The Eternal Struggle: History vs. Ghost Stories

Was N.J.’s Spy House one of the most haunted spots in the country? That’s up for debate

The Seabrook-Wilson House, a.k.a the Spy House, was built in the early 1700s. Over the years, archaeology and historical research has uncovered much of the true history of the house. Now part of Bayshore Waterfront Park in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, the historic house museum has a slate of free history and science programs scheduled, including their new History on Tap series, beginning with Famous and Forgotten Shipwrecks of New Jersey, an Archaeological Perspective on November 14.

The Seabrook-Wilson House. Source: ScottCAbel [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Louis Sullivan’s Jewel Box in Grinnell

The Jewel Box, Grinnell, Iowa. Source: TCM

The Merchants National Bank building in Grinnell, Iowa, also known as the Jewel Box, was designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan late in his career and built in 1914. Used as a bank for over 80 years, it now serves as the visitors’ center for the town. The building is a National Historic Landmark and part of the Grinnell Historic Commercial District.

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Mercer Cemetery

The Mercer Cemetery in Trenton, NJ, was created in the 1840s. There were few new internments after the 1930s. Unlike the Riverview Cemetery, which is still active, no one has been buried in Mercer since 1973. In the 1990s, the city spruced up the cemetery, but it became neglected, landscaping and maintenance was deferred, and conditions within the cemetery deteriorated. Fortunately, Trenton is now looking to rehabilitate the Mercer cemetery, beginning with a recent volunteer cleanup effort.

Source: TCM
Source: TCM
Source: TCM
Source: TCM
Source: TCM

Modernism and Louis Kahn’s Trenton Bath House

Source: TCM

What does concrete block want? Probably a sympathetic and historically accurate restoration.

Louis Kahn is considered one of the most important architects of the twentieth century, but his early career was unremarkable. When Kahn was about fifty, he traveled through Italy, Greece, and Egypt. The ancient architecture he studied there transformed him, and when he returned to the United States, one of the first buildings he designed was the Trenton Bath House, one component of the Trenton Jewish Community Center. This unassuming structure, completed in 1957, is a landmark in Modernism and marks a turning point in Kahn’s design vision, and in twentieth century architecture.

Source: TCM
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Canal Bridgetender’s Houses

These three small houses are located along the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Trenton, where movable bridges formerly crossed the canal. Houses were provided so the bridgetenders were always available to swing the bridge out of the way as a canal barge passed through.

The Hanover Street house was renovated when Thomas Edison State College built the large building that partially surrounds it. The Calhoun Street house appears to be stabilized, while the Prospect Street house looks occupied.

Hanover Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM
Hanover Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM

Hanover Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM

Calhoun Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM


Calhoun Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM
Prospect Street Bridgetender’s House. Source: TCM

General Philemon Dickinson’s Hermitage and Washington’s Crossing

The Hermitage, Trenton, in 2018. Source: TCM

Philemon Dickinson,  called “one of the truest patriots of the revolution” by historian William Stryker, was from a wealthy family that owned land in several states, but he chose to establish a country estate, which he called the Hermitage, at a site outside the town of Trenton, New Jersey.  He bought the property, which included a house and barns, in July of 1776.

Not long after he bought the property, Hessian troops seized the building and established a picket there, which guarded the approach to Trenton from the north. Dickinson, who was a general in the New Jersey militia, was stationed across the river in Yardley, where he could observe the Hessians occupying his home. After crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, American troops marched past the Hermitage on their way to Trenton, driving the Hessians before them. General Dickinson, still stationed in Yardley, contributed to the effort by ordering the artillery to shell his own home; fortunately for his real estate, the effect was mostly symbolic.

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