the twin stone arches of the great bridge need to be repaired and exposed.
We also believe that the experience of crossing the bridge needs to be improved and the extraordinary history of this spot acknowledged. The design for the new bridge superstructure and railings should utilize historically appropriate materials and provide views up and down the creek.
Most important, the new plans need to fully embrace the bridge’s place in history by incorporating decorative and commemorative elements that honor the lives lost in battle and the role the bridge played in the history of Trenton, New Jersey, and the nation. The bridge should function both as transportation infrastructure and as a monument and tourist destination.
NJDOT and Mercer County have recently invested considerable effort in developing appropriate plans for historic bridge projects at Jacobs Creek in Ewing Township and Stony Brook in Princeton. New Jersey’s capital city deserves no less. If Trenton is going to embrace heritage tourism, we must take advantage of our extraordinary history.
Our nation’s 250th anniversary is coming up in six years: New Jersey and the capital city can help prepare for this momentous occasion by investing in our infrastructure to make it safe, efficient, and beautiful. We urge the NJDOT to redesign the South Broad Street Bridge so that it is worthy of the 250th anniversary of our nation and worthy of Trenton.
Board of Trustees, Trenton Historical Society
Damon Tvaryanas, President
Karl Flesch, Vice President
Sally Lane, Secretary
Elizabeth Yull, Treasurer