In December 1779. Theodosia Ford, widow of Jacob Ford, an iron manufacturer living in Morristown, heard a knock on the door of her 14-room mansion. It was General George Washington, and he was requesting to stay in the house (along with several dozen of his staff, servants, and foreign dignitaries) for the winter. At the time, The Quartering Act allowed soldiers to stay in a private house without the owner’s consent (it was originally passed by the British Parliament). Mrs. Ford willing welcomed General Washington into her house; he stayed there through the winter – a particularly brutal winter with over 4 feet of snow on the ground – working long hours while his troops shivered through the cold a few miles down the road in Jockey Hollow.
Ford Mansion is part of the Morristown National Historical Park which honors Washington’s December 1779 to June 1780 encampment. Visitors can now walk through the house on a guided 30-45 minute tour that offers a glimpse of life that winter. Step inside with a Park Ranger and see the bedroom where the General and Mrs. Washington slept (she was a reverse snowbird, traveling north every winter to spend time with her husband, then returning to Mount Vernon in Virginia in the summer), the parlor where Washington worked, the room where the Spanish ambassador died while visiting Morristown (the Ranger explained that the General had to write the Spanish King, alerting him to the news that his ambassador had died – then asking for a new one to be sent!), and the kitchen that was filled with slaves.
The tour begins in the lobby of the Washington Headquarters Museum, and make sure to spend some time in the galleries either before or after. There are two rooms, one exploring artifacts from the time period Washington stayed in Morristown, including sewing equipment, pottery, clocks, and games, the other explaining the American Revolution and New Jersey’s role in the war. The written material mounted on the walls is in-depth without being dry or monotonous – and there are many original relics from the war, the most interesting a thick chain link that was part of the chain cast across the Hudson River to prevent British ships from reaching West Point.
The Ford Mansion and Washington Headquarters Museum is a perfect outing for families – small enough not to bore kids, but still a great introduction to New Jersey’s strategic importance in the War for Independence. The tour of the house is manageable for children ages 5 and up. Children (and adults) of all ages will enjoy peeking into the rooms and stepping back in time, and imagining the grandest home in Morristown back in 1779 packed with nearly100 people for six months.
- Washington Headquarters Museum is open 7 days a week, from 9-5; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Years Day
- There is a $4.00 fee for the tour and museum.
- Tours of the Ford Mansion are offered at 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, 7 days a week.
- Tours are limited to 20 visitors per tour.
- There are no restrooms on the tour, but restrooms are available in the museum.
- There is a small gift shop in the museum.
- The other areas of the Morristown National Historical Park include the Wick House, New Jersey Brigade, Cross Estate Garden Area, Jockey Hollow Encampment, and Fort Nonsense. All are within several miles of each other (car necessary)
Contributed by: Jenny Tananbaum, NJ Kids Mom Squad Team