Walk the streets that George Washington trod as a Virginia farmer. Feel the pride of that little colonial town, now an incredibly delightful place, when he became President. Stand on the street corner where three of America’s founding fathers stopped to greet each other as friends long before each became President of the United States. Drive the road that many consider the most beautiful scenic highway in the country.
Do all this and more in one trip though the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The events, firsts and wonders just keep coming as you travel through an amazingly compact area where the driving distances are short and the drives pleasant and you get the best there is in the American story. Had anything been different, the world today would be a different place.
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Philadelphia spared no expense believing they would be able to lure lawmakers to remain in the city where they had spent so much time drafting the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.
The new Philadelphia County Courthouse, on the west side of the State House was prepared for the use of the government. The new City Hall on the east side was made ready for the Supreme Court.
Another building was declared Congress hall, with offices and chambers for the Senate and the House. All of those structures are now what is referred to as Independence Hall. Not far away you can see the Liberty Bell and other very important historical artifacts. Interestingly, the foundation of the elegant mansion which Robert Morris lent to George Washington, located right next to Independence Park, is currently being excavated. The fascinating results of the dig have become one of the most visited locations in Philadelphia with very little publicity.
Today, Philadelphia’s most historic square mile is virtually the seat of American history, with 45 historic sites, museums and other historically significant locations. Everything from the Betsy Ross House and the New Hall Military museum to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Bolt of Lightning Memorial to Ben Franklin are located in that district. In addition, in other parts of the city, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest in the country with a collection of more than 400,000 works. Other impressive art museums include the Rodin Museum, the Barnes Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
If you want to travel farther from the city, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia has some of the most scenic roads in America. Valley Forge where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1776-1777 is west of the city. The beautiful and historic Brandywine Valley begins in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, both on estates formerly owned by the DuPont family, are world-class facilities.
We recommend starting your visit in Gettysburg at the National Park Service Visitors Centre. It’s a great way to get a good overview of this very crucial Civil War battle. The three days of action are illustrated in sequence. Next door, the newly renovated Cyclorama holds a circular painting that makes the battle start to come alive. Once out on the battlefield, the enormity of the action begins to emerge.
Traversing these enormous fields, you can begin to envision the thousands of soldiers who overran shocked farmers as the action raged. Standing on Little Roundtop it becomes immediately apparent why this high ground had to be held at all costs. Memorials to the 20th Maine illustrate just how long a line they had to defend. Up on Confederate ridge, you’ll wonder why the Confederate army didn’t just keep its positions on that high ground. After two days of victories, Lee’s ego got the best of him when he ordered his troops to charge across the open ground of the battlefield to claim an ultimate victory. Pickett’s Charge, in which Union troops massacred thousands of Confederate soldiers coming down off the ridge, was the result. Be sure to take the audio tour of the battlefield. with you as you drive. At some places you’ll want to get out and listen to the silence. At others, try to envision more of the action.
In addition to the battlefield, the Eisenhower National Historic Site paints an interesting portrait of Ike and Mamie at home. You can see the comfortably furnished family room where Khrushchev visited with President and Mrs. Eisenhower. It’s hard to imagine this event that changed history in such an ordinary home.
We recommend starting your visit in Charlottesville at Monticello, one of the most intensely interesting homes on the North American continent. Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent mountaintop mansion was designated a World Heritage Treasure by the United Nations. On the tour, you’ll learn more about the genius of Jefferson’s inventions as well as the role he played in the founding of America as author of the Declaration of Independence and later on, in the opening of the North American continent when he sponsored the Lewis and Clark expedition through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.
A short drive from Monticello takes you to the University of Virginia campus, designed by Jefferson, which he could see from his mountain top home. Downtown, you’ll discover that this quaint little city no longer has a Main Street. The street was closed to automobiles and bricked as an open walking plaza lined with shops. The street corner where Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe (who served America for 25 years as the third, fourth and fifth US Presidents) met as friends is not far away. President Monroe’s home is within earshot of Monticello. President Madison’s home, Montpelier, is about 20 miles north of Charlottesville. If you enjoy wineries, one of the finest wine tours in the country circles Charlottesville.
The first portion of the road today will take you to Roanoke. During the next two days, you can take the rest of the drive from Roanoke to Boone and Boone to Asheville. It’s a rare opportunity to slow down, take a breath and enjoy incomparable and endless views. While traveling over hill and dale, your eyes are always reaching out for the next vista. Soon you can extend your vision to the farthest Appalachian Mountain ridge lost somewhere in the expansive blue haze that gives the Blue Ridge its name.
No matter when you choose to travel, the Parkway is one of the few roads where every season isspectacular in its own right. In spring, the flowers are out and leaves are budding on the trees.
Summer boasts a lush strong green. In fall, Mother Nature puts on her best dress and delivers a roadway shrouded in blazing color. In winter, the reds and golds give rise to snow covered mountains. Sometimes in silence, a newly fallen snow appears like magic, after which the myriad of greens return again.
Just a few miles from the start, Humpback Rocks Visitor Center has spectacular vistas spreading across the valley. Otter Creek Visitor Center is the trail head for the 3.5 mile Otter Creek Trail. The James River Canal Trail takes you to the restored James River and Kanawha Canal Lock built in 1845. At Milepost 85.6, the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center sits across the road from Abbott Lake which features a 1-mile loop trail. You’ll find the Center in the Square, the Western Virginia History Museum, the Farmers Market and other interesting locations in downtown Roanoke.
In the Boone area, Grandfather Mountain was created 740 million years ago when two of the earth’s plates slammed together. It appears to be the highest peak along the Blue Ridge. That’s only because of the way the terrain juts into the sky. The area is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the North American continent, with magnificent flora, spectacular views and abundant wildlife. Hugh McRae Morton, who inherited the property from his grandfather, worked with the Nature Conservancy to preserve 4,000 acres of the mountain backcountry as wilderness. In 1992, the preserve was recognized by the United Nations Scientific Organization as a member of the network of Biosphere Reserves. Coming down off Grandfather Mountain, you can visit Blowing Rock for immersion into the legend of Native American lovers who threw themselves from its ledge instead of being separated. Blowing Rock gets its name from the natural currents of air that flowupward, causing snow to fall upside down.
Built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1895 as a country retreat for friends and family, at 250 rooms the Biltmore Estate is America’s largest home. It’s like stepping back into another world of luxury.
The art collection, furniture, and the magnificent mansion itself are worth the visit and as grand as anything you might see in Europe. Like America itself, it's now open to everyone. Beyond a retreat, Vanderbilt envisioned a working estate that would sustain itself and benefit the community, with acres of gardens, parklands and managed forests. Touring this most opulent French Renaissance Chateau, it will be hard to focus on the fact this was once a self-sustaining working farm.
Many other things have also been restored at the property. The original lakeside vineyards have been revived and now produce grapes made into wines at the state of the art winery. An authentic French winemaker was recruited to produce the real thing. Frederick Olmsted’s original genial shrub garden and formal Italian Garden are now complemented with 2,300 roses and more than 1,000 azaleas. A visit to the Farm Village illustrates how the workers lived, worked and played in the 1890s. Interpretive exhibits illustrate antique equipment and the traditional farm animals that would have lived on the property. While there, you can also enjoy the bike trails, equestrian paths, a raft or recreational kayak and browse for treasures at the many shops, ranging from Christmas antiques and reproductions of Biltmore Estate items, to a bookbinder and wine shop. The Biltmore Estate has four sit down restaurants, several places to get a snack and a wine tasting room.
More shopping is located right at the entrance to the Estate in Historic Biltmore Village, originally designed as a planned community in the 1890s. Quaint tree-lined streets, brick sidewalks, and open air dining give this historic village a feel and quality unlike any other.
Another day to spend in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville will feel like heaven. Today, you can stroll the Urban Art Trail, visit the North Carolina Arboretum, with the Carl Sandburg National Historic Monument or the Thomas Wolfe House. Whatever you choose to do, enjoy this wonderful mountain town.
It took almost 200 years after Sir Walter Raleigh explored the Raleigh area in 1587 for the city to become the capital of North Carolina. Since then it has more than made up for lost time. Often referred to as the Smithsonian of the South, Raleigh has over 20 free premier attractions with the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian collection in Washington. Right in the center of Raleigh you’ll find the Capital Area Visitors Centre, the North Carolina Museum of History, and the North Carolina State Capitol which comes complete with a sculpture of George Washington wearing a Roman toga, and resident ghosts. Allegedly there are also secret rooms hidden in the structure.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the southeast’s largest natural history museum. Here you can meet the world’s only Acrocanthosaurus and Willo, the first dinosaur discovered with a fossilized heart. An exhibit titled Mountains to the Sea recreates five North Carolina habitats, complete with live animals and a 20-foot high waterfall. The North Carolina Museum of History holds more than 150,000 artifacts from six centuries. The museum is noted for a series of powerful exhibits illustrating everything from industrial progress to a chronological presentation of the clothing worn by North Carolinians over a 250 year period. When it’s time to stretch your legs, take a walk through Historic Oakwood, a 20-block area with restored homes built between 1870 and 1912.
As they knelt to kiss the ground, they knew they had been delivered to the New World. The cross that sits on Cape Henry in Virginia Beach commemorating this remarkable event allows us to correct four hundred years of legend and lore.
Virginia Beach’s other claim to fame is its wonderful beaches. Here, you can get outdoors, catch a wave, hook a marlin or watch a whale. Or, paddle in a quiet cove, watch birds in absolute silence, or glide through the water and drop a line. You’ll find Virginia Beach one of nature’s best treasures for the pursuit of happiness in the outdoor world.
If nature indoors is more your preference, visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. The region’s premier marine science facility is equipped with a 300,000 gallon aquarium that has splashing harbor seals, nurse and brown sharks, stingrays and other large open ocean creatures.
The Atlantic Ocean Pavilion and Main Building are complemented with the Owls Creek Marsh Pavilion that reveals the story of life in the marsh and Owls Creek, the waterway on which the aquarium is located. An interpreted nature trail, complete with a 30-foot observation tower, connects the two
buildings. Take advantage of any informative 10 to 15 minute educational programs conducted throughout the day in both the main building and along the nature trail. There’s even a 45 minute IMAX movie.
Norfolk, with a bustling contemporary town, is home to the Chrysler Museum of Art which began with the donation of the collection of car magnate, Walter Chrysler. Also there, the Battleship USS Wisconsin which looms over the waterfront is docked at The National Maritime Museum or NAUTILUS. Chesapeake is quiet and blessed with wonderful natural environments including the Dismal Swamp Canal and Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, The Canal is one of the eeriest places you’ll ever discover.
And last but not least, Hampton, founded in 1610, only 3 years after John Smith landed at Jamestown. You can’t tell today that Hampton was burned during the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. They have a great new waterfront and some very old historic structures that did manage to survive.
You can start your visit at the US Capitol Complex, which includes the Capitol Building, House and Senate Buildings and the US Botanical Gardens. Standing on the Capitol steps looking out you can see the National Mall, a nearly two mile green space between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial which is lined with monuments and museums. The Washington Monument stands in the centre between the two. The cross axis of the Mall is anchored by the White House on one end and the Jefferson Memorial on the other.
In addition to the key anchors of the National Mall, the US Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, the rest of the monuments and memorials on or near the Mall could fill your entire trip to Washington, DC.
Founded in 1749, Alexandria is older than the nation’s capital itself. As an official port of entry of the United States, which allowed foreign ships to load and unload without registering anywhere else first, Alexandria was a thriving flurry of commerce from its very founding.
The rich preservation movement in Alexandria began long before other cities in the region gave much thought to preserving their history. Wanting to capture the interest of the tourist traffic passing between Washington DC and Mount Vernon, in 1932 the city restored Gadsby’s Tavern, the very location where George danced with Martha on his birthday in 1799. Gradually, the city was transformed into the charming historic, tree shaded southern town that it is today, capturing and integrating unprecedented commercial development without marring the colonial character of the city.
In other locations about town, you’ll find yourself face to face with George Washington’s church pew, the Georgian mansion of town founder John Carlyle, the boyhood home of Civil War General Robert E. Lee, and the oldest pharmacy in the United States, now turned museum. The historic walking tour or a carriage ride takes you through the same streets as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette walked ever so long ago. And you can of course, visit Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, and also Wise’s Tavern, and Duvall’s Tavern, all places the leaders of the American Revolution met to plan their strategies.
Call the travel specialists at Bon Voyage to discuss your dream America History Tour.