Victory Parade

Chapter 4
Approach downtown Trenton from Mill Hill. Walk from Market Street along South Broad Street, past the old and new Mercer County Courthouses and begin the gentle descent to the crossing of the Assunpink Creek. Just below the point where Factory Street heads off to the left, as South Broad Street turns slightly to make the crossing, one can almost hear the sound of gunfire on the hill slope to the left as the Second Battle of Trenton reaches its conclusion. From the right comes the low rumble of millstones turning from years of colonial grain processing. Attune your ears to the early 19th century and the clatter of looms, again water-powered, wafts across the valley, as Trenton enters the Industrial Revolution.

The auditory historic experience is lost, of course, amid the drone and honk of 21st-century traffic, but there are still some clear visual links across the downtown from this "gateway" location on South Broad Street (Plates B. 39 and B. 40). From this point on the street it is possible to look due north along South and North Broad Streets to the Trenton Battle Monument, the revered city landmark that celebrates those critical American victories over the British on December 26, 1776 and January 2, 1777. Turn and look northwest and the glow of the New Jersey State House dome, second oldest state capital building in the nation, reminds us of the roots of the democratic republicanism we hold so dear. Contained within this triangle of points in the urban landscape – the Battle Monument, the State House and the site of Mahlon Stacy's grist-mill (and the Second Battle of Trenton) – is a treasure trove of Trenton history. And what marks this latter spot? A pair of inadequate signs, a deteriorated historic bridge and an architecturally undistinguished commercial building erected in 1975 (Plates B. 37, B. 42 and B. 43).

Long ago, Trenton turned its back upon the Assunpink Creek. Like an adolescent child renouncing its parents, the City has denied its citizens the history and scenic potential of this creek, and in doing so has forsaken one of its greatest assets. The same quick rushing flow that once nursed and nourished the infant village of Trent's Town -that provided sweet water for its settlers, power for its early mills and recreation for its tired but industrious population – has been channelized, hemmed in, covered over and banished from view. In spite of ongoing efforts to reunite the City with its estranged watercourse, at present it is only within a brief expanse of Mill Hill Park that any sense of the previous glory of the creek can be appreciated.

While lamentable, it is fitting that Mill Hill Park remains the creek's last bastion, for it was along this particular stretch of its course that the seeds of Trenton were first sown. It was here, in 1679, that Mahlon Stacy erected the gristmill that became the principal economic focus of the nascent community. The Assunpink went on to play a key role in many of the defining events of early Trenton, several of which took place on the grounds currently encircled by the waist-high brick walls that delimit the boundaries of Mill Hill Park. It was here, for instance, that New Jersey's largest gristmill operated for most of the first half of the 18th century. It was on these grounds, in 1778, that armies led by George Washington and Lord Cornwallis faced off in a battle that set the stage for the important Continental victory at Princeton. It was also here, in 1814-15, that Robert Waln and Gideon Wells established the Eagle Cotton Factory, thereby bringing the Industrial Revolution to the city and forever changing its face.

Mill Hill Park ranks, along with the New Jersey State House, the Old Barracks and the William Trent House, as one of the most historically significant sites not only in Trenton, but in all of New Jersey. Its history, illuminated in Chapter 2 of this report, can be organized and characterized through the use of eight historic themes, which are briefly outlined in Table 4.1. These themes should be used to assist in identifying the most appropriate methods and subjects for historic interpretation of the park's history and in characterizing the significance of surviving historic features within the park's boundaries.

Background research and reconnaissance of the study area has identified seven immediately visible historic resources within the study area limits in Mill Hill Park that merit attention with reference to their historic significance and the potential benefits of their continued preservation. Consideration should be given to these features in the course of any long term planning activities and the implementation of maintenance and construction work within the park. These significant historic elements (not prioritized in order of significance) are:

1. The South Broad Street Bridge
2. The Jackson Street Bridge
3. The South Montgomery Street Bridge
4. Remains of the Trenton Mills/ Eagle Carding Mill/ McCall Paper Mill
5. The head race walls associated with Samuel K. Wilson's relocation and reconfiguration of the mill dam
6. The Douglass House
7. The sandstone wall constructed in the creek bed east of the South Broad Street bridge to support the understructure of the Assunpink Block

It is also necessary to recognize that other portions of Mill Hill Park (both within and outside the study area) and the lands immediately adjacent to the park possess two additional historic assets that are somewhat less specific in nature but nonetheless important with reference to their potential for interpretation and ability to inform. These are: 1). the open space that currently surrounds the Assunpink Creek within the park's boundaries; and 2). the as-yet largely uninvestigated archaeological remains that undoubtedly lie preserved beneath the park's surface.

The open space surrounding the creek within Mill Hill Park offers a prospect which is relatively rare in the interpretation and appreciation of metropolitan historic resources, namely the opportunity to present historic resources located within a modern city in a landscape and setting not unsympathetic to the resource's pre-urban origins. The full archaeological potential of the lands within the park remains mostly unexamined. However, dozens of historic buildings are known to have once stood in this area and a number of historically significant activities are documented to have taken place in the vicinity. Associated archaeological remains offer us the opportunity to provide tangible links to important chapters in Trenton's history and to supplement the knowledge provided by the written record. Although the integrity of archaeological deposits cannot usually be fully ascertained without subsurface investigation, it should be anticipated that important buried features and artifacts do survive within the park boundaries. Care should be taken to identify and investigate such resources prior to any work or disturbance which could compromise their integrity.

Trenton's Mill Hill Park represents an important cultural and educational opportunity. Although drastical ly under-utilized, it is also an important component of the city's civic infrastructure. Historic interpretation can and should be used to complement and expand the park's existing roles as a recreational destination, a community focal point and a ceremonial space. If fully exploited the park could be transformed into one of Trenton's defining elements, an important urban green space regarded in the same light as Boston's Fens and other metropolitan linear water-oriented park systems. Instead of an urban dead zone, Mill Hill Park could be one of Trenton's greatest assets, an urban environment catering not only to the city's resident population, but also to its daily influx of office workers and to tourists from afar. The park should be an attractive setting for morning jogs, lunch-time walks and Sunday picnics, as well as an important stop on family vacations and school field trips.

If re-conceptualized as both an urban greenway and an entertaining and informative historic attraction, Mill Hill Park could be promoted in concert with the city's other historic sites to increase not only the number of tourists that visit the city annually, but also to draw them deeper into the City's neighborhoods, thereby enticing them to visit other Trenton attractions and increasing the likelihood that they will make a positive impact on the city's economy through the patronage of local restaurants, stores and businesses. With the addition of another well-publicized historic attraction, Trenton's position as a heritage tourism destination would be substantially bolstered. The city's hotel, restaurant and entertainment enterprises can only benefit. With a relatively small investment in resources and money, Trenton could reap a windfall of positive public opinion and recognition, as well as a notable increase in the city's quality of life and some measurable economic gain.

Located in the midst of a well-populated urban environment that serves as New Jersey's capital city and closely surrounded by dozens of multi-story office buildings, Mill Hill Park suffers from no dearth of potential park visitors. The challenge here is to lure city residents out of their homes, office workers away from their desks and tourists into downtown Trenton. Historic interpretation represents one viable method of increasing park patronage and can improve not only the park environment, but also the atmosphere of the surrounding neighborhoods. With the implementation of a program of historic interpretation, the average period of time the standard visitor spends in the park would also increase. Currently, at any given moment during the day, the park remains largely devoid of visitors. With few persons typically around to observe the activities that occur within its bounds, Mill Hill Park suffers from a real and perceived threat to personal safety. The introduction of historic interpretive materials and the marketing of the park to new audiences will increase both the number of daily park patrons and the average time each patron spends in the park. With more people on its grounds and traveling its paths, Mill Hill Park would simultaneously become a less attractive environment for criminals and vagrants, and more inviting to city residents, office workers, families and tourists.

The historic aspect of the park and its surrounding environment needs to be a prime consideration in any decisions made concerning its future. The City of Trenton has recently revised the Historic Preservation Element of its Master Plan document. As the revised plan is implemented, and with a much stronger consideration of historic interpretive and archaeological concerns, the park's historical significance and the types of recommendations offered in this study are now poised to be addressed appropriately in the city-wide planning process.

Currently, there are several ongoing planning initiatives that involve the park and the Assunpink Creek stream corridor. The City of Trenton is soliciting proposals for the development of plans for the renovation of Mill Hill Park. This work will involve mapping, redesigning park entries, analyzing landscape treatments, studying pathway placement and investigating new opportunities for an under-utilized amphitheater. An in-depth alternatives analysis is also being under-taken by the New Jersey Department of Transportation at the behest of Mercer County for the proposed rehabilitation/ replacement of the South Broad Street bridge. The bridge represents one of the most significant and visible historic resources visible from within the park bounds. Its restoration or replacement would have a significant impact upon the park environment.

Many of the current planning initiatives are rooted in a multi-institutional shared vision of an Assunpink Creek Greenway that would extend through Monmouth and Mercer Counties to the confluence of the Assunpink and the Delaware River on Trenton's waterfront. Assunpink Greenway-related studies include: a city-sponsored Master Plan for the improvement of the Assunpink Creek Park as a primary recreational corridor; the inclusion by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency of the corridor in its National Brownfields Assessment Pilot Program; the Central Delaware Tributaries Watershed Management Area project of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Flood Control and Environmental Restoration Study of the Assunpink Creek within the City of Trenton; and a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and Delaware and Raritan Canal Greenway joint study of the proposed Assunpink Creek Greenway.

The proposed Assunpink Creek Greenway is but a single element in a larger network of greenways and open space set-asides envisioned for the region. A short distance to the west of Mill Hill Park, the proposed Assunpink Creek Greenway will tie into a state (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Green Acres Program and New Jersey Department of Transportation) and federally (National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration) sponsored project that will create a riverfront bike path and greenway extending from above Stockton on the Delaware River in Hunterdon County along the left bank of the Delaware River to southern Burlington County.

Coordination between all of the various the interested parties and the groups currently studying ways to improve the park and its surrounding environment represents the best hope for Mill Hill Park to eventually achieve its promise. Coordination between all of these studies and projects should be facilitated through regular meetings and information-sharing workshops. Advocates of history, heritage tourism and historic preservation, as well as the local community, need to have a voice in this process.

Create A Welcoming Environment
The first step in improving the viability of Mill Hill Park as a historic site and tourist venue is to make the park a more attractive and safe destination. The authors of this study recognize that they may not necessarily be fully apprized of all of the planning activities currently ongoing with reference to the immediately adjacent urban environs and Trenton's park system, nor are they qualified landscape architects or urban planners, but they offer the following suggestions with reference to improving the park's surroundings, landscaping and infrastructure in order to permit it to function better as an historic interpretive area and tourist destination. Specific recommendations include:

* remove vegetation and install additional lighting within the park to limit blind spots and dark areas thereby facilitating the public perception of the park as a safe environment

* utilize historically appropriate materials and methods to seal the openings into and beneath the existing South Broad Street Bridge to discourage vagrants

* repair existing park infrastructure, including the South Montgomery Street, Jackson Street and South Broad Street bridges, and develop and implement a park maintenance plan

* remove gabion cages from the terracing on the southern creek bank within the park and replace with a more historically sensitive and visually appealing retaining structure (alternatively, replant gabions and terraces with denser and more vigorous ground cover)

* provide better vantage points from South Broad Street and the South Broad Street bridge to view into the park and preserve and enhance the existing sightlines to the Trenton Battle Monument and the New Jersey State House

* investigate methods to make the surrounding streets more pedestrian friendly, safer and easier to cross, to provide sufficient parking for park visitors and to provide public transportation to the park; incorporate any resultant suggestions into the transportation element of the City Master Plan

* adopt provisions within the City Master Plan to insure that future commercial and governmental development of surrounding properties take the park into consideration; buildings adjacent to the park or facing it should be designed to be both sympathetic to the park landscape and to take advantage of it as an environmental resource and public amenity; adjacent buildings should be oriented to the park when possible; new structures should not encroach upon the park or the surrounding open space and should provide easy access to the park grounds and visually support and encourage its use

* in the vicinity of the park, storefronts, restaurants, residences and office buildings should be encouraged by the city planning process and the coordinated policy of city economic development programs; parking lots, parking decks, industrial buildings, gas stations, strip malls and similar enterprises should be discouraged on adjacent properties

* the City-owned lands between South Broad Street, South Warren Street, Factory and East Lafayette Streets (exclusive of 101 North Broad Street and 222 South Warren Street) should be formally incorporated into Mill Hill Park

* expose the Assunpink Creek to the west of South Broad Street through the removal of the large concrete culvert through which the creek currently flows; the landscape in this area should be in keeping with both the historic character of the area and the existing landscape throughout adjacent portions of the Assunpink Creek corridor; the culvert was constructed during the mid-20th century, when then-current planning strategies suggested that the most appropriate use for the parcel of land between South Broad Street, Factory Street, South Warren and East Lafayette Streets was redevelopment; the culvert was constructed in order to facilitate the future construction of buildings directly above the creek; in 1990, the Trenton Redevelopment Authority reversed this position, when it agreed that the most appropriate long term plan for the area involved the removal of the culvert; no subsequent action has followed from the decision to remove the culvert but, the City of Trenton's Department of Economic Development has recently received a $45,000 grant from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Smart Growth: Saving Open Space, Revitalizing Brownfields" program to study three sites in Trenton including the Assunpink Creek culvert

* expose the full elevation of the historic South Broad Street bridge on its western façade, including the currently obscured southern arch; investigate the need to infill or seal the opening of the southern arch in a historically sensitive manner with appropriate materials following its exposure

Emphasize History, The Strongest Asset
As the scene of and setting for so many events significant within the history of the Trenton, Mill Hill Park clearly presents an important opportunity for historic interpretation. Historic interpretation offers the opportunity for increased park visitation, positive public perception and economic revitalization. Although the area within the bounds of the park had an important role to play in almost every phase of the city's long history, Trenton is best known for its pivotal role in the American Revolution. The Assunpink Revolutionary War Battlefield, the core of which is embraced by Mill Hill Park, represents one of the most significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War in the city. The park's existing landscape and features lend themselves to the interpretation and commemoration of the events of the Revolutionary War as few other locations do within the urban fabric of modern day Trenton. The park's other roles as a community focal point, a space for passive recreation and a ceremonial location would all be enhanced by a refocusing of the park mission to include as one of its principal functions the telling of the story of the Second Battle of Trenton. Although developed independently, many of the suggestions outlined below are similar to those presented by Garry Wheeler Stone in his "Trent's Mill and The Broad Street Bridge Assunpink Creek, Trenton: A Proposal to the Open Space Coalition (1990)." The parallel nature of these two sets of recommendations should only help to reinforce their appropriateness and their benefit.

Specific recommendations with reference to the historic interpretation of Mill Hill Park are as follows:

* perhaps the most important recommendation that can be made by this study is that Mill Hill Park should be recognized and promoted nationally as the Assunpink Revolutionary War Battlefield; the Old Mill Hill Society should seek formal City and State recognition of the Battlefield through city proclamation or ordinance and an Act of State Legislature; battlefield recognition will bring Mill Hill Park increased visibility and previously untapped opportunity

* a program of sculpture and public art should be utilized to convey and commemorate the events of the battle; sculptures envisioned might include life-size statues of American and British soldiers; depicted as living, wounded and dead, these figures could be posed in action in their respective positions on opposite sides of the creek; other sculptures might include emplaced cannon and three-dimensional renditions of the campfires George Washington used to deceive the British at the conclusion of the confrontation; it is the intent of this interpretive program, through the limited use of sculpture, public art and landscaping features, to create an environment surrounding the bridge which conveys the same impression as that which is propagated by the early 20th-century rendering of the Second Battle of Trenton included in this report as Plate B. 3

* significant Revolutionary War features absent from the modern day landscape should be delineated or recreated through markings in pavement, low walls, shallow excavations or other methods as appropriate; features to be addressed in this manner include: the Trenton Mills mill pond; the footprints of Revolutionary War period buildings; and representative troop and gun entrenchments on either side of the creek; Garry Wheeler Stone in his proposal of 1990 recommended the recreation of the mill pond and re-watering of the raceway system; although also favored conceptually by the current study for its aesthetic, recreational and interpretive benefits, it is recognized that a full restoration of the mill pond and the raceway system would involve engineering, hydrology and environmental issues of considerable complexity; it should also be noted that the mill dam and raceway system recommended for recreation by Dr. Stone (and the only mill pond restoration scheme presently in anyway feasible) would involve restoration of the features to their 1870s configuration and not to the same form as they would have taken during the Revolutionary War period

* the surviving foundation of the Trenton Mills/ Eagle Carding Mill/ McCall Paper Mill should be subjected to a thorough program of archaeological investigation in order to determine the age and extent of the mill remains; this mill site may well prove to be one of New Jersey's most significant historical archaeological resources; the full extent and significance of the surviving elements of this complex should be fully evaluated prior to the commencement of work on the repair/ restoration of the South Broad Street bridge or the implementation of park improvements; Garry Wheeler Stone, in his proposal of 1990, recommended the full excavation, stabilization and permanent display of the mill foundation and basement walls; the current study finds that the exhibiting of the fully exposed remains of the mill would be impractical; once unearthed, the surviving mill walls would likely suffer an increased threat from floods, deterioration and vandalism; as a large open void, the structure would also pose a substantial safety risk; instead, it is our recommendation that following the archaeological investigation of the site, the mill foundations should be refilled with stable materials and capped by geotextile fabric; the presently exposed exterior wall face adjacent to the creek should be stabilized, capped and pointed

* the outline of the foundation of the Trenton Mills (and its successors) should also be delineated through the historically sensitive landscaping involving the use of appropriate plant materials or hardscaping; the preferred method of marking the location of the mill[ s] would be the erection of waist high stone walls of the same shape, dimensions and location as the exterior walls of the original building; these walls would outline a small paved plaza which would function as a commemorative and interpretive space; a frieze or mosaic could be mounted to or set within the inner face of these walls to tell the story of the mills, the Second Battle of Trenton, or the founding of the city by Mahlon Stacy and William Trent; a bronze plaque or stone tablet could be installed in the plaza pavement to ceremonially mark the spot as the "Birth Place" of Trenton

* the upper sections of the South Broad Street bridge, including the deck, sidewalks and railings, should be reconstructed to be more sympathetic in design, color, scale, materials and massing with the lower portions of the bridge and the Revolutionary War period interpretive goals of the surrounding park; in the event that the South Broad Street bridge must be replaced in its entirety, the design of the new bridge should reflect the historical significance of both the site and its predecessors and should be sympathetic to the interpretive plans for the surrounding environment; in either case, sufficient allowance should be made for pedestrian access to the bridge, for the pedestrian crossing of South Broad Street at the bridge location and for the creation of vantage points on the bridge structure for viewing the creek and the surrounding landscape

* the historic interpretive, mission, goals and basic recommendations put forward by this study should be reflected and incorporated into the City of Trenton's Historic Preservation Master Plan Element

* Mill Hill Park, the Trenton Battle Monument and the Old Barracks Museum should be promoted jointly in order to attract greater acknowledgement of Trenton's role in the American Revolution and increase awareness and positive recognition of its historic attraction; these activities should also involve close coordination with the Washington's Crossing State Parks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to explore methods of integrating interpretive activities and jointly marketing these historic sites within the realm of heritage tourism

* the joint management/ interpretation/ operation of Mill Hill Park, the Trenton Battle Monument and the Old Barracks Museum should be explored; a single entity would be better positioned to co-promote, holistically interpret and manage these attractions; the story of the First and Second Battles of Trenton and Trenton's role in the American Revolution could be more effectively told and more enjoyably conveyed if all three of these sites were operated under a single interpretive philosophy and comprehensive management plan; the existing entity best suited to undertake these responsibilities is the Old Barracks Association; short of a formal unification of the management of these sites, it is recommended that the City of Trenton, the State of New Jersey and the Old Barracks Association should cospon sor a comprehensive study intended to foster unified promotion, interpretation and operation plans for Trenton's primary American Revolutionary War sites; the Trenton Historical Society, in its role as guardian and tenant of the Douglass House, should also have a voice in the planning and implementation of these strategies

Support and possible funding for the re-invention/ rejuvenation of Mill Hill Park may be found in the form of several currently ongoing initiatives concerned with the promotion and preservation of sites and resources linked with the American Revolution. The Crossroads of the American Revolution is a still-evolving heritage tourism and preservation initiative spearheaded by the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, and the Green Acres Program, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The basic concept is to create a National Heritage Area within central New Jersey that uses as its binding thread the many events and key locations of the American Revolution. As one of central New Jersey's most significant Revolutionary War sites, Mill Hill Park certainly has an important role to play in these activities and can benefit from increased recognition and visibility through participation in the planning process.

Another important initiative not to be ignored is the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service. This program encourages the preservation and interpretation of significant American battle sites through the provision of technical assistance and project grants. This entity was responsible for the undertaking of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study. Congress authorized the study in 1996 because many historic sites of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 are at risk from rapid urban or suburban development. The goals of the study are: 1). to gather current information about the significance of, current condition of, and threats to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites; and 2). to present preservation and interpretation alternatives for the sites. The survey identified the Battle of the Assunpink as being one of the more important of the 146 American Revolutionary War land actions inventoried and categorized it as "an action of tactical significance." It provides Mill Hill Park with de facto Federal recognition as an American Revolutionary War battlefield and thus identifies it as being one of the resources intended to addressed by American Battlefield Protection Program's mandate.

Interpret The Past: Signs for the Future
Signage should be an important component of any interpretive plan implemented. The sign program should be conceived in such a manner so as bring a unifying design thread to the park's landscape and should be implemented according to a predetermined interpretive strategy rather than installed piecemeal without thought to an overriding plan. Sign design should take into account the variety of significant historic and environmental themes represented by the park resources and visually distinguish between them in a coordinated fashion, but still maintain an overall design thread. The historic sign component of the plan should address the themes of the settlement and founding of Trenton, William Trent's gristmill, the First and Second Battles of Trenton and the industrialization of Trenton.

Topics for individual historic signs could include:
* Mahlon Stacy and The Settlement of Trenton
* William Trent's Gristmill
* The Eagle Cotton Factory and the Manufacture of Textiles in Trenton
* Henry McCall's Paper Mill and the Manufacture of Paper
* Washington's Retreat and Recreation on the Mill Pond
* The South Broad Street Bridge and Early Transportation Routes
* The Genesis of the Mill Hill Community
* The Assunpink Block

Signs dedicated to the interpretation of the events of the First and Second Battles of Trenton should be visually and conceptually linked with the overall park signage program, but also should be designed as components of part of a broader city wide signage system tailored to address Trenton's role in the American Revolution. Tourists should be able to use this sign program to trace the unfolding events of the First and Second Battles within the landscape of modern day Trenton. It should include coordinated interpretive and way-finding components that would link and advertise important Revolutionary War Period resources throughout the city. The sign system should be conceived of in a manner similar, if on a much smaller scale, to Boston's Freedom Trail.

Mill Hill Park is one of Trenton's most important assets and one of its greatest opportunities. As the largest public open space in downtown Trenton, it possesses extraordinary weight within the landscape of the modern city. To the outside world, Trenton is known best for the role it played in the pivotal events of the winter of 1776-77. This is its strongest marketing point. In order to correct its weaknesses, the City needs to play to its strengths. Its Revolutionary War heritage ranks clearly among its most powerful. By investing in Mill Hill Park and refocusing its mission, Trenton has the ability to improve its civic infrastructure, strengthen its ties to its past, improve public perception and reap economic gain. With so much attention currently directed toward improving the Assunpink Creek corridor and so many initiatives currently focused on preserving and protecting the country's Revolutionary War heritage never before has the opportunity been more ripe for the City to step forward and reap the benefits of its past. The Assunpink Revolutionary Battlefield could easily be transformed into an urban show place and a centerpiece for a revitalized Trenton.

Up To Top / Home
The Society :
About Us / Artifacts Committee / Education Committee / Preservation Committee / Membership / Contact Us / Events
Our History : Sights & Sounds / 1929 History / Old & New / Hill Diaries / Chronological Indexes / Trenton Made / Documents / Tours
Your Ancestors : Research Services / Obituaries / City Directories / High School Yearbooks / Cemeteries / Genealogy
The City : Buildings / Historic Districts / North Ward Survey / Street Names / Local Links
Search Our Site