Tag Archives: architecture

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Overview

Like Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama, President Obama established Reconstruction Era National Monument in 2017.  The park is located about an hour south of Charleston, South Carolina and is still under development, but they already have a Junior Ranger program.  The Reconstruction Era took place following the Civil War when the U.S. military helped freed African-American slaves integrate into southern society.  It was a complicated and mostly failed social experiment with long-lasting repercussions within American culture.

Highlights

Old Beaufort Firehouse, Robert Smalls Memorial, Camp Saxton, Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

We recommend the ranger-guided tour of Camp Saxton that leaves from the National Park Service (NPS) operated Porter’s Chapel, next to the skate park in Port Royal, South Carolina.  Following the loss of Fort Sumter, the Union Army occupied this area by late-1861, eventually training former slaves to serve as soldiers.  There is nothing left to see of the camp, but there are tabby walls from old Fort Frederick.  After a short walk, the park ranger will help you imagine what the scene would have looked like when the black soldiers were officially freed on Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863.

Best Trail

You can walk around the historic Penn Center (guided tours offered) where the NPS maintains a visitor center in Darrah Hall, a donated part of this National Historic Landmark that has a long history of African-American education. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are not technically part of the park, but they are located just down the road from the Penn Center.  The Parrish Church of St. Helena outside Beaufort is also very photogenic.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/reer/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major access roads are paved, although parking can be scarce around Port Royal during the farmers’ market.

Camping

Hunting Island and Edisto Beach State Parks both take camping reservations, so book early.  There are also campgrounds and backcountry campsites north of Charleston, South Carolina in Francis Marion National Forest.

Related Sites

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park (South Carolina)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – How did future U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls escape slavery during the Civil War?

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

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Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Overview

In colonial Louisiana, the word “Creole” referred to any New World product, from architecture to livestock to human beings (and was not specific to any ethnicity).  South of Natchitoches, Louisiana the Cane River National Heritage Area follows an abandoned meander of the Red River, with two antebellum cotton plantations protected as Cane River Creole National Historical Park.  This National Park Service (NPS) site was authorized in 1994 and continues to be developed; meanwhile it provides an interesting perspective on a unique culture and excellent photographic opportunities.

Highlights

Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, historic buildings, pecan picking

Must-Do Activity

Oakland Plantation dates back to the late 1700s and survived the Civil War intact, but in the wake of Reconstruction tenant farming created a new form of indentured servitude.  Self-guided tours of the site take you through the mule barn, general store, and several cottages.  When we visited in November 2016, park volunteers were only offering one tour per day, but were happy to spend time talking with us inside the old general store.  Slave/tenant quarters are also preserved at Magnolia Plantation downstream, but the main house (which was burned during the Civil War and rebuilt) is privately owned and closed to the public. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Nothing says you are in the South like the crooked branches of live oak trees.  Live oaks drape over the bottle-lined garden at the Oakland Plantation main house.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cari/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Kisatchie National Forest has a small campground three miles north of Natchitoches off State Road 117.

Related Sites

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Explore More – Cane River National Heritage Area covers 40,000 acres, but how large is Cane River Creole National Historical Park?

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Overview

The base of the Davis Mountains is the wonderfully scenic setting for Fort Davis National Historic Site, originally active from 1854 to 1891.  It was manned by U.S. troops except after Texas seceded during the Civil War, which is ironic given that it was named for Jefferson Davis.  Confederate forces obviously saw this as enough reason to occupy the remote frontier fort for a year.  The park preserves its 1867 layout, when the fort was rebuilt following five years of abandonment.

Highlights

Museum, film, historic buildings, Davis Mountains State Park

Must-Do Activity

After the Civil War, Fort Davis became famous for posting African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.”  Maybe this is why they chose to cast 7-foot-2-inch tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the cowboy hat-wearing narrator of the park’s introductory film.  That in-and-of-itself is worth the price of admission.  The dry Chihuahuan Desert air has preserved the 21 remaining buildings well.  Throughout the day, bugle calls on the loudspeaker will hearken you back to frontier days. 

Best Trail

A self-guided trail leads around the 523-acre property and enters six buildings: the commanding officer’s quarters, lieutenants’ quarters, barracks, commissary, hospital, and officers’ servants’ quarters.  There are other trails here and in neighboring Davis Mountains State Park, but be aware that the fort sits at 4,900 feet of elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The morning we visited, mule deer were feeding on the lawn in front of the restored buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/foda/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved

Camping

If you enjoy spending time at this beautiful spot, consider camping in adjacent Davis Mountains State Park, which offers good stargazing.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the first black graduate of West Point military academy briefly stationed here (before a controversial court-martial later overturned in 1976)?

Lincoln Memorial

Overview

Abraham Lincoln has even more National Park Service (NPS) sites dedicated to him than Theodore Roosevelt (and both are carved into Mount Rushmore National Memorial).  The Lincoln Memorial at the west end of the National Mall in Washington D.C. is by far the busiest with around 7-million visitors annually.  President Lincoln will always have his place in history for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.

Highlights

Bookstore, statue, view of the National Mall

Must-Do Activity

The Lincoln Memorial was inspired by Greek temples and features 36 Doric columns, a giant statue of the seated man, and two large murals.  Be sure to walk to either side of the statue to read two speeches: his Gettysburg Address of 1863 and his Inaugural Address of 1865.  We looked long and hard for a penny-crushing machine at the Lincoln Memorial.  We thought it would be awesome to have that building stamped onto a penny.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you ever have the chance to visit the National Mall in Washington D.C., do yourself a favor and come after dark.  Seeing the white marble and limestone shining under spotlights is quite spectacular (but you might need a tripod for photographs).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/linc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial (District of Columbia)

World War II Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – The Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated in 1867, but when was the Lincoln Memorial finally dedicated?

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