What to Know
- Shallow water levels in the Delaware River threatened the annual re-enactment of George Washington's Crossing.
- A nonprofit that teaches Philly students to build boats donated six rowboats that can handle the river's current conditions.
- The Christmas tradition remembers Washington's 1776 crossing that helped turn the tide in the Revolutionary War.
Philadelphia students with a knack for boat building have saved a Christmas tradition for "George Washington" and his "troops."
Due to low water levels in the Delaware River, the annual Christmas Day reenactment of George Washington’s crossing was in jeopardy.
Low water made it impossible to ensure safe passage for reenactors and the expensive replica wooden Durham boats that they use to cross from a park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to the river's New Jersey side.
But, thanks to Philadelphia Waterborne, a nonprofit organization that teaches inner-city students boat-building skills, Washington’s crossing is back on this year.
The students are loaning the reenactors a half-dozen handmade rowboats that can be used in shallow water.
"The program is lending Washington Crossing Historic Park six handmade, 12-foot rowboats. ... The boats only draw about 6 inches of water, which means they can get across the river under current conditions," the park said in a news release.
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Thousands of people turn out each year for the reenactment of an event that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.
Boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river from what is now Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, to Titusville, New Jersey, during the original 1776 crossing. Washington's troops marched about eight miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton.
You won’t see quite that much firepower on the rowboats this year. Still, the event in the borrowed boats remains historically accurate, organizers said.
"In fact, there’s plenty of historical authenticity to this unique reenactment," organizers said. "While Durham boats were used in the original 1776 crossing, historians agree that General Washington probably used various river craft to make his daring Christmas Day crossing."
Nicholas Pagon, founder and managing director of the Philadelphia Waterborne program, said the agreement "suddenly came together." He said people in the crossing event were aware of his program and asked if they had boats that could be used.
"This is just great, so perfect for the students," Pagon said Friday. "As part of this program, I wanted them to build something real and to see they could build things that were valuable to the community, which is why being part of this Washington crossing event is so wonderful. Their work will be on display."
Roughly 75 students in Philadelphia are now involved in the program, and more than 200 have taken part overall since it began four years ago. Pagon said he plans to attend the crossing on Christmas Day, and is spreading the word to students in the program so they can also watch.
Small groups of students in the program meet weekly in their own schools to build small wooden rowboats as a team. This allows them to consider design and the cultural history of boats, along with the mathematics, physics and geometry needed for the project.
They eventually launch and row the completed boats on local rivers together.
The Washington Crossing reenactment — now in its 65th year — gets underway at noon and is free to the public. The crossing is set to occur around 1 p.m.