On your next road trip, break the monotony of the interstates with some heritage travel.
The last time you drove home from an out-of-state assignment, did you struggle to stay awake on long stretches between dreary fast-food choices? Yawn no more. Heritage travel means "traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past," says Amy Webb, director of the Heritage Tourism Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can explore your own heritage, or you can visit a place where history turned a crucial corner and truly understand that real people lived those events, right where you're standing.
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Every region of the United States is packed with wonderful opportunities for heritage travel. Here are a few ideas to get you off the beaten track. (For Web sites and phone numbers, see Getting More Information on Historic Sites; always call ahead for visiting hours.)
Just north of Boston lies the Essex National Heritage Area. Salem is only one of thousands of historic sites in this area. Try visiting the Witch House, the only remaining house in present-day Salem with a genuine connection to the witch trials of 1692. Or you could visit the oldest surviving 17th-century wooden mansion in New England, best known as the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic work. (As a side note: Hawthorne's youngest daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, has been proposed for sainthood because of her pioneering work with destitute, terminally ill cancer patients in the early 1900s, when cancer was considered communicable.)
About an hour's drive west of Boston, you can immerse yourself in the year 1838 at Sturbridge Village. Give yourself 3 or 4 hours to visit the 40-odd structures in this 200-acre village.
Shipping and fishing industries have played significant roles in New England's history. To explore a working shipyard, tall ships, and other vessels, and a re-created 19th-century whaling village, visit Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn.
To see the oldest standing frame structure in Connecticut, drive just west of Mystic to New London, which served as a base for privateering efforts against British ships during the Revolutionary War. The Joshua Hempstead House (built in 1678) survived the widespread fire caused by the British attack on the city, led by Benedict Arnold in 1781.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free [horizontal ellipsis]." With these words, carved into her base, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States since 1886. Take a ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands and experience for yourself what your ancestors saw after long and brutal ocean crossings. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum offers multimedia exhibits, tours, and genealogy workshops to re-create your ancestors' experiences and put you in touch with records about them. Standing in the cavernous main hall, you can imagine the throngs of immigrants awaiting a doctor's "6-second physical" to determine whether they'd be allowed to enter the United States. Only about 2% of immigrants were rejected, some because they had a contagious disease, but all lived in fear until the doctor delivered his lightning-fast diagnoses.
Southwestern Pennsylvania was the steel-producing capital of the world from 1875 to 1980, with a vigorous coal industry fueling the vast furnaces. For a fascinating array of boat and bus tours, films, coal mine trips-even a look at Frank Lloyd Wright's 1936 "Fallingwater" house-visit the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, covering seven counties and including Pittsburgh. While you're in the area, visit Johnstown, site of a deadly flood in 1889. For a spectacular view of the valley, ride up the Johnstown Inclined Plane, the world's steepest vehicular railroad, rising nearly 900 feet at a 35-degree angle. This and many other sites lie along the Path of Progress, a 500-mile route through the Allegheny Mountains.
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A visit to Richmond, Va., the former Confederate capital, brings home the Civil War's repercussions in poignant ways. For an overview of area sites, visit the Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Center. Don't miss the Chimborazo Medical Museum. Confederate nurses made significant improvements to 1860s care standards: Phoebe Yates Pember was a matron at Chimborazo Hospital (now a park), which treated 76,000 Confederates and whose mortality rate of 10% to 20% was considered good at the time. Sally Louisa Tompkins ran a hospital out of a judge's house, staffed by friends and slaves, which boasted the area's lowest mortality rates, thanks to more sanitary practices. The only Confederate woman to be commissioned, she was made a captain by Jefferson Davis.
If you're in the Appalachians of eastern Kentucky, consider staying at the Frontier Nursing Service, about 6 miles off the Hal Rogers Parkway (formerly the Daniel Boone Parkway) in Wendover. Here, in 1925, nurse and British-trained midwife Mary Breckenridge pioneered the teaching and practice of midwifery in the United States. Her original facility is now a National Historic Landmark and a bed and breakfast, offering tours and a photo exhibit.
In 1858, after the third Seminole War between U.S. soldiers and native tribes in Florida, only a few hundred Seminole people remained, hiding in the Everglades (often with fugitive slaves). Today, the 3,000-member Seminole Tribe of Florida is using the U.S. economy for its own gain. To learn more about the Seminoles, visit the Big Cypress Reservation, midstate between Naples and Fort Lauderdale. The tribe's Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum offers a re-created village, boardwalk trails through a cypress dome, and interactive computer activities. Overnight lodging (native or campground) is available, and you can tour 2,200 acres of wetlands, sloughs, and hardwood hammocks.
Author Samuel Clemens (1835-1910), better known as Mark Twain, lived in Hannibal, Mo., from 1839 to 1853. He based The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on his boyhood experiences there. At the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, you can tour four historic buildings and three museums to learn about this most humorous of social satirists. (Reporting in the San Francisco Daily Morning Call on an 1864 medication error case, Twain noted that physicians "write a most abominable scrawl" and suggested that they "adhere to the Latin, or Fejee, if they choose, but discard abbreviations, and form their letters as if they had been to school one day in their lives, so as to avoid the possibility of mistakes on that account.")
In August 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had their first-and very cordial-meeting with the Yankton Sioux Tribe at Calumet Bluff, overlooking the Missouri River and present-day Yankton, S.D. To learn more about the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as the geological, cultural, and tribal history of the Yankton area, visit the architecturally striking Lewis & Clark Visitor Center on the bluff.
If you're driving across Texas, you'll need a break. For a fascinating diversion, stop in Abilene, originally a Texas & Pacific Railroad town that had declined like many others by 1900, but pulled itself back into prosperity. Here, you can experience Texas through audiovisual and interactive exhibits at Frontier Texas, explore the 1851 Army post ruins at Fort Phantom Hill, walk through Buffalo Gap Historic Village (which includes a medical instrument collection), and visit the Grace Museum.
About 75 miles north of I-40 in eastern Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "de Shay") in the Navajo Reservation of the Four Corners. On foot, by car, or on horseback, you can see pithouses, cliff dwellings crouched under looming tons of red canyon wall, petroglyphs, and rock drawings of the Anasazi people who lived here between 350 and 1300 A.D., as well as the hogans of today's Navajo residents. Canyon rim drives offer a bird's-eye view. Entering the canyon itself requires a free park permit and, nearly always, a hired Navajo guide, whether you explore on foot, by four-wheel drive vehicle, or on horseback. Altitude average ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 feet.
Out of all the Native American reservations in the United States, only Wind River Reservation, Wyo., consists of land chosen by the tribe (Eastern Shoshone) that was being forced to confine itself. The Northern Arapaho were placed here as well. At Wind River Reservation (about 125 miles off I-80), you'll find cultural centers for both tribes, sites of two missions and Fort Washakie, and the graves of Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and, reputedly, of Sacagawea.
Los Angeles has acquired many layers, but to get a glimpse of her origins, visit El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, the oldest part of the city. Here, 27 historic buildings (11 open to the public, four as museums, including the oldest house in Los Angeles) surround a plaza, with the Mexican open-air marketplace of Olvera Street nearby.
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These sites just give a taste for the many ways you can enliven a long road trip by including heritage travel. Next time you stop for coffee to keep yourself awake, consider one of these stops to energize your mind and spirit.
Getting more information on historic sites (Sites are listed in the order they're mentioned in the article.)
Essex National Heritage Area, Mass.
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Salem Witch House, Salem, Mass.
House of the Seven Gables (Turner-Ingersoll Mansion), Salem, Mass.
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Mass.
Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn.
1-888-973-2767 or (860) 572-0711
Joshua Hempstead House, New London, Conn.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, New York, N.Y.
Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, southwestern Pa.
Johnstown Inclined Plane, Johnstown, Pa.
(Path of Progress sites; see item 26)
Overview of Civil War sites, Richmond, Va.
Chimborazo Medical Museum, Richmond, Va.
Frontier Nursing Service, Wendover, Ky.
Big Cypress Reservation, Fla.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum: (863) 902-1113
Big Cypress Campground: 1-800-437-4102
Billie Swamp Safari: 1-800-949-6101
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, Hannibal, Mo.
Lewis & Clark Lake Visitor Center, Yankton, S.D.
(402) 667-7873, ext. 3246
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Ariz.
Wind River Reservation, Wyo.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, Los Angeles, Calif.
Last accessed on January 7, 2005.
Emily Law is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, Pa.
Page 14: Tin shop, Old Sturbridge Village
Page 16: A.F. Bradley, New York, copyright, Mark Twain, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing slightly right, with cigar in hand 1907. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.