The History of the Washington Association of New Jersey
From December 1779 to June 1780, during the American Revolution, the Jacob Ford, Jr. mansion in Morristown served as the military headquarters of General George Washington and his aides-de-camp. It was the second winter encampment of the Continental Army in Morristown. The first encampment took place during the winter and spring of 1777 at the Arnold Tavern on the Morristown Green.
On June 25, 1873, ex-New Jersey Governor Theodore Randolph, William Van Vleck Lidgerwood, General Nathaniel Norris Halsted, and Hon. George A. Halsey (“the founding four”) purchased the Ford mansion at auction from the heirs of Jacob Ford’s grandson. Their purpose was to preserve the building and its surrounding lands as a monument to the heroism and fortitude of General Washington and the Continental Army.
On March 30, 1874, the Washington Association of New Jersey was incorporated to oversee the preservation, maintenance, and interpretation of the site. The Ford family donated some of the furniture used by Washington at the mansion, and over the years, the Association acquired an extraordinary collection of books, documents, paintings, prints, maps and other artifacts. In addition, Lloyd Waddell Smith, a former president of the Association, acquired the greater part of Jockey Hollow (the soldier encampment) and Clyde Potts, Mayor of Morristown, was instrumental in purchasing Fort Nonsense (the battlement foundation and upper redoubt).
In 1933, when Morristown National Historical Park, the nation’s first national historical park, was created by Congress, the Washington Association gave the mansion, Jockey Hollow, Fort Nonsense and its vast historic collections to the federal government. President Herbert Hoover signed legislation on March 3, 1933 that established the Park, provided for its administration by the National Park Service, and identified the Washington Association as its advisory body (16 USCA s409). It was soon determined that a new museum building should be constructed on the site. John Russell Pope (1874-1937), the nation’s most famous museum architect of the period, was chosen to design the building.
The Morristown National Historical Park consists of Washington’s Headquarters (the Ford Mansion), the Washington’s Headquarters Museum and its collections, Jockey Hollow, Fort Nonsense, and the New Jersey Brigade area, which was identified by Isabel and Fred Bartenstein, who donated it to Morristown National Historical Park in 1969.
For over 140 years, the Washington Association has continued its mission to assist Morristown National Historical Park and to preserve the memory of George Washington. Every year, it sponsors an array of publications and public history programs, which have included important scholarly conferences, lectures, and other educational programs.