Turnpike Trivia


I recently cruised down the New Jersey Turnpike for a weekend in Philadelphia. I hadn't been to Philly since a poorly executed field trip in 1991, when many of the exhibits were inexplicably closed. So it was good to be back. We saw the same high-speed chase three times (a movie was filming near our hotel) and hit up the Starbucks across from Betsy Ross' house.

But the learning opportunities didn't start at Philadelphia's city limits. If you've ever traveled the Turnpike, you may have noticed the rest stops are all dedicated to famous (and not-so-famous) Americans. I've always wondered how these obscure names were connected to New Jersey. Let's take a ride up the Turnpike, making frequent stops for answers:

+Clara Barton, Established the American Red Cross
NJ Connection: Started NJ's first free public school
Milepost: 5.4 (southbound)

+John Fenwick, Quaker colonist in America
NJ Connection: Early settler of NJ
Milepost: 5.4 (northbound)

+Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass poet
NJ Connection: Buried in Camden
Milepost: 30.2

+J. Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans author
NJ Connection: This rest stop (He was born in Burlington, but moved at age 1 to Lake Oswego, NY)
Milepost: 39.4

+Richard Stockton, Declaration of Independence signer
NJ Connection: Continental Congressman from NJ
Milepost: 58.7 (southbound)

+Woodrow Wilson, 28th President
NJ Connection: President of Princeton
Milepost: 58.7 (northbound)

+Molly Pitcher, Possibly took the place of her wounded husband behind a cannon during the Revolutionary War
NJ Connection: If this did happen, it probably happened at The Battle of Monmouth in 1778.
Milepost: 71.7

+Joyce Kilmer, Poet and son of the guy who invented baby powder
NJ Connection: Born in New Brunswick
Milepost: 78.7

+Thomas Edison, Inventor with 1,097 U.S. patents
NJ Connection: "The Wizard of Menlo Park" is buried in West Orange
Milepost: 92.9 (southbound)

+Grover Cleveland, 22nd & 24th President
NJ Connection: Born in Caldwell, buried in Princeton
Milepost: 92.9 (northbound)

+Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury
NJ Connection: Killed by Aaron Burr in a Weehawken duel
Milepost: 111.6

+Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers coach
NJ Connection: His first coaching job was at St. Cecilia High School in Engelwood
Milepost: 116

There probably wasn't a lot of resistance to any of these roadside memorials. I can't imagine anti-Clara Barton sentiment. But one naming has been a source of contention -- the Howard Stern Rest Area on I-295 in Springfield. It was christened in 1995 by governor Christie Todd Whitman. This gesture "“ a "thanks" for Stern's support in the November 1993 election "“ drew both criticism and thieves. A plaque featuring Stern in an outhouse was stolen. Jim McGreevey closed the rest stop in a 2003 cost-cutting measure.