By park historical interpreter Thomas Maddock
As I led my led my first tour out of the temporary Visitors Center on July of 2009, it was like déjà vu. As I looked out at the Washington Crossing Historic Park, my memory slipped back to the late thirties and early forties.
My parents had rented a large wooden house from the State, right on the banks for the Delaware River. My parents had moved to the park in 1935, right after their wedding. I moved in a year later, followed by four siblings. My memories of growing up in the park are all very positive. We and just a few other playmates were left on our own to create our own entertainment. Cowboys and Indians, skating on the “Swamp,” sledding down Buckman’s hill, endless bike riding, pirate excursions to Lowne Island (we never found any treasure), a few hours each day listening to our favorite radio show (#1 was the Lone Ranger), and countless other pursuits.
There were not enough kids for us to play any team sports so we created our own games and made up our own rules and had a great deal of fun. We did not have play dates, Little leagues, Pee Wee Football, or youth soccer leagues. Our occasional outing would be to walk across the river bridge, catch a bus to Trenton, and walk seven blocks to the State theatre, pay for a double feature Western, a serial, a treat and the ride back, all for $0.55. How things have changed.
On occasional Sundays my father would pile the neighbor kids into the 1940 Ford station wagon and off we would go. Each passenger had a number and when father came to stop or red light he would ask #1 which direction to turn. At the next stop #2 would pick the turn. It was lots of fun and we got to see all sorts of beautiful countryside.
Even though we did not have a lot of money, I never felt that we had a problem. The park provided us with an endless variety of options to keep us busy and engaged. I had a very happy childhood and the park was the major reason. One memory sticks out, and it was at midday on December 7, 1941. I was playing in the Fulper’s backyard when Mrs. Fulper came out and said to me, “Timmy, I think you need to go home.” I was just five years old.
Our “park” was before the Visitor Center was built and the volume of people we experience today. My father would take us to the tower for a run up to the top, and then he would meet us at the bottom. We would climb down over the rocks, looking for the treasure we were led to believe was buried there by a doctor on Captain Kidd’s pirate ship. We did not find the treasure but had lots of fun and exercise looking. After the roads had been plowed, my father would hook several ropes to the back of the 1940 Ford “Woody” station wagon and pull us around the park on our sleds. While probably frowned upon today, it was great fun.
Early schooling went from four grades in one room with one teacher to three grades, one room, one teacher and outdoor toilets. Certainly different than today, but we all made it work. It was a tribute to the multi-tasking abilities of our teachers. Many of my Haverford College classmates found this hard to believe.
We had to move the house in 1951 because it was not in keeping with the other stone houses in the park. We sold the house, however, and moved across the river into Ewing Township. [The house was purchased from the state before it was moved in 1951.]
Growing up in the park was special and different. As I lead tour groups, I find myself remembering more of my childhood. Each time I point out the Washington Crossing Inn, I mention that this is where I had my first job at 13 years old as a busboy. My pay was a free lunch and $0.25 an hour.
When I read or hear of some of today’s troubled youth, I am very thankful for the park providing us with an open and rural playground. All five siblings grew into responsible, fun-loving adults with strong marriages. I feel very lucky for the experience and opportunity for growing up in the park. It is interesting that when we are all together at the family homestead, we always want to make time to visit the park. It is a very special moment. It is always uplifting to remember our formative years on the banks of the Delaware River.
My career took me to North Jersey for 30-some years, but in 2002 I returned to Bucks County, remarried, and signed on as a tour guide for the park. Thus I have been able to complete the circle.
After a short training period, I now share with the park guests the Washington Crossing story. Since the story is not very well told in school, guests are amazed with the details of that memorable event. Educating others to the magic and importance of the Crossing is pure joy. I meet new, exciting and interested people every day. Being a docent for the Washington Crossing Historic Park, for me, is the best job I could ever imagine. My 15 years growing up in the park makes the job very special.
My hope is that as the non-profit Friends group grows and matures, they will be able to develop many additional attractions and features. We need to attract more visitors. Our story is very important and we need to keep spreading the word.