“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Trenton in Mercer County, New Jersey — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Petty's Run

Capital Industry

Petty's Run Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones, November 14, 2020
1. Petty's Run Marker
Don't let the sloping lawn and park-like setting deceive you. A natural stream, Petty's Run, flowed in a steep ravine at this spot, joining the Delaware River just beyond where the War Memorial sits today. Native Americans camped along the bluffs here, hunting, fishing, preparing food and tools. In the colonial period, Petty's Run defined the western limits of the town of Trenton and powered an iron and steel works. The stream was bridged in the late 18th century opening up the State House lot and surrounding area for development. In the 19th century, Petty's Run powered more industry - a cotton mill and then a paper mill - before being enclosed and made a part of the city's storm sewer system. Town houses and row homes, erected in the 19th century, were demolished in the early 20th century to make way for Mahlon Stacy Park, which, in essence, still survives today. The timeline below places the Petty's Run site within the broader context of New Jersey History.

Iron and Steel

A water-powered forge was built on the east side of Petty's Run in the early 1730s and destroyed in 1777. A steel furnace was erected across
Petty's Run Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Coughlin, December 1, 2018
2. Petty's Run Marker
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the run in the mid-1740s, staying intermittently in operation until 1784.

The William Trent House was built for the Trent family, for whom Trenton is named. This find brick mansion, the city's oldest surviving building, is located on the south side of the Assunpink Creek about one-half mile south of here.

The Old Barracks, in front of you to the left, was established as a British military base on the frontier during the French and Indian War. The largest building in the town for many years, the barracks could accommodate close to 300 soldiers.

Two battles fought in the streets of Trenton, on December 26, 1776 and January 2, 1777, saw the tide of the Revolutionary War begin to turn in favor of the American cause of liberty.

For 54 days, from November 1 until December 24, 1784, Trenton was the nation's capital. The First Continental Congress met at the French Arms Tavern on the southwest corner of State and Warren Streets.

State House and Streets

Shortly after the New Jersey State House was completed in 1792 access to the new seat of state government was improved by extending West Front Street through the Old Barracks to the State House Lot. This required construction of a stone bridge over Petty's Run that survives today buried beneath several feet of fill.

Trenton was

Petty's Run Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Coughlin, December 1, 2018
3. Petty's Run Marker
designated capital of the State of New Jersey by an act of the legislature on November 25. The State House, designed and constructed by master builder Jonathan Doan, opened for business almost two years later on October 29, 1792, although work on the building continued for another three years.

This map, prepared for local landowner Daniel W. Coxe, shows the State House Lot. Petty's Run and the extension of West Front Street. At this time the State House was situated on the western edge of town and was beginning to encourage Trenton's expansion upstream along the banks of the Delaware River.

On April 21, George Washington traveled through Trenton en route to his inauguration as first President of the United States. Passing beneath a triumphal arch erected on the bridge over Assunpink Creek, he was welcomed and serenaded by the rapturous ladies of Trenton.

In the early 1790s, yellow fever gripped the nation's capital in Philadelphia. The many country estates located upriver along the Delaware at Trenton were a welcome retreat for the wealthy.

Cotton and Paper

Beginning in the second decade of the 19th century this section of Petty's Run experienced a rebirth of water-powered industry. A short-lived cotton mill, out of business before 1820, was followed by a more successful paper mill established in 1827
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with the financial backing of Garret D. Wall.

This watercolor view of the Delaware River at Trenton, painted by Robert Montgomery Bird from a vantage point close to where you are standing, shows the flats at the mouth of Assunpink Creek, Coxe's mills beside the Trent House, and the first bridge over the Delaware built in 1804-06.

By the early 1850s, Trenton's waterfront was developing rapidly. This section of a lithograph shows the State House and mills along the Trenton Water Power, a canal that ran along the Delaware riverbank.

The Trenton to New Brunswick branch of the Camden and Amboy Railroad began operation. One of the Camden and Amboy's best known railroad engines was the John Bull, now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Peter Cooper (1791-1883), industrialist and philanthropist, founded a succession of companies in Trenton, notably the Trenton Iron Company and the Trenton Water Company. These propelled Trenton into a center of manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution.

Residences and Row Homes

Water-powered industry wound down in the later 19th century as steam, electricity and other forms of energy became more widespread. The block bounded by West State, South Willow, West Front and Delaware Streets was redeveloped for residential purposes and Petty's Run was placed
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in a culvert.

The neighborhood between the State House and the Old Barracks took on a strong residential flavor. Sanitary improvements saw Petty's Run incorporated into the city-wide sewer system.

Henry Kelsey, New Jersey's Secretary of State, engaged architect Cass Gilbert to design a vocational school. Completed in 1911 and known as the School of Industrial Arts, this Renaissance Revival building overlooks the Petty's Run site from the corner of West State and Barrack Streets.

The Calhoun Street Bridge was built by the Phoenix Bridge Company using its innovative hollow iron columns. The bridge's private owner, the Trenton City Bridge Company, charged a toll until 1928 when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission purchased the bridge and allowed travelers free passage.

Trenton was a national leader in the manufacture of pottery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Etruria Pottery, established at the height of the Civil War in 1863, was the home of Ott and Brewer, makers of fine porcelain and tablewares from 1871 to 1892.

Mahlon Stacy Park

Early in the 20th century, the State of New Jersey sought to provide the State House with surroundings befitting the seat of government for one of the country's wealthiest states. The design of Mahlon Stacy Park, named for Trenton's founding settler, adopted the principles of the City Beautiful movement.

The core of Mahlon Stacy Park was created between 1912 and 1916. This involved demolition of buildings, construction of a riverfront wall and extensive filling. When fully completed in the 1920s, the park extended from the Assunpink upstream to the neighborhood known as "the Island."

Within Mahlon Stacy Park the old canal known as the Trenton Water Power was transformed into Sanhican Creek. This linear water feature flowed along the base of the bluff below the State House and into the Assunpink Creek.

The landmark Art Deco concert hall known as the Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial opened to honor local veterans of World War I.

A major expansion of the Capitol Complex took place in the early 1960s with the creation of the Cultural Center next to the State House. Designed in the New Formalist style, this group of buildings comprises the State Library, the State Museum, the Planetarium and the Auditorium.

Untitled Last Column

The jumble of ruins in the pit before you, revealed by archaeological excavations in 2008-09, are a microcosm of Trenton's rich industrial history and the role of water power in the Industrial Revolution. Experience this history and learn more detail about the Petty's Run Archaeological Site as you walk around the pathway loop.

For almost a year archaeologists peeled back layers of history, exposing foundations, recovering artifacts and documenting all that was found through surveying, scale drawing and photography. Thick earth deposits and later masonry features were removed with the help of a backhoe. More delicate excavation was conducted by hand with picks, shovels and trowels.

Excavation in the deeper reaches of the site, notably the paper mill wheel pit, seen here, required a combination of mechanical and manual digging of waterlogged soils. Pumps removed water while archaeologists clad in waders shoveled mud from the timber remains of the turbine box.
Erected 2012.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Notable PlacesWaterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Art Deco series list. A significant historical date for this entry is January 2, 1777.
Location. 40° 13.224′ N, 74° 46.156′ W. Marker is in Trenton, New Jersey, in Mercer County. Marker is on West State Street. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Trenton NJ 08608, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Trenton Steel Works (a few steps from this marker); West Front Street (within shouting distance of this marker); State House (within shouting distance of this marker); The Story of Trenton (within shouting distance of this marker); Front Street Paper Mill (within shouting distance of this marker); Changing Landscapes Along Petty's Run (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Petty's Run (within shouting distance of this marker); Old Steel Mill (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Trenton.

Credits. This page was last revised on November 15, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 9, 2014, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 386 times since then and 37 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on November 15, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.   2, 3. submitted on December 2, 2018, by Bill Coughlin of Woodland Park, New Jersey.

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Dec. 5, 2022