Saturday, July 29, 2017


The capital city of New Jersey, Trenton, has a population of about 85,000 and is only the 8th largest city in the state. For some reason, I expect the state capital to be the largest city in the state, even though that is often not the case (as in my own state of California). Trenton is located in almost the exact geographical center of the state (north/south), however, which is more than I can say for Sacramento or many other capital cities.

Trenton does hold the distinction of being the site of George Washington's first victory in December 1776 (the Battle of Trenton, which involved the famous Delaware River crossing), as well as serving for a brief time in 1784 as the United States capital. It was named the capital of New Jersey in 1790, and the "state house" (an early name for a capitol building) was built in 1792, making it the third oldest state house in continuous legislative use in the United States.

The New Jersey State House is unusual in its design as it deviates from the standard capitol architecture that is patterned after the national capitol building, although it does have the customary dome, which can barely be seen in the first picture below:

Here is a better view of the dome. I love its unique design:

Even though the original 1792 building had numerous additions in the 19th century as the state grew, it feels fairly small inside, especially when compared to some of the other cavernous capitols. The central "dome room" or rotunda also serves as the main foyer/waiting room. I did love the dark coral walls and beautiful woodwork:

. . . but this dome--not so much. I couldn't get past the image of a fried egg, sunny side up:

The only way to see this capitol is with a tour guide, and we trailed along with a group of about a dozen restless third graders and listened to an A+ tour guide, a woman with a Bronx accent who kept reminding us that government officials work for us, and we have a right to have a say in their decisions. (Was this pointed at New Jersey's very unpopular current governor, Chris Christie, or was it an innocent call for involvement in the government process?)

The rotunda is ringed with nice stained glass windows that are flanked with VIP portraits of men I've mostly never heard of:

New Jersey's most important son has to be Woodrow Wilson, but he is hardly given a nod. If I were in charge, I'd create a Woodrow Wilson display in the capitol building. He is too fascinating to be reduced to a wooden plaque:

By the way, both Antonin Scalia, who served as a Supreme Court Justice from 1986 until his death in 2016, and Samuel Alito, who has been serving on the Supreme Court since 2006, were born in Trenton, as was General Norman Schwarzkopf, leader of the coalition forces in the Iraq War. If I were in charge, I would add their portraits to the rotunda.

The building is essentially shaped like an H, with two long parallel hallways joined in the center by a short hallway that includes the rotunda.

Another, smaller room that is part of the crossing hallway contains a glass case containing this porcelain sculpture entitled The Glory of New Jersey. It shows a northern oak (the state tree) on which are perched 21 male and female American goldfinches (the state bird), one for each county in New Jersey. Violas (the state flower) grow around the base of the tree, and 13 honeybees (the state insect), representing the 13 original colonies, flit about.

A single ladybug represents the state's first female governor: Christine Todd Whitman, who served from 1994 to 2001:

Many of the same elements are repeated in a carpet in the General Assembly Room:

Here is our awesome guide, explaining the Monmouth County flag:

Our guide took us upstairs to a viewing gallery overlooking the General Assembly Room:

Gorgeous light fixture and glass ceiling:

Then we stepped into the Senate Chamber viewing gallery:

There is a beautiful domed ceiling in the Senate Chamber. It is hard to see, but the rectangular pieces features the names of some of New Jersey's most famous native sons: Governor William Livingston, inventor Seth Boyden, and Civil War General George McClellan:

Above the second level is a series of murals that depict Revolutionary War battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth, as well as some of New Jersey's important industries, such as construction, glass making, agriculture, and ceramics:

My favorite mural remembers the horrible winter Washington and his troops spent in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1780. The winter there was even worse than the one two years earlier at Valley Forge:

We made two more stops before leaving the building. The first was at the Governor's Office.  Too bad the infamous Chris Christie wasn't in. Perhaps he was relaxing on a beach somewhere with his family. The second was an empty chair dedicated to the 91,000 soldiers who have gone missing in action since World War I.

I liked the New Jersey State House, but I've gotten used to state capitols that highlight important people and events a bit more elaborately. I think there is a lot more New Jersey could do to honor its incredible history.


  1. Fun to learn the names of some of its famous citizens.You're right,they need to do some bragging.

  2. The Senate dome is definitely more impressive than the egg dome. I love that coral color, too.