What was it, exactly, that enabled the Continental Army to win the Revolutionary War?
Depends on whom you ask, I think. The historians and the primary school history books will probably say it was bravery, honor, intelligence – the usual stuff.
Personally, I think that America’s birth as a nation depended a lot on a good set of calf muscles. And if you’ve ever hiked along some of the trails in the Morristown National Historic Park in central New Jersey – the Continental Army’s stomping grounds in the late 1770s – I think you’d agree.
Some of the hiking trails there are a nice easy amble. But others – they’re a bit of a push to get up. So imagine, if you will, a soldier in 18th century uniform marching uphill with musket and powder horn.
And this was a thought that was crossing my mind once or twice when I went for a hike on the Patriots’ Path on one of my days off this summer.
Morristown National Historic Park is divided into three sections, one of which is Jockey Hollow.
Did Washington sleep here? Probably not – old GW had his headquarters a bit farther to the north, in what is called (not surprisingly) Washington’s Headquarters.
But, yes, that’s how the old joke goes about New Jersey historical sites: “Washington slept here.”
Being a national park, the park is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
The Jockey Hollow section of the park has about 15 miles, total, of hiking trails, one of which is part of the Patriots’ Path: a 35-mile recreational trail running down Morris County. According to some of the guides, you can ride bikes or horses on designated parts of the trail. But the section that runs through Jockey Hollow, and the New Jersey Brigade (hitherto referred to as NJB) section, is hiking only.
While I was there, I asked one of the rangers if the park had been busy lately. He said that the weekends are when the park is busiest in the summer. As for during the school year, it’s around October when the field trips start coming in.
That seems to be the time that every elementary school in the country starts in on the unit about the Revolutionary War in history class – that was the case for me when I was in fourth or fifth grade.
One way to access the Patriots’ Path in Jockey Hollow is by the Mendham Road Trail. From the visitors’ center, follow the Jockey Hollow road a little bit to the northeast, until you come to a spot with split rail fences on either side of the road. To the left, you’ll see the Wick Farm. To the right, you’ll see a trail leading off into the woods. This is the Mendham Road – it’s not blazed, but you can definitely tell what it is. Follow it to the east and it’ll connect you with the Patriots’ Path.
The Patriots’ Path is about intermediate in terms of difficulty. There are some steep-ish climbs uphill in the New Jersey Brigade section, so if you’ve got hiking poles or a walking stick, I suggest you bring them.
I’d seen the bear warnings on the signboard by the visitors’ center. But to date, I’ve never encountered a bear on the trails, either in Morristown or in any other place I’ve hiked (and the guidebooks always tell you what to do if you come across one), but just to play it safe, I just clacked my hiking poles together every now and then. Probably your biggest risk out on the Patriots’ Path is spraining your ankle. (Or getting run over. The trail does cross Tempe Wick Road to get from Jockey Hollow to the NJB, so look both ways.)
About halfway into the NJB, there is a footbridge crossing over a rocky brook. This brook is actually the Passaic River.
It’s interesting – the Passaic has been a polluted mess these last several decades, even though the environmental protection laws and cleanup efforts have helped a bit. So it’s a little startling, almost, to realize that the Passaic and this idyllic little brook are one and the same. Being upriver from Paterson and Hackensack and the other major cities, however, this section of the Passaic is undoubtedly a lot cleaner.
And then – remember how I was talking about how those uphill pushes? Because from the bridge, you follow the trail uphill out of the river valley. And this is where those hiking sticks come in useful.
Be sure to keep following the blazes – there are one or two unmarked side trails around here.
You eventually come to another trail junction and a signpost. The Patriots’ Path continues southwest from here, and there is a side trail leading over to the Cross Estate.
I decided to head for the Cross Estate, and emerged from the woods onto a lawn and circular driveway.
Sat down next to the walled garden, drank some water, ate an apple, took a few photos and just cooled my heels for about 15 minutes. I’d probably hiked no more than two miles, but with all the inclines and switchbacks, it felt a lot longer.
The estate, which includes the Queen Anne house, several gardens and a five-story stone water tower, has been around since 1905.
The estate and gardens are jointly managed by the New Jersey Historical Garden Foundation and the Morristown National Historic Park; most of the property is part of the park itself. The gardens are open to the public; the house is not.
Walked around the gardens a little bit before heading back toward the woods and the trailhead.
It’s interesting – the hike back always seems shorter than the hike out. Part of it is, you’re now spotting landmarks that you saw on the way out: “Oh, there’s that log with all the shelf lichen on it.” “There’s that weird-looking rock formation.”
Another advantage, of course, is that I was now going downhill for the first part of the return trip.
Arrived back at the Passaic River footbridge.
It was a warm day, I’d been sweating – I drank almost two liters of water on the hike, and sweated most of it off – and I still had one more uphill climb ahead of me. So I sat down on a large rock in the middle of the river, pulled off my boots and socks and let my feet dangle in the water.
A few minutes of cooling off, and I was ready for the last stretch, back up to the Mendham Road Trail and then back to the visitors’ center.
Take Exit 30-B off of I-287. You’ll see signs advertising Jockey Hollow and the NJ Audubon Society. Follow the off ramp to the right, until you come to the first traffic signal. Hang a right onto Rt. 202 North. Keep following the road for a mile or so, until you come to the next traffic signal. Take a left onto Tempe Wick Road. (To the right is Glen Alpin Road.) Follow Tempe Wick Road west, and the park entrance will be on your right. (It’s well-marked – and besides, you’ll see an NPS sign saying Jockey Hollow entrance – 700 feet ahead. Follow the entrance road into the park to the visitors’ center parking area.)