If you are like me, then you probably thought learning about history in school was boring. I remember having this greasy teacher in 8th grade that made us endlessly copy notes. It wasn’t until I got older that I started appreciating history through reading historical novels and history travel. If you want the past to come alive try some history travel yourself with these great family destinations.
History Travel: America’s Summer Road Trip
On August 1, 2020 I joined this virtual America’s Summer Road Trip hosted by The Pursuit of History. This organization is dedicated to the importance of understanding history and therefore organized this virtual road trip to educate others. While this show was a virtual trip, I wondered if it was possible to do it as an actual history travel road trip. If you have several weeks, you could complete this entire history travel, starting in North Carolina, up through New Jersey to Massachusetts, and then out west. However, once you get out west, it is almost a day of driving between each place. I don’t recommend it unless you plan additional sights along the way. If anyone accomplishes this, I would love to hear about your itinerary.
That being said, sights within the same state I grouped together. Massachusetts has 4 sights and I have included the time it takes to travel between them, creating a weekend itinerary. On the same note, I have included the distance between the 2 New Jersey sights. If you are ambitious, you could start in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina and drive the 8 hours to New Jersey. From there you could continue on to Ohio which is a little over 9 hours away. Again, you would need to plan additional activities.
I have included some direct links as well as some sponsored city links through Get Your Guide to help in your trip planning. Or if you are unable to travel or are still worried about safe travel during the pandemic just click on the links for each destination to learn more from the safety of your home.
American Road Trip to Massachusetts: Minuteman National Historical Park, Concord
The 4 sights in Massachusetts can be done in a weekend trip. If you start here, it is only a 20 minute trip to Stowe if you want to check out the Collings Foundation.
Again, this is a great place to visit for Revolutionary War buffs. This historic site remembers the Battle of Concord in 1775. The battle began with 200 minutemen and militia and grew to 20,000 soldiers one week later. The park houses the Grave of the British Soldiers Memorial and an obelisk for the people who died.
American Heritage Museum, Collings Foundation: Stow, Massachusetts
This museum houses collections of tanks, military vehicles, and weapons from WWI and WWII. It also details the history of both World Wars. Read more.
From here, you can travel to Boston which will take approximately an hour.
American Road Trip to Massachusetts: Faneuil Great Hall 1742, Boston
This hall dates back to 1742. It boasts a controversial history. The Boston tea party began here. Then in 1837 abolitionists packed the hall to protest both anti slave propaganda and freedom of the press. Later in 1973 Lucy Stone held the Women’s Tea Party protesting taxation of women without representation.
Viewing the hall is impressive. Portraits of the presidents line the walls. There is an Eagle statue stating “E Pluribus Unim”, together many become one. JFK gave his final campaign speech here stating
All of the past tells us something about the future-JFK
Today residents still actively use Fenueil Hall. Political rallies, concerts, operas all take place here. Additionally, many shops are located here which have grown out of the market which would take place during the past. Learn more.
From Boston you can travel about 40 minutes north to Salem for the final part of your history travel through Massachusetts.
American Road Trip Massachusetts: Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Salem
If the Salem witch trials interest you, this place will grab your attention. Rebecca Nurse came to America during part of the Puritan migration from England in 1692. The constable arrested her for witchcraft in March, 1695. This complex contains a copy of the Salem meeting house, the Nurse family cemetery, and the Nurse family home. This is the only home still standing from the Salem witch trials.
While the original farm was 300 acres, the original house only had one room. A spinning wheel and a loom stand in one corner, while a large fireplace used for cooking stands in another. A ladder leads up to a loft. At the time, 7-8 people would have lived in this one room with younger children sleeping on the floor. Families often slept huddled together in one or two beds to keep warm during the harsh winters. The next generation added a lean-to kitchen to the home in 1720.
The Meeting House
While this is a copy of the original meeting house, the building was constructed using the original plans. Salem residents used this building as a church and a courthouse. 2 rows of pews would have lined the floor with men sitting on one side and women on the other. Children sat on the side, separated into sections based on gender.
History Travel in Time to the Witch Trials
The Salem witch trials began in early 1692. They began when the niece of Reverend Paris began seeing visions. The people thought evil caused the visions. Some people accused others of witchcraft maliciously, and others began naming names and repented in order to go free. The constable would arrest the accused and they would appear at the meeting house for a public hearing before the magistrate.
Originally, Ann Putnam accused Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft while on her sickbed and hadn’t left her home for 8-9 days. The constable sent her to jail. The jails were dank and overcrowded and many became ill. Family and neighbors testified to Rebecca’s good character. However, her accusers were known liars. A jury of 12 men and found her not guilty. Chaos erupted. The jury was asked to reconsider and this time she was found guilty. The township executed her on July 19, 1692.
The homestead houses the family graveyard. As plots of land were sold off, Rebecca was reburied on the western end of the farm. Due to wooden headstones rotted easily, people often used rocks to mark the graves. In 1885, her family made a memorial to her in the cemetery. This was the first memorial made for someone who was killed as a result of the witch trials. An organization conducted a 5 year fundraiser to pay to make the memorial from granite. In 1892, the same organization made a monument to those who gave testimony in her defense. The monument has 30 names on it.
History Travel to Ohio: National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati
History of Slavery
Between the 1500s and 1800s 9-11 million people were brought over from Africa to work as slaves. Over 2 million died along the journey. In the 1700s landowners used slaves to work in the fields for cash crops such as tobacco, rice, and sugar. Later in the 1800s they worked in the fields on cotton plantations. Abolitionists worked in the 1830s until the end of the civil war to end slavery using the printing press to speed up the spread of information.
A slave named Margaret Gardner (Beloved) was tried for killing her daughter. She was quoted as saying, “Death is easier than slavery”. Harriet Beecher Stowe heard this story which inspired her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The Underground Railroad
The underground railroad was a series of safe houses were runaway slaves were able to stop for rest and food on their way north to freedom. The dividing line between the north and south was the Ohio River. However, even after the North abolished slavery, most slaves continued traveling further to Canada which had abolished slavery in the 1830s. The North, while not allowing slaves still allowed slave owners from the South to come and reclaim their slaves. Also, freed blacks needed papers proving their freedom. Of course filing these papers cost money which they didn’t have. So, while blacks were technically free in the North, they were not safe and were also discouraged from settling there.
The Freedom Center
The freedom center provides a walk through tour of the history of slavery. The walls display quilts telling peoples’s stories. The themes of the center are courage, cooperation, and perseverance.
History Travel to a Slave Pen
One area shows a typical slave pen. Slave pens were structures used to hold slaves until they were to go to their next destination. 30-50 people were crammed into a pen waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Men 18-25 years old would be shackled. Some slave owners made their money just from the buying and selling of slaves. The traders would buy slaves in Cincinnati at a low price and then resell them in Natchez Mississippi at a higher price. The slaves had to walk 20 hours per day from Cincinnati to Natchez.
Between 20-40 million people are enslaved today. Todays slaves are usually invisible to the general public. They are people taken to supply forced labor, victims of child labor, and victims of sex-trafficking. This center provides education and awareness regarding modern day slavery as well as paying tribute to slaves of the past. Learn more.
American Road Trip: The “Unsinkable”Molly Brown House 1867
Molly Brown is known for surviving the Titanic and having her memories incorporated into a movie. However, she is much more than that. Mrs. Brown had a roll in the suffragette movement and worked for labor rights and juvenile court. She considered running for Senate in 1914.
Margaret Brown traveled through Europe but decided to come home early because her grandchild was severely ill. She booked passage on the ill-fated Titanic. As the boat sank, she helped load people into lifeboats due to her good health and strength. Eventually, crewmen tossed her into lifeboat 6. Left in charge of her boat, all of the women in Molly’s boat survived due to her direction.
Afterwards, Molly played a big roll regarding the survivors. Many immigrants did not speak English. However, Molly spoke 5 languages and translated the survivors accounts which enabled her to formulate a list of survivors. Most of these immigrants lost everything they owned. Molly raised over $20000 for the immigrants to start new lives in America.
In 1970 Denver Historic restored her home to its former grandeur. Due to striking it rich during the 1890s finding gold in a silver mine, her home boasted indoor plumbing and electricity in 1894. The house changed hands many times since Molly’s death in 1932. But now after being rescued by the Historic Society, the house gives guided tours to approximately 45000 visitors per year.
History Travel to New Jersey: Newbridge Landing
If you are a Revolutionary War buff you will want to check this out. We start our American road trip in historic New Bridge Landing, New Jersey. The original bridge dates back to the 1740’s. It was an important point in the American Revolution due to the bridge being the only place to cross the Hackensack River. Learn More.
From here it is only a half hour ride to West Orange.
History Travel to New Jersey: Thomas Edison National Historic Park: West Orange
If you are an inventor at heart this is a must see. The complex houses Edison’s library, stock room, and his heavy machine shop.
The library itself is two stories high with a gallery around the edges of the second floor. Edison held meetings here, ate meals in the library, and often gave demonstrations of his inventions here. He often slept on a cot in the corner of the library.
This original library holds an impressive collection of books.Categorized and alphabetized books line the walls. Prior to conducting experiments he would do his research here. The library contained many patent books where he would look up ideas and see if there was already a U.S. patent for them. If not he would check in foreign volumes to gain information regarding experiments in other countries and then apply for a patent. Additionally, he had another library on his estate.
History Travel to the Stockroom and Machine Shops
Also worth a visit are Edison’s stockroom and machine shop. The stockroom contain tools, weights, and measures he used in his experiments. It also displays baleen from whales and abalone which he used to decorate his inventions. The heavy machine shop houses all of Edison’s large machines used to create his inventions. Learn more.
History Travel to New Mexico: Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Nageezi
Here you will expose yourself to the history of the Puebloan culture. 1000 years ago this civilization built an extensive road system with Chaco at the center. The indigenous population used stone tools to construct great houses which were several stories high and contained many rooms. The natives planned these structures prior to building them instead of the typical way of adding rooms to existing structures.
The indigenous population aligned these structures to allow communication between buildings. The belief is that tribes traveled here to share traditions and ceremonies with one another. Some may walk from as far as 72 miles away to participate. Learn more.
Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, Wyoming
Japanese Confinement Camp
In 1942, our country sent over 14,000 Japanese Americans to confinement camps as a result of backlash regarding Pearl Harbor. This center stands on the site of one of the ten camps constructed. 2/3 of the people sent to these camps were born U.S. citizens. Japanese Americans learned that they had 2 weeks to get rid of everything that couldn’t fit into a suitcase by reading signs posted in public places. By 1956, the U.S. government no longer allowed Asians to become citizens.
Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
The first section of the museum constructs a time line of the internment period. This section of the museum plays a movie titled, All we could Carry which interviews 7 people who were children during WWII.
The next section focuses on post Pearl Harbor. It identifies what articles people were allowed to bring to the camps. People often sold everything they owned or had someone watch their stuff while they relocated to the camps. The government rounded up these citizens and sent them to assembly centers also known as holding facilities for 2-3 months. Then they were boarded on trains before going to a camp.
Heart Mountain was a city of 10,000 people at the time. It was the third largest city in Wyoming. The support center of the camp houses the current museum. Half of the people in the camp were under the age of 18.
Families were given small living quarters. For example a couple would have an area 16’x20′. Whereas a family of 6-8 people would have a living space measuring 20″x24″. They made the walls from tar paper adhered to wooden slats. Most living quarters consisted of a stove and springs and mattress. Many did not have winter clothing necessary in Wyoming winters. Some people made their own furniture from left over lumber.
History Travel to the Camp
The camp ran like a city. Residents created schools in the barracks. There was a government and firefighters due to the city being built from wood and paper. Residents did crafts to keep busy such as doll making, paper crafts, and carving. The people farmed plots of land to grow their own food and built root cellars to preserve the food. Cooks were provided in the barracks and people ate in the mess halls.
People eventually gained permission to leave the center of the camp. They could apply for a pass to spend time in the nature areas. Gradually, people left the camps to work on local farms during the day. However, local farm owners took advantage of their status.
Japanese Americans in the Military
Initially many Japanese Americans tried to show their patriotism by applying for the army. However, they were rejected as they were thought to be enemies.
Then in 1944 the U.S. government drafted these men to fight for America. In 1945 the government closed the camps. Residents were afraid to leave because they had to start over with nothing.
This facility ends with a reflection room where people can reflect on what happened to these citizens. Learn more.
Wright Brothers National Memorial: Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Why were 2 bicycle shop owners trying to fly? As children Orville and Wilbur received a toy from their father that twirled in the air, therefore igniting their interest in flight. Wilbur became obsessed with the idea that human flight was possible. The brothers followed the work of Otto Lillianthol who experimented in gliding in the late 1800s. Ironically, after he died in a gliding accident the Wright brothers decided to carry on his work.
The brothers spent 4 years experimenting. They had to focus on four things, lift, control, power, and thrust. Subsequently, Wilbur and Orville suffered many disappointments. In addition, they needed a place with wind, sand and isolation. After doing much research and asking locals for advice, they settled on Kitty hawk. In 1902 they added a moveable rudder to help steer. In 1903 they created a new plane with an engine. Their first attempts failed due to low wind, but on December 17, 1903 they stayed in the air almost a full minute and flew 852′.
At this facility you can see the boulder where they would take to flight. In the flight room you can see a reproduction of the plane they used for the first successful flight. Learn more.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park: Coloma, California
If you want to be a gold miner for a day visit Marshall Gold Discovery Center. In January1848 James Marshall discovered gold on the south fork of the American River while building a saw mill with John Sutter. This discovery led to the Gold Rush. People then came from all over the U.S., and other countries such as China, Mexico, Chile, Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands to get rich quick.
The park offers visitors opportunities to pan for gold or gold discovery tours. You can also go hiking, picnicking, or wander through exhibits of over 20 historic buildings. Learn more.
I hope my summaries of these historic destinations will inspire you to learn more and eventually visit the destinations in person.