Why Save the Old Barracks?
Citizens, what structure can you visit, the historic capture of which, is the turning point in the American Revolution? Teachers, where can you take students to learn about, and see first hand, the implements and procedures to fight the scourge of colonial times, smallpox? African-Americans, where can you find insights into what the cause of the American Revolution meant to free and enslaved blacks, and their military contributions in the war? Students, where can you see an archaeological dig revealing the foundations of a 18th century paper mill? Would you believe that you can see and learn about all this, and more, in one place? You can, at the Old Barracks in Trenton New Jersey- at least in the near future.
The Old Barracks is the last of five military Barracks erected during the French and Indian War to house returning troops. Once, forgotten, physically divided for private use, and in disrepair, it was bought by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of New Jersey in the early 1900's. The agreement was made to turn it into a museum. It became a State Registered Landmark in 1970, a National Register Landmark in 1971, and a National Historic Landmark in 1972. Starting in 1985 and ending in 1998, it was restored to its original military appearance. Since then, thousands have enjoyed its innovative living history programs and exhibits offered by the staff, reputed to be among the best in the historical interpretation field. Many have listened to its renowned Fife and Drums.
After years of support of this unique national and local resource, the Christie administration has cut funding for the Old Barracks out of the budget. Richard Patterson, the director, is once again making an urgent appeal, especially to New Jersey residents, to contact state legislators to have its funding restored, and to support the Old Barracks. through fundraisers and donations.
At a time when the state's rallying cry is to cut spending, it remains to be seen if even after centuries of service, this national symbol can weather this storm.
For some, history and culture are trivial pursuits. For me, historical interpretation, when done at its best, provides an important space where we can fully experience our common heritage. It binds us through recognition of the sacrifices made by many in pursuit of freedom. The great story of America is not the achievement of freedom for a few, in an unchanging past. It is the continuing story of the ideal of freedom, expanding, becoming more inclusive over time, with much pain and sacrifice. Cultural institutions like the Old Barracks perform an invaluable service when, through expert interpretation, they bring this history to life. As long as we are aware that we are part of this ongoing process of expanding freedom, we'll continue to create a future of expanding freedom for generations to come. Public support of the Old Barracks and institutions like it is what keeps this legacy alive.We neglect them at our own peril.