New Jersey has many well-known, well-funded, and well-frequented museums. But there are lesser-known gems as well, smaller and harder to find—yet just as fascinating.

For example, on the grounds of the division headquarters of the New Jersey State Police in West Trenton sits a log cabin, a relic of days past and part of a newer brick structure known as the New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center (609/822-2000 x6400). It’s there you’ll discover that the state police launched a massive investigation in 1932 into the “Crime of the Century”—the kidnapping of the young son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. You peruse a crime scene to help detectives find clues. You’ll also learn that the state police instituted a “chicken tattoo registry” in the 1930s to minimize poultry theft, and you’ll see motorcycles that troopers used from the 1920s to the 1950s, as well as lots of confiscated weapons.

Then there’s the Paterson Museum (973/321-1260). It tells the tale of the “first planned industrial city in the United States,” a once-prosperous town with thriving textile and locomotive-building industries. You learn that Paterson survived a flood, a fire, and a tornado all in one year; and that John P. Holland designed the first modern submarines there. Also, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, in which he flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927, had an engine built by Wright Aeronautical Corporation there.

Land, Sea, & Air Museums

Travel guides about New Jersey abound. In particular, I found Off the Beaten Path/New Jersey: A Guide to Unique Places, by William G. and Kay Scheller (Globe Pequot Press, 2006), to be useful in researching these small museums. There are so many places off the beaten path, in fact, that I’ve vowed to visit some of them—including the American Indian Heritage Museum on the Rankokus Reservation in Rancocas (609/261-4747), the Bridgeton Hall of Fame All Sports Museum (856/451-7300), and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine (609/266-0538)—another time.

A friend and I did, however, explore the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey (201/288-6344), at Teterboro Airport. We learned about women and African-American aviators. We read about “lighter than air” travel in dirigibles, and about the crash of the Hindenberg in 1937. We toured an outdoor replica of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) from the Korean War. And we tried our skills on flight simulators. But don’t even think of hiring us as pilots; we crashed in no time at all.

What's your favorite New Jersey museum? Let us know!

Mary Ann McGann is a writer and mom from New Jersey.