Tourism Tournament: See why the Old Barracks Museum is the top place to visit in NJ

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

We asked for your input and the votes poured in. Over the last 9 weeks, we’ve been looking for favorite summer spots to visit across the state as part of our NJTV Tourism Tournament. The brackets broke down to four categories: Great outdoors, best beach, arts and history, and family friendly. With 86 percent of the vote, the Old Barracks in Trenton won. The runner-up went to Brigantine Beach, so on this unofficial last day of summer, we sent Leah Mishkin to check out what makes the Old Barracks Museum a top Jersey destination.

The sound of the gunfire transports visitors back to the 18th century.

“This is the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton. It was built in 1758 as winter quarters for British soldiers during the French and Indian War,” said Lauren Ronaghan, program coordinator at the museum.

It was built because residents had to house soldiers in their homes and they petitioned for another solution. In response, the colony of New Jersey built this barrack and four others throughout the state. This one is the only left standing today.

“It’s, first of all, a very large structure in the middle of a very modern Trenton,” said historical interpreter Daryian Kelton.

The initials “J.E.” are carved into a building dating back to 1758. One of the historical interpreters we sat down with explained J.E. was a stone mason living in the area.

“And then the building we’re actually sitting in front of right now, that will built in 1759 as an addition to the barracks. So this was built and designed for the officers who would actually be in charge of the men that lived here,” said James Bevan, a historical interpreter.

More than 12,000 school children make a visit to the barrack each year.

“When they come here they’re like ‘wow!'” said Kelton.

People of all ages come to hear the building’s history and the people who lived inside. Ronaghan says it’s the most visited historic site in the Garden State. We got a tour inside the current tailoring room.

“When the regiment would get new issuance of clothing, they could just find the former tailors in the ranks and task them to fit the uniforms to all the men,” said historical interpreter David Niescior.

The barracks were used for several reasons during the Revolutionary War — take the year 1776.

“The year does not go very well for the American cause. Yes, we sign the Declaration of Independence and we break away from England once and for all, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re very far from that. We still have to figure out, ‘OK, how do we win this war,'” said Bevan. “What that means is that Washington and his army of 25,000 or so men stationed around New York City has to now do the really hard job of taking on one of the most well trained and well-disciplined armies in the world, and that is the British army of course.”

But they did, and after winning the battles of Trenton and Princeton, the Americans made their way back to Trenton. The barracks were then used as an Army hospital. It was a smallpox headquarters.

“Here, soldiers were inoculated against the disease. It actually wasn’t a vaccination, it was an inoculation. Vaccinations won’t be invited for about another 20 years,” said Ronaghan.

“And then afterwards, it turned into a general hospital. That’s important because there were more battles fought here in New Jersey than any of the other 13 colonies,” said Niescior.

The building that has survived 260 years is still standing — and still reminding people about our history.