Not that there’s any shortage of historic, entertaining, or just plain interesting sites up and down the Jersey Shore – but after years of going “By the Exits” here up and down the Garden State Parkway, in 2018 let’s do something different. Let’s do the Turnpike!
Sure, “You’re from Jersey? What exit?” gets old after a while. But when you’re thinking about how to tackle all there is to see and do in our great state, it’s not the worst way to break things down. Taking the Turnpike bends you west into some of New Jersey’s best agricultural regions (including some outstanding wine countries) and most interesting historical areas. The exits, of course, are more widely dispersed than those on the Parkway – giving you roughly one county per exit to explore. We start 2018 with the Turnpike’s southernmost exits: 1A and 1B, the proverbial end of the line before crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
Exits 1A-B, Salem and Cumberland Counties.
Historic Salem: Salem’s port is actually older than that of Philadelphia, making it a great spot to start a road trip around New Jersey’s southwest tip. Make time to check out Fort Mott State Park, dating back to America’s post-Civil War military buildup, and Finns Point Range Lighthouse. (A quick trivia note – Finns Point is literally named for the Finns. Not a family, but the Finnish people who settled the area around Wilmington, Delaware and branched out from there.) Much of the original surrounding structures are long gone, but a recreation of the keeper’s dwelling now doubles as the headquarters of the state’s Supawna Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
A Lenape Indian Pow-Wow: There’s nothing like seeing an authentic demonstration of Native American singing, dancing and artistry. And every June at the Salem County Fairgrounds in Woodstown you can witness the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Pow-Wow. It’s one thing to learn about our state’s rich Native American history from a book; it’s quite another to see it come to life. If you’re venturing down to the end of the Turnpike in early to mid-June, this is an event not to be missed.
Hancock House: This Lower Alloways spot is one of the most important historic sites in our state, but because it’s so far off the beaten path (from northern New Jersey, anyway) not many people north of the Raritan River have heard about it. In 1778 a pack of British soldiers and sympathizers murdered 30 Revolutionary troops in their sleep, an event which helped galvanize the new nation. According to Mark DiIonno’s “New Jersey’s Coastal Heritage” (a must-read for anyone interested in Garden State history), bloodstains from the massacre were said to have been visible on the floor for years afterwards.
Hancock House today is a well-preserved piece of New Jersey’s past, dating all the way back to its original construction in 1734. As an added bonus, the ghosts of those killed (including that of William Hancock himself) are said to haunt the grounds.
Bridgeton. From Hancock House, a 20-minute ride east on Route 49 brings to you to Bridgeton, seat of Cumberland County and site the state’s largest historic district. The town’s Woodruff Indian Museum (located in the basement of the Public Library) features more than 20,000 Lenni-Lenape artifacts. Cohanzick Zoo is one of the last free zoos in the country, and was actually the state’s first! And stop by Bridgeton City Park for some remarkable waterways, including the canal that leads to the Cohansey River.
If you want to expand your tour of the south, think about taking Route 49 and the often-overlooked Route 47 east until you run into the Garden State Parkway at Exit 10, or further south it crosses the Parkway and becomes Rio Grande Avenue – the same Rio Grande that runs all the way to the Boardwalk and the famous giant “Wildwoods” letters.