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Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Overview

A flowing 77-foot waterfall in a narrow 300-foot wide gorge, Paterson Great Falls has long stood out as a natural wonder in New Jersey.  The entire Passaic River drops over this volcanic ridge, making it the second largest waterfall by volume east of the Mississippi River (Niagara Falls is first).  In 1792, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, founded the City of Paterson to harness this hydropower for manufacturing.  Paterson Great Falls was named a National Natural Landmark in 1966 and a National Historical Park in 2011.

Highlights

Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, Colt Gun Mill, Overlook Park, Mary Ellen Kramer Park

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center, and, if you have time, explore the Paterson Museum (donation requested).  Carefully cross the street to Overlook Park for excellent view of the Great Falls Power Plant, then take the footbridges behind the hydroelectric plant to Mary Ellen Kramer Park for better photographic angles of the waterfall.  Guided tours by park rangers are offered in the summer months.

Best Trail

A walking tour of Paterson, New Jersey continues beyond Mary Ellen Kramer Park to Hinchcliffe Stadium where Negro League Baseball was once played.  On the other side of the Passaic River, follow the river’s raceways to the red-brick ruins of Allied Textile Printing and the Colt Gun Mill.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Great Falls Power Plant opened in 1914 and still produces enough power to supply 11,000 households.  The “S.U.M. 1791” on the building’s exterior refers to Alexander Hamilton’s Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and there is a free parking lot at Overlook Park.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Morristown National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – It cost $14.5-million to refurbish the Great Falls Power Plant in 1986; how much did it cost to build the entire thing in 1914?

General Grant National Memorial

Overview

Often referred to as Grant’s Tomb, this 150-foot tall marble and granite rotunda is the largest mausoleum in North America.  Following his death in 1885, the rotunda was constructed in less than two years with donations from 90,000 individuals worldwide, the largest ever public fundraising effort at the time.  It is located on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan, where Grant spent the final five years of his life after serving two terms as President (1868-1876).

Highlights

Museum, film, tomb

Must-Do Activity

The Overlook Pavilion is separate from the rotunda and offers a few exhibits and a film about Ulysses S. Grant (plus you can put your head in an oversized $50 bill which typically bears Grant’s face).  The rotunda contains the tombs of Ulysses and his wife (Julia) who passed in 1902, as well as murals and bronze busts of fellow Civil War generals. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Outside the rotunda is long curving bench with mosaic images (a la Gaudi) depicting different aspects of the National Park Service (NPS) system.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but it is better to take the subway to get to this area.

Camping

There is camping available within Gateway National Recreation Area, which is managed by the NPS.

Related Sites

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

Hamilton Grange National Memorial (New York)

Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York)

Explore More –Julia Grant requested that which feature never be added to the rotunda?

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Overview

There are probably not many places on the list of top 50 most visited units in the National Park Service (NPS) system that you have never heard of, but Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park may be one.  Located in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, this 2,923-acre park receives more than 2.3-million visitors annually.  The park memorializes a Civil War battlefield on General Sherman’s “scorched earth” march to Atlanta in 1864 and is now surrounded by a heavily-populated suburb and a university.  Watch for pedestrians on the road to the top of the 700-foot tall Kennesaw Mountain.

Highlights

Museum, film, scenic views, hiking trails, Kolb’s Farm, cannons

Must-Do Activity

You can drive to the cannons and earthworks on top of Kennesaw Mountain when the shuttle bus is not running on weekdays, but most recreationists walk the road or trails to get there.  Inside the NPS visitor center at the 700-foot hill’s base, you will learn about the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led 100,000 troops out of Chattanooga, Tennessee on the “March to the Sea.”  After 5,350 soldiers died at Kennesaw Mountain, he decided to just go around it on his way to the city, causing the Confederates to abandon their fortifications there.  If you do drive to the top, you will need to go around many pedestrians and bikers, too.

Best Trail

There are 19.7 miles of hiking trails, but we found that most visitors just walked or biked down the center of the paved road to the top.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kennesaw Mountain offers sweeping views of the Atlanta-metropolitan area.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The road to the top is paved, but there is limited parking up there so a shuttle bus runs on weekends.

Camping

There are several campgrounds on nearby Lake Altoona managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Red Top Mountain State Park is also located north of Kennesaw, Georgia.

Related Sites

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Tennessee-Georgia)

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Explore More – The attack on Kennesaw Mountain occurred on June 27, 1864, but when did the Union army finally occupy Atlanta?

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Overview

Established in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental U.S.  Its centerpiece is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a four-sided stone fort dating back to 1672.  In 1702, the British army unsuccessfully besieged the Spanish fort for 50 days, but before they left they burned the entire city.  This explains why the oldest house in St. Augustine dates to this time period and why this charming coastal village is still laid out on a grid of narrow streets, as it was one of the first master-planned communities in America.

Highlights

Historic fort, museum, cannon demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) charges an admission fee to enter the fort, but you can watch the cannon-firing demonstrations atop its corner bastion for free from outside.  Costumed reenactors shout orders in Spanish before firing the big cannon.  There is only one entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos across a wide moat.  Your entrance fee also allows you to explore the powder magazines and interpretive displays inside the fort’s walls.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Castillo was renamed Fort Marion by the U.S. military in 1825, when the final changes were made to the coquina structure.  In 1924 it was named a National Monument along with nearby Fort Matanzas.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but there is limited pay parking at the fort, which is especially an issue on busy weekends.

Camping

Anastasia State Park is located just south of St. Augustine, Florida with access to a nice beach.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Explore More – Which nation controlled the fort during the American Revolution until its conclusion in 1783 (Hint: It was called Fort St. Mark at the time)?

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Overview

Along a segment of the Arkansas River serving as a border with Oklahoma, Fort Smith is a lovely 35-acre park surrounded by a bustling downtown and busy railroad track.  The first fort at this site was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears.  A second fort was built nearby in 1838, occupied by both sides during the Civil War, then closed in 1871 when it became a Federal Court.

Highlights

Museum, restored courtroom, “Hell-on-the-Border” jail, Arkansas River

Must-Do Activity

The exhibits here demonstrate the harsh prison conditions and tell harrowing stories of frontier life that will make you cringe.  Do not miss the “Hell-on-the-Border” jail in the basement and the restored courtroom.  Outside, a reproduction of the gallows and several cannon emplacements provide a counterpoint to the idyllic riverfront setting. 

Best Trail

A half-mile trail crosses the railroad tracks to the banks of the Arkansas River.  The scenic beauty of the shoreline at sunset belies the turbulent history of this place, including its connection with the Trail of Tears, designated a National Historic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take a photo in the painstakingly restored courtroom where Judge Isaac C. Parker heard 12,000 criminal cases during his 21 years on the bench in the late 1800s.  He sentenced 160 persons to hang, and 79 executions took place right here at Fort Smith.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and there is free parking on site.

Camping

Two miles north of Barling, Arkansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages a campground on the Arkansas River.

Related Sites

Arkansas Post National Memorial (Arkansas)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Explore More – Fort Smith was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears, but what American Indian tribe already inhabited this region?