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One Tank Trip: Old Barracks Museum

By Karin Mallett, Anchor / Reporter, KMallett@wfmz.com
Published On: Aug 17 2011 09:59:07 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 12 2011 12:50:00 PM CDT

TRENTON, N.J. -

Across the Pennsylvania border, a building stands as a reminder of war. And 250 years later, you can step inside to see what life as a soldier was like.

America was just beginning to find her way..

And in the midst of glory, you see the underpinnings of war.

This is Trenton, New Jersey circa mid 1700s, where soldiers stayed.

Known now as the Old Barracks Museum, in 1758, it was the biggest building in Trenton.

Five barracks were built as the winter quarters for soldiers and this is the only one that survived.

About 300 British and Irish soldiers were the first to live here during the French and Indian War.

The second wave of troops would come during the Revolution. Twenty soldiers' rooms left much to the imagination.

Fred, one of our tour guides, navigates the close quarters and shares stories of the hardships, explaining how hygiene wasn't exactly a top priority.

Here's a tidbit for you: soldiers bathed once every two months.

"Two men to a bed and we sleep head to toe and so you must pick your bedfellow very carefully because if you don't, you're going to have toes in your nose," said Fred.

Nose to toes was only for the troops. Just a few feet away, it's almost another world.

Fred's in a new colonial costume, but if you ask nicely, he'll let you inside the attached officers' house.

It stands in stark contrast to the troops' way of life.

"They have everything from soup to nuts, plum puddings, apple dumplings, fine brandies and wines and beers," said Fred.

Everything.

"The interesting thing about the barracks is that it's like an onion," said Bob, who is another tour guide and explains how the barracks' history is steeped in levels of war.

"And you sort of expect that when you come here but what you don't expect is to learn about medical history," said Bob.

But you will. You see, the first mass medical procedure in the country was carried out at the barracks.

We learn that, in 1777, the barracks transformed into a general military hospital to inoculate the American army against smallpox.

Today, the barracks stand as a tribute to Colonial and American way of life, the last remaining structure of its kind.