History on Vacation in the Mid-Atlantic States

Have you considered including visits to historical sites during your vacation? In Virginia, Washington, D. C., Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, for instance, you can find a concentration of important historical sites. What historical sites are near you?



Williamsburg, Virginia

American Girl Books and Dolls

Vietnam Veterans' Wall


At Jamestown, Virginia one can view replicas of the three sailing vessels, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, which brought the 104 men and boys to the first permanent English colony. Jamestown recently celebrated the 400 year anniversary of their arrival after four and a half months at sea. Be certain to visit the Glasshouse to watch the glass blower creating functional and necessary works of art. This site is part of the Colonial National Historical Park (NPS).

Visit nearby Colonial Williamsburg to see what life was like in the Virginia colony prior to the Revolutionary War. The site has about 500 buildings (homes, taverns, government buildings, etc.) on 301 acres. Not all of the buildings are open to the public, some are actually private homes. I know this because one of my cousins used to live on the grounds. You will find historical interpreters and character actors in costume and using 18th century speech about the grounds who will be glad to explain what you are seeing. Be sure to watch the various skilled craftsmen and craftswomen including: blacksmith, cooper, basket weaver, milliner, brick maker, wheelwright, silversmith, and cabinet makers. For those of you who are unable to visit Colonial Williamsburg, have you seen the movie about Felicity Merriman, her friend Elizabeth, and their families who lived in Colonial Williamsburg just prior to the Revolutionary War. It is available from American Girl along with the dolls and books.

Yorktown, also in the vicinity, is the site of the surrender of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis to the combined American and French forces under Gen. George Washington on October 19, 1781. This site is also part of the Colonial National Historical Park (NPS).

The Appomattox Court House saw Gen. Robert E. Lee surrender to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Palm Sunday of 1865. It is part of the National Park System (NPS).

President Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is near Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to being a lawyer and politician, Jefferson was also an architect, musician, horticulturalist, and an inventor. The design of the home is his own and inside you will see many of his inventions. In the entrance hall, there is his seven day great clock which shows both the day of the week and the time. It is visible from both inside and outside the doorway. You will also see his polygraph, a device which allowed him to make two copies of a document as he was writing it. We know so very much about Jefferson because he kept copies of most of the approximately 20,000 letters which he wrote. Jefferson saw dumb waiters when he was in France and had them installed in his home as well. You will also see portraits in the home of individuals Jefferson admired such as: Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke.

Just down the hill from Jefferson's home is Ash Lawn - Highland which belonged to President James Monroe. It is a much smaller and more modest home.

In the vicinity you will find Michie Tavern which has been in operation more than 200 years. You can take a tour and have a meal.

President James Madison's Montpelier is also in Virginia, about 30 miles from Monticello. Because of his importance in our history, Montpelier is currently being restored to the size and appearance in the time James and Dolley lived there. Madison was the Father of the Constitution and the Author of the Bill of Rights.

President George Washington's Mount Vernon is just outside Washington, D. C. It is a more modest home than Jefferson's Monticello and is more sparsely furnished. You will see a carriage house and slave cabin, as well as many other buildings, on the grounds.

In Arlington, Virginia you can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the grave of President John F. Kennedy.

Washington, D. C.

Be certain to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History which used to be called the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology. Note: It closed on September 5, 2006 for renovations and will re-open in the summer of 2008). You can see selected items from the collection at present in the Air and Space Museum including: Dorothy's shoes from the movie, The Wizard of Oz, Lincoln's top hat, the electric light bulb that Thomas Edison used in his first public demonstration on New Year's Eve December 1879, a compass used by Lewis and Clark, Helen Keller's watch, Jackie Kennedy dress which she wore to the Inaugural Ball in 1961, and also the dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln to that Inaugural Ball. They have the dresses worn by the other First Ladies as well, but with over 3 million items in the collection, there are always some items in storage even when renovations are not taking place.

At the National Archives, you can view original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They also have old census records for those searching family history.

Take a tour of the Capitol Building. The Architect of the Capitol maintains a website with information about the history of the building and the Statuary Hall within. Do you know the names of your two Senators? Do you know how to contact them about your concerns? Do you know the names of the Representatives to the House from your state? Do you know how to reach them with your issues?

The Washington Monument is an obelisk, 555 feet and 5/8 inch tall. When visibility is good, it can be seen from 30 or 40 miles away. It was dedicated on December 6, 1884. There are 896 steps to the top, but the stairway was closed to the public in the 1970's. An elevator takes one to the top for a magnificent view of the city and beyond.

Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, Minister to France, Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice-President under John Adams, our third President and after he retired, the Founder of The University of Virginia. He not only designed the original buildings for the University, but was involved in hiring the faculty. The Jefferson Memorial has many inscriptions from Jefferson's writings.

The Lincoln Memorial features our 16th President seated on a chair. Be sure to read the inscriptions.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial has four outdoor galleries representing the four terms in office of our 32nd President.

Don't forget to visit the recently completed WWII Memorial with its moving artwork. The Korean War (1950-1953) Veterans Memorial was supposed to have 38 statues of soldiers to represent the fight over the 38th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. Space limitations cut the number to 19, but the mirror image in the wall does create the full complement of 38. Read more about the other aspects of this Memorial to better understand what you are seeing when you visit. The Vietnam War Memorial has three components. The Wall of Names, dedicated in 1982 now has 58,249 names. The Three Servicemen Statue and Flagpole was added in the Fall of 1984. The Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated on Veterans' Day 1993.


Fort McHenry in Baltimore was the site of the Battle of Baltimore on September 13th and 14th of 1814. It was this battle which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. The flag which he wrote about is owned by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and will be on display again once the building re-opens.

Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle of the Civil War. Approximately, 23 thousand men were killed, wounded, or missing after just 12 hours of fighting on September 17, 1862. The photographs taken at Antietam were the first ever pictures on dead men on a battlefield.


President Lincoln gave his famous speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the bloodiest Civil War Battle in 1863. About 51,000 men were killed that day, ending Gen. Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North.

On your way to Philadelphia, stop by Valley Forge, Pennsylvania where Washington and his troops spent one very cold winter training for the fight. They were very poorly supplied, lacking food, uniforms, and even weapons. One of my ancestors, Captain William Laird, was there that winter. He was one of Washington's bodyguards.

The Independence National Historical Park (NPS) in Philadelphia has two components. The Liberty Bell can be viewed in the Liberty Bell Center. It weighs 2,000 pounds and is 70% copper, 25% tin, with small amounts of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold, and silver. The original bell was made in England and cracked after arriving in the colonies. It was melted down and the metal used to make this bell which also cracked. That crack was repaired, but the bell cracked again and so has not rung in more than 150 years. No one knows what caused the cracks. As you view the Liberty Bell, behind it you will see Independence Hall. It was here that in 1775, George Washington was made Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, on July 4th 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, in 1777 the design for the American flag was approved, and in 1787 the Constitution was drafted.

Note: Jamestown, Yorktown, Appomattox, The Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, WWII Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Antietam Battleground, Fort McHenry, Gettysburg Battleground, Valley Forge, and Independence are all part of the National Park System (NPS).

Arlington Cemetery

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