What do you do when out-of-town guests arrive at your stately Hopewell home? Whether they are from Hightstown or Ulaanbaatar, after the usual round heavy drinking, you will have to decide how to entertain them. So which local sights, or sites, should be on your list? Which activities will provide the most profound Hopewellian experience?
You might start in the north of the Township with a visit to Howell Farm, a genuine pastoral relic evoking 19th century New England, and marvel at the behemoth pair of oxen, horned beasts the size of elephants, but keep away from the pigsty because it really smells like a pigsty.
You could then meander down scenic Route 29 to Baldpate Mountain, where intrepid local volunteers (including me) cleared a path through the wilderness and built a glorious trail up the hillside turning immense stray rocks into majestic stone staircases rivaling the pyramids of ancient Egypt. Even if you had nothing to do with construction of the trail, you could still pretend that you did.
Continuing south lies Washington Crossing State Park. Most anyone would want to visit the Visitor Center Museum, look at the Revolutionary War Era muskets on display and, as always, get into the usual light-hearted discussion of gun control. “Strict originalists” will of course agree that the Second Amendment of the Constitution calls for a “well regulated Militia . . . and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” And following the letter of that highest law, everyone will have to agree that all gun-cherishing Americans should be armed exclusively with one of those original, single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlock weapons. Carrying muskets, which take about 20 minutes to reload, might be just the thing to slow down mass shootings.
In the summer, that same state park features the Open Air Theater. Why not take in a very-far-off Broadway play? Try not to be distracted by the bats flying over the actors or the occasional raccoon ambling across the stage.
At the foot of the park is the Washington Crossing Bridge. If serenity is what your guests seek, standing in the middle of the bridge at sunrise is the apotheosis of serenity. The view upriver of sparkling, clear water reflecting the trees and sky at that early hour is indistinguishable from what the Lenni Lenape must have admired hundreds of years before the first illegal immigrants began settling New Jersey in the 17th century.
If serenity or getting up real early is not what your guests crave, then try out that same bridge during rush hour and watch cars scrape off their side-view mirrors on the railings of this absurdly narrow bridge built in 1904 to accommodate skinny horses, not fat SUVs.
Still too serene? Load your guests into a car around the 5 p.m. rush hour and try approaching the same bridge, which becomes transformed into the Washington Crossing Bottleneck Bridge as workers fleeing NJ attempt to escape to PA. Sometimes it takes only a half hour to travel a half mile, something sure to satisfy your guests who were hoping for a big city traffic experience. As a bonus, while idling in their vehicles, they can look at green trees and poison ivy instead of gray buildings and factories.
Incidentally, no trip to the area is complete without a side-trip to the tarantula-in-the-tank at the Hopewell Public Library, Hopewell’s answer to a petting zoo. The spider goes by the name “Fang.”
Then there are yard sales, the core of Hopewellian commerce. Do not deprive your guests of the opportunity to buy the stuff that you (and they) probably just threw out. Where else can you find a dot matrix printer or a 400 pound television? Even better, check out the driveways the day after the yard sales and pick up for free the leftovers that no one wanted, cherished items like VHS tapes, half-used coloring books or cracked kitchen sinks complete with corroded faucets.
Should you run out of really close-to-home monuments of interest, there’s always the old fall-back: Princeton University. You can pretend that you are an Ivy Leaguer and lead your guests past buildings while saying, with a knowing air, “That’s Firestone Library. That’s Prospect House—Woodrow Wilson lived there.” Of course, if you actually are an Ivy Leaguer, such behavior would be insufferable.
Once they open the International Shuffleboard Hall of Fame on Scotch Road, all other local destinations will immediately become of little interest.
Robin Schore lives in Titusville.