Last month, we briefly explored facts surrounding the locating of the United States’ capital city after the Revolution and the birth of the new country. In 1791, after both conflict and compromise on the issue in Congress, this “Federal City” (as General Washington liked to call it) was ultimately situated on the banks of the Potomac in Virginia, and not on the banks of the Delaware in New Jersey, as was originally considered.
Yet nearly 230 years later, we can drive along a road here in Mercer County, far from Washington D.C., named “Federal City Road.” And in fact, we can drive along two non-contiguous roads, both named “Federal City Road.” How did this come to be?
There are two sections of Federal City Road: a “lower” piece that begins at Ewingville Road and runs past the Benjamin Temple House, through a residential section, over Interstate 95, and on into Lawrence Township, where it eventually intersects with Pennington-Lawrenceville Road; and an “upper” piece that picks up a half a mile northwest along Pennington-Lawrenceville Road in Hopewell Township at the Twin Pines Athletic Fields (where the Twin Pines Airport once was), and wanders through Hopewell Township for several miles through county park land and undeveloped farm and woodland.
According to a Lawrence Township Historical Society publication, that “upper piece” was a new road in 1817, and connected Pennington-Rocky Hill Road at its northern end with Pennington-Lawrenceville Road at its southern end.
The road became unofficially known as Federal City Road, because of the small rural village with the impressive name which developed at the intersection with Pennington-Lawrenceville Road, in the vicinity of today’s Twin Pines Athletic Fields.
Locals referred to it as “Federal City,” because despite Washington, D.C. being built far from Mercer County at the dawn of the 19th century, land speculators and patriots evidently enjoyed keeping the name and connection to “what might have been” alive. The village had a few homes, a blacksmith shop, and by the 1830s, a one-room schoolhouse.
Meanwhile, the “lower piece” of Federal City Road, which begins at Ewingville Road in Ewing and makes its way into Lawrence, traces its history back a bit further.
Again, the Lawrence Township publication states that the road “was laid before the Revolutionary War, or any thought of a national capital.”
Set out by the commissioners of Hunterdon County in 1763, the road was known by various names over the years, including the Ewing-Princeton Road. Eventually in the 19th century it became known as Federal City Road, as it too led to the village by that name.
So while no national Federal City ever emerged in Mercer County, a small village in Hopewell known as Federal City did emerge and exist for nearly a century.
At its height, there were only a dozen or so homes in the village. Many of the homes were rented out to loggers working in the area. The Federal City Schoolhouse closed its doors in 1910, and was destroyed by a fire in 1915.
Possibly the last home to be built in the village was the home of John Slocum, built c. 1875, located across (the upper) Federal City Road from the schoolhouse. Today, that home is the last and only remaining vestige of Mercer County’s Federal City.
A stately white home set back from the road, it will probably never be confused with the residence of our nation’s presidents in D.C., but it is in fact a white house in the Federal City.
Do you have a story to tell, or a special reminiscence of Ewing? Contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org to share it in this column.