Tag Archives: history

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Overview

Rather than blast a canal through the mountains, this unique railroad carried sectioned canal boats 36 miles up and over the Alleghenies on a series of 10 inclined planes run by stationary steam engines.  It only ran between 1834 and 1854 before becoming obsolete when the Pennsylvania Railroad provided continuous service to the Ohio River Valley.

Highlights

Museum, film, Engine House 6, Lemon House, Skew Arch Bridge

Must-Do Activity

After watching the film in the visitor center, follow the boardwalk through a stone quarry to Engine House 6 Exhibit Building to see a life-sized model of a stationary steam engine and its cable system.  Continue on to Lemon House on Cresson Summit, built around 1832 to serve as a home and tavern. 

Best Trail

From the Engine House 6 Exhibit Building, you can walk a trail through the forest or the mowed incline less than half a mile down to Skew Arch Bridge, or you can drive there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Skew Arch Bridge was the only road bridge purposely built along the portage.  The “skew” comes in because in 1833 the bridge design was changed to accommodate a bend in the Huntington, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike Road.  The arch is 22 feet tall and demonstrates the excellence of stone masonry at the time as it was built without mortar.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Explore More – What is Staple Bend Tunnel famous for being the first example of with railroads in the United States?

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Overview

On May 10, 1869, there were actually four commemorative spikes (made of both silver and gold) to celebrate completing the monumental task to lay 1,776 miles of track connecting Sacramento and Omaha, linking west to east.  In front of a crowd of thousands that gathered at Promontory Point in Utah, Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad, missed when attempting to drive the final spike.

Highlights

Replica train engines, museum, film, Chinese Arch

Must-Do Activity

Thanks to the National Park Service, each day in the summer you can see working replicas of two steam engines, burning wood and coal, come together for a daily photo op.  It took some effort just to figure out where the junction occurred, since it was moved by 1870, in 1904 a shorter causeway was built across the Great Salt Lake, and during World War II the track here was ripped up. 

Best Trail

Big Fill Loop Trail (1.5 miles) leads to a ravine filled by hand to create a gentle grade for the trains.  Two unpaved auto tours (2 and 14 miles) follow the rail route, with the highlight stop being the natural limestone Chinese Arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Central Pacific Railroad’s locomotive Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119 are both beautiful reproductions, but they only run between May and mid-October.  Please note that you are not allowed to mush pennies on the train tracks but they do have a 51-cent mushed penny machine inside the visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, but also May 10 annually (especially in 2019, the 150th anniversary)

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per vehicle or free with America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main road to the visitor center is paved, but the two auto tour routes follow graded dirt roads.

Camping

None within the park, but Hyrum Lake State Park, Willard Bay State Park, and Box Elder Campground (U.S. Forest Service) are located near Brigham City, Utah.

Explore More – How many miles of parallel grades did the two greedy companies (that got paid by the mile) lay out before Congress stepped in to establish Promontory Summit as the official meeting place?

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Overview

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and learned to read despite rules against teaching slaves.  He later escaped his bondage and published his autobiography in 1845, becoming the leading African-American voice for the abolitionist movement.  He lived at the nine-acre Cedar Hill estate in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. from 1877 until his death in 1895.

Highlights

Historic home, great views of D.C., retro educational film

Must-Do Activity

There is a small museum at the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center and there is an educational film which seemed like it was recorded in the 1970s.  There are limited tickets for each tour inside the Cedar Hill estate which are reserveable online or you can show up and hope to get in like we did.  You are allowed to take photos inside the house.  Spoiler alert: Frederick died in the front hallway where your tour starts.

Best Trail

No trails, but you can walk the grounds of Cedar Hill where picnicking is allowed.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After you tour inside the home, be sure to stop at Frederick’s “man cave” which his family dubbed “the Growlery.”

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, but a timed ticket it required for the tour inside the house.

Road Conditions

All roads paved with a small parking lot at the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are NPS campgrounds in Greenbelt Park (Maryland) and Prince William Forest Park (Viriginia).

Explore More – Frederick Douglass served as U.S. Minister to which Caribbean nation?

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Overview

Herbert Hoover was raised in a Quaker community in West Branch, Iowa.  After he was orphaned in 1884 at age nine, his uncle in Oregon took him in.  Hoover’s 1895 geology degree from the recently-established Stanford University in California then took him around the globe.  After eight years as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he became President at exactly the wrong time in 1929, only nine months before the stock market crash.  His years out of the spotlight were spent mostly on philanthropic work until his death in 1964. 

Highlights

Historic buildings, museum, film, Tallgrass Prairie Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a small visitor center and maintains several historic buildings on the 187-acre property in West Branch, Iowa.  A walking tour includes the 14×20-foot cottage was where Bert was born in 1874, a blacksmith shop similar to the one his father ran, and a schoolhouse built in 1853 and moved many times before being relocated by the NPS in 1971.  The gravesite of Herbert and his wife Lou Henry is also here.

Best Trail

2.2 miles of trails run through the tallgrass prairie south of Hoover’s gravesite.  The prairie ecosystem was restored by the NPS starting in 1971 and contains the Isaac Miles Farmstead, contemporary to Hoover’s childhood here.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While Hoover was in London, World War I broke out and he helped organize a relief effort that gained him international fame.  The citizens of Belgium gifted Hoover a statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, following the war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, but the nearby Presidential Library and Museum are not free.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are campgrounds around Lake McBride, 9 miles north of Iowa City.

Explore More – Hoover was the first President born west of which major river?

Fort Pulaski National Monument

Overview

Located 17 miles east of Savannah, Georgia, Fort Pulaski National Monument makes a great daytrip destination near the coast.  The 5-sided brick fort was built in 1829 along the Savannah River and named for a Polish Count who was killed-in-action during the American Revolution. 

Highlights

Historic fort with a moat, 1856 Cockspur Island Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

The invention of rifled cannons made forts like this (and Fort Jefferson in Florida) obsolete.  Fort Pulaski was claimed by the Confederacy early during the Civil War, but it was surrendered to the Union Army in April 1862 after thirty hours of shelling from nearby Tybee Island.  It has been mostly reconstructed and is safe to explore.  Rifle and cannon firing demonstrations are held throughout the day inside the parade grounds.

Best Trail

A 0.75-mile trail leads from the fort to an overlook of Cockspur Island Lighthouse, where wading birds are often seen.  Only 3 miles down the road, also check out the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, first built in 1773, then reconstructed after the Civil War.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pulaski has 7-foot thick walls, a drawbridge, demilune (earthworks), and even a moat around its perimeter.  The fort’s symmetry makes for beautiful photos, especially inside the powder magazines.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be quite muggy.

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Skidway Island State Park has a campground just outside Savannah, Georgia.

Explore More – On nearby Tybee Island, Battery Garland was part of which decommissioned fort also named for a Revolutionary War casualty?