When looking to imbibe our nation’s colonial and revolutionary heritage, most people might travel to Philadelphia, Boston, or Williamsburg, Virginia. Few people–very, very few people–would consider an afternoon journey to Elizabeth, New Jersey, an industrial city on the Newark Bay just outside of New York City.
In late December, my friend (and sometimes writing companion) and I braved the absolute frigid temperatures and explored downtown Elizabeth. We wanted to enjoy the history sitting not far from our own doorsteps.
The First Presbyterian Church was founded in Elizabeth (then Elizabethtown) in 1668. It is the oldest English-speaking congregation in New Jersey. During the Revolutionary War, British troops burned down the church on January 25, 1780. Construction on the present structure began in 1784 and was finished in 1789.
The church’s graveyard serves as the final earthly resting place for 227 veterans of the American Revolution. Tombstones bear the names of families prominent in New Jersey history (Caldwell, Ogden, and Crane).
Finding both the church and its grounds locked, we continued to cut our trail along East Jersey Street to visit several eighteenth-century buildings.
Boxwood Hall was built in 1750 for an early Elizabeth mayor, Samuel Woodruff. Elias Boudinot owned the house from 1772 to 1795. Boudinot served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, the United States House of Representatives, and director of the United States Mint. Many prominent figures in early American history reportedly crossed the threshold of Boxwood Hall, including Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.
At this point, my friend and I succumbed to the freezing temperatures. The cold seeped into our cell phone batteries, forcing our devices to shut down and preventing us from taking more pictures. The gods concluded our historical journey.
When the weather improves, I’ll definitely return to Elizabeth to spend more time discovering and documenting its rich and underappreciated past. If you enjoy history, make a trip to Elizabeth. You won’t leave disappointed.