Tag Archives: living history

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Overview

You may not recall the 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana, but most Americans (even children) recognize its label “Custer’s Last Stand.”  For such a relatively minor skirmish in the bloody 1800s, it has an outsized legend that only grows with time.  At this site more than 140 years ago, a large portion of the 7th U.S. Cavalry met their demise for tactical reasons still debated to this day.  The blame is generally placed upon Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer who was believed to be jockeying for a presidential nomination in the 1876 election.  Today this National Park Service (NPS) site is located on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, just off Interstate 90.

Highlights

Museum, Custer National Cemetery, driving tour, Last Stand Hill, Indian Memorial

Must-Do Activity

On June 25, 1876, with only 600 soldiers, Custer attempted to defeat a temporary village composed of multiple tribes numbering over 7,000 individuals.  Never before had so large an American Indian encampment been collected anywhere on the Great Plains.  Renowned war chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and many others have their words memorialized at the Indian Memorial, not built at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument until 1997 near the mass grave on Last Stand Hill.  Be sure to come in late June for the opportunity to witness a historical reenactment of the famous battle, which is held on the Crow Indian Reservation adjacent to the 765-acre National Monument.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment is a two-hour, fully narrated presentation explaining the significance of the Battle of the Greasy Grass (as the American Indians call it).  The site of the reenactment is a ford where Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s battalion came closest to the encampment where 1,800 warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Nations were gathered to protect their families.  American Indian riders go bareback, leaping on and off their ponies with ease, while saddled 7th U.S. Cavalry re-enactors splash through the fast-flowing Little Bighorn River astride powerful horses.

Peak Season

Summer (the best time of year to visit is around the June 25 anniversary when a reenactment of the battle is held)

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a small, private campground at the exit from Interstate 90, but the nearest NPS campground is 40 miles away at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Explore More – When was Custer National Cemetery originally established and when did it become part of a National Monument?

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 Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Overview

In Hopewell, Pennsylvania, the proximity of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal led to this iron furnace’s success from 1771 to 1883.  It also needed water from French Creek to run the air blast machinery allowing the furnace to reach smelting temperature.  During the American Revolution, it produced cannon, shot, and shells for the Continental Navy.  The 848-acre National Historic Site was authorized in 1938, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

Highlights

Anthracite furnace, film, cast house, tenant houses, ironmaster’s mansion, Bethesda Church

Must-Do Activity

Start with the short film at the visitor center, then take the self-guided walk through the “iron plantation.”  Though the cold-blast charcoal process became outdated by 1883, the original furnace is still used each summer to produce aluminum products.  Other costumed interpreters depict village life from late June to Labor Day.  In September and October, visitors can pick 30 varieties of apples in the orchards for a small fee, similar to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Best Trail

The site’s 12 miles of forested trails also connect into the neighboring French Creek State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the cast house, moulders cast molten iron into stove plates, cannonballs, and other products.

Peak Season

Summer and apple picking season

Hours

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

Fees

None, but “you pick” apples cost $1 per pound

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

French Creek State Park has more than 200 campsites with access to running water and showers.

Related Sites

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – How high of a temperature could the Hopewell Furnace reach when smelting?

Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site

Overview

St. Paul’s parish in Mount Vernon, New York dates back to 1665, with the first church constructed in 1700.  It was deconsecrated so the federal government could take ownership in 1980.  This was the site of an important election in 1733 when Quakers were prohibited from voting, which led to a change in the law the next year.  That election was covered in a newspaper opposed to Royal Governor William Cosby that subsequently went to court for libel, in a trial that helped established the freedom of the press in America.

Highlights

Church tour, 1833 pipe organ, film, cemetery

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the former carriage shed-parish hall where there is a small museum and a short film about the church’s historical significance.  A volunteer will then give you a guided tour of the church that was built between 1763-87, interrupted by the American Revolution.  In 1942, the pews were restored to their original configuration based on a historical document.  If you are lucky, your guide will play the 1833 pipe organ and let you ring the bronze bell that was cast in 1758 at the same foundry in London that made the Liberty Bell.  We met fellow National Park blogger Theresa here on a Saturday morning in September 2019.  She posted about the visit on her excellent blog National Parks with T.

Best Trail

None, but you can walk next door to Dunkin Donuts if you arrive before the site opens.

Instagram-worthy Photo

St. Paul’s cemetery covers five acres and contains about 9,000 graves, dating back to 1704.  Your guide will spend a bit of time covering some famous ones, but be sure to seek out the common grave for Hessian soldiers that used the church as a hospital following the October 1776 Battle of Pell’s Point (fought a mile from here).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There is a small parking lot on site, which is far enough outside Manhattan that driving is feasible.  We took the subway and had a short walk through an industrial neighborhood.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Saratoga National Historical Park (New York)

African Burial Ground National Monument (New York)

Morristown National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – Who was the New York City publisher who in 1733 printed the inaugural issue of the New York Weekly Journal that later went to trial for libel?