During New Jersey's final years as a colony, more Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes were staged here than in any other future state.
Yet when Americans hear the story of the Revolution, the role of the Garden State is, as U.S. Rep. Rush Holt puts it, somewhat "underappreciated."
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives recognized the state's oft-overlooked historical significance, joining the Senate in passing a bill that designates parts of 14 New Jersey counties as the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.
The Heritage Area includes all of Mercer County. It stretches along the Delaware River from Gloucester to Hunterdon counties, and reaches eastward to parts of Monmouth County and northwest as far as Bergen County.
Backed by the National Parks Service, the designation empowers advocates of land conservation, historical preservation, tourism and education by providing federal recognition of the region's importance.
The bill, which has received enthusiastic support from advocates across the state, "is a wonderful marriage of all these interests," said Holt, D-Hopewell Township. "It is really great news for New Jersey."
"It creates a lot more support for preservation," said Linda Mead, executive director of the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust. "This is the ultimate recognition."
The Crossroads of the American Revolution Association, a Princeton-based group drawing its leadership from state government and nonprofit agencies, will coordinate the development of a management plan for the Heritage Area. Passage of the bill makes the association eligible for limited federal funding and allows it to use the National Parks Service logo.
The Crossroads Association will "promote Revolutionary War tourism (and) act as a catalyst on open space and historic preservation," said executive director Cate Litveck. "Heritage areas have traditionally been terrific economic engines," she added.
The Heritage Area encompasses more than 250 nationally registered Revolutionary War sites, Litveck said.
Among New Jersey's many home-rule municipalities, "the historic stories and the landscape of the American Revolution get focused on locally," said Crossroads Association president Kevin Tremble.
The Heritage Area will aid in the development of a coherent vision among these sites, grouping "them together for the purposes of telling the bigger story" of New Jersey's role in the Revolutionary War, Tremble said.
The bill now awaits approval from the White House.