The large flat bottom boats housed in this barn are reproductions of a mid-18th century vessel known as the Durham boat. Robert Durham, an engineer at the Durham Iron Works in nearby Reiglesville, Pennsylvania, reputedly designed a prototype for these large cargo boats as early as 1757. Durham boats hauled cargo along the entire length of the Delaware River. These long-run vessels transported ore, fir, timber, and produce down the Delaware River to Philadelphia's thriving markets. The largest vessels (up to 65 feet long and 8 feet in the beam) could transport 20 tons of iron or 150 barrels of flour downstream.
Durham boats played an important role in Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776. General Washington wrote to Governor Livingston of New Jersey directing him to secure "Boats and Craft,...should be secured...particularly the Durham Boats..." for his anticipated crossing and planned attack on Trenton. Although designed to haul cargo, the Durham boats successfully carried Washington's troops across the icy Delaware in the early morning hours prior to the attack.
In addition, two of the boats on display were constructed in 1965 and 1976 by the Johnston Brothers Boat Works in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. They were restored by Chad Brenner working for the Washington Crossing Reenactors Society and given to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1999. The remaining boats were constructed by Paul Rollins, boatbuilder, York, Maine in 1996 and 1997. One of these is a gift of the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park and the other was purchased by the PHMC. The boats are used in the Park's annual reenactment of the Crossing on Christmas Day.
Washington Crossing Historic Park gratefully acknowledges the donations of the Washington Crossing Reenactors Society and the Friends of the Washington Crossing Historic Park.