Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

Bishop White House; Carpenters’ Hall; Christ Church; City Tavern; Declaration House; First Bank of the United States; Franklin Court; Free Quaker Meeting House; Independence Living History Center; Merchants’ Exchange Building; New Hall Military Museum; Philosophical Hall; Second Bank of the United States; Todd House; Washington Square
Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
Second Visit: December 1,2005
Third Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Carpenter's HallWHAT IS IT?
Independence NHP is a collection Old City Philadelphia buildings, museums, cemeteries and parks that commemorate events and people who were integral in the creation of the United States. This review covers the 15 Independence NHP sites whose entry requires no security check and no entry fee. Scroll down for a short synopsis of the sites covered here. There are separate reviews for the Liberty Bell Center, the Independence Hall complex and the National Constitution Center.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The mixture of red-brick Federal, white stone Greek Revival and stately white Federal architectures all set amidst open green park space and cobblestone streets is a perfect enscapsulation of the Founding Fathers’ worldly understandings and lofty aspirations. Their 18th century residences, meeting places and streets speak of English roots but their banks and post-Revolution contructions aim for equality with the Greek and Roman civilizations of antiquity.

Even without the inclusion of Independence Hall, the historical significance of these 15 sites is unmatched by any collection of buildings throughout the United States. Nearly every American Age of Enlightenment-era idea originated or first appeared in the western hemisphere within these grounds: the museum, the post office, centralized banking, the fire station, electricity, meteorology, the library, the philosophical society. It is no underestimation to state that American thought and the idea of the United States began here.

With that came the Declaration of Independence and the shattering of the monarchic inevitability, the notion of democracy and self rule. It all happened here. The First Continental Congress took place in Carpenter’s Hall, these revolutionaries walked and discussed violent rebellion in these same streets, lived in these buildings, wrote the Declaration of Independence here, ate in the City Tavern, lounged on these lawns and changed the world in Old City Philadelphia.

CROWDS (7/10)
Less tourist traffic means more Ranger attention for those who venture outside the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Portrait WallEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. Independence Hall is located on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Street. Most of these 15 sites are located within six L-shaped blocks of each other beginning in the north at Arch Street, turning eastward at 6th and Chestnut and ending at 2nd and Walnut. Many of the connecting alleyways and sidestreets are cobblestone and could prove difficult to maneuver.

Independence NHP’s biggest deficiency is that it is not as tourist friendly as Boston’s Freedom Trail. Boston NHP strings the visitor to its attractions via a painted path. Independence NHP tells you to first go to its Visitor Center and to sort it out from there. As a result, the visitor goes to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall but forgets about these 15 sites; sites that could rightly claim to be America’s real Freedom Trail. It is also difficult to discern which Old City Philadelphia buildings are part of Independence NHP and which buildings are unaffiliated and privately-run museums. If you do not arrive with a plan, the Park could get confusing and overwhelming.

These 15 buildings also have variant and often vexing operating hours. Many are open only from Wednesday through Sunday with limited hours. Plan your visit accordingly; we would not come here on a Monday or Tuesday.

The Park’s bookstore is a stand-alone entity located in the Georgian brick Pemberton House on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. The store sells a good selection of books but nowhere near the definitive choice that the definitive American history site should have.

We enjoyed our City Tavern visit immensely. Our favorite part was the Yards Brewery ales which are brewed only for the City Tavern. These beers (the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, the George Washington Porter and the Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce) styles are historically accurate and based on the recipes of our Founding Fathers! And they taste good too. If spirit imbibing is not your thing, the Tavern’s lunch and dinner menus are just as historically exacting and just as scrumptious.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry into all of these buildings is free. Carpenter’s Hall, Philosopher’s Hall and Christ Church are still privately owned and all three ask for donations.

There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Independence NHP vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking south of the Sites is possible but could prove difficult.

Dining at the City Tavern is pricey but a fun and historical experience.

During his 2005 visit, Michael spent a wonderful hour plus at Philosophical Hall openly discussing some of his more unorthodox American history theories. The American Philosophical Society guide was more than willing to contribute some of her own left-field ideas. The two jabbered on and on like long lost relatives. Michael only left in order to beat the rush hour traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway…and to find his wife who was seven blocks away at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

We encountered the same engaging historical conversation with a Carpenter’s Hall docent, Independence Living History Center archeologists (on two occasions) and at the Declaration House. We did not take the Ranger-led only tour of the Bishop White House and Todd House but are confident it elicits the same sort of graduate level talk. Who else but history buffs would tour these buildings?

Andrew Jackson Hates MeTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The terrific staff found throughout these buildings is the key to any educational visit. If you don’t engage the docents and Rangers on duty, many of your learning experiences will be underwhelming. The NPS museums at Franklin Court, the New Hall Military Museum and the Declaration House are dated and/or in disrepair.

Thankfully, you don’t have to look hard to find terrific museums.

The small American Philosophical Society museum is stellar and rotates its exhibits yearly. The 2007 exhibit has yet to be revealed but 2005’s amazing display included the only original Declaration of Independence printed on vellum, William Penn’s Charter of Privileges and the first stored and printed computer program. The other treasures on display were just as incredible.

Equally incredible is the newly reopened Portrait Gallery located in the Second Bank of the United States. The nearly 200 portraits on display put a face on the patriots, thinkers, soldiers and historical figures honored at the Park. The skillful Charles Willson Peale characterizations reveal the personalities and thoughts of 18th-century America.

FUN (8/10)
For anyone who loves American history, these 15 sites are paradise. They are a shining American treasure. They don’t have the obligatory feel of the Liberty Bell or the security-addled confusion of Independence Hall. You can experience their wonder at your leisure and either by yourself or with the aid of similarly minded guides. Your time here won’t be force-fed and might be too brainy for the casual tourist.

There is so much to see at this Site. So much history and so much detail. We have been here three times in three years and have not covered everything. Each building offers untold gems and, with your proactive imagination, an adventure that transports you back in time to the American creation.

TOTAL 65/80

Independence NHP’s Less-Famous Sites

Sorted by our order-of-visit priority.

Second Bank of the United States – From 1816-1832 was the most significant bank in the world. Was the center of Andrew Jackson’s attack on the National bank. Currently is a portrait gallery whose collection composed America’s first museum.

Carpenters’ Hall – Site of the First Continental Congress. Site of first American lending library. Original site of the Bank of the United States, the world’s first central bank not owned by a monarch.

Franklin CourtFranklin Court – Site of the only home Benjamin Franklin ever owned, his residence during the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress and his place of death.

Philosophical Hall – Home of Ben Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, America’s most remarkable collective of Age of Enlightenment scientific thinkers.

Independence Living History Center – Working archeology center.

First Bank of the United States – Exemplary example of Greek Revival architecture and perhaps the first American building built with a classical facade. Alexander Hamilton’s highly controversial Bank of the United States moved here from Carpenter’s Hall in 1797 shortly after the Bank’s expensive contruction. The First Bank is not open to the public.

Christ Church – Burial ground for Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and countless other significant Americans.

Declaration House – House where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

City Tavern – Tavern where the Founding Fathers ate that has been restored to its Revolution-era appearance. The tavern serves authentic period food.

Bishop White House – House restored to show upper-class Philadelphia life during the time of the Revolution.

Todd House – 1791-93 home of future first lady Dolley Madison.

New Hall Military Museum – Site of the first Department of War.

Merchants’ Exchange Building – Important example of Greek Revival architecture.

Free Quaker Meeting House – Meeting House of the fighting Quakers; dissident Friends who broke from their church’s pacifist principles during the Revolution.

Washington Square – Site of the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War soldier.


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Yorktown, Va.
Visited: October 12, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 258 of 353
NPS Yorktown Battlefield Website; Local Yorktown Website; NPS Colonial NHP Website; Local Colonial NHP Website

Carrot Tree RestaurantWHAT IS IT?
Site, in October of 1781, of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and British General Cornwallis’ eventual surrender to George Washington’s Army.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Old Yorktown successfully combines a current residential area, complete with library and administrative buildings, with 18th-century homes and structures, all of which is an easy walk from the Site’s Visitor Center.

Old Yorktown overlooks its namesake, the York River. While new riverfront homes and businesses look to be popping up quicker than Cornwallis’ case of the sniffles, the community has done a decent job at maintaining a colonial look and feel of properties adjacent to the NPS Site. They blend and extend the view, rather than disrupt it.

The driving tour of Yorktown Battlefield offers ample opportunities to photograph mounds of earth, white columnar monuments and fields of combat and surrender.

Yes Virginia, this is the place where we won the Revolutionary War. Sure, the Treaty of Paris was not signed until September of 1783 but Yorktown marked the end of the American-British fight, ensured our independence and, as the Park brochure boldly states, “significantly changed the course of world history”. It does not get much bigger than that.

In March 1781 at Guilford Courthouse (near present-day Greensboro, N.C.), General Cornwallis suffered a crushing victory. His army won the battle but lost over half its soldiers. The General was forced to retreat to Yorktown where he planned to regroup and wait for supplies. The help never came.

Earthwork TourA fleet of French ships blockaded the entries into Yorktown, preventing any reinforcements. Meanwhile, George Washington’s Continental Army marched towards the entrenched Britons. The siege began on October 6. Around-the-clock bombardment continued until October 17, when Cornwallis had had enough.

Here comes the best part. Instead of admitting defeat and facing the triumphant rebels, the cowardly Cornwallis said he was sick and would be unable to surrender his army. In his stead, he sent his second in command. Haughty foolish Britons.

81 years later, Yorktown was the site of another military siege, this time during the American Civil War. Yorktown marked the landing site of Union General George McClellan’s mistake-riddled 1862 Peninsula campaign. Let us just say that it is a good thing McClellan was not in charge of the Continentals in 1781.

CROWDS (7/10)
The mild crowds at Yorktown paled in comparison to the pulsating masses found at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. That is a good thing, but odd given Yorktown’s vital historic stature.

Captured BootyEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Yorktown is easily accessible via I-64 Exit 247. Take Va. Route 238 the whole way to the Park Site. Signs will point you on your way. The 25-mile long Colonial Parkway connects Colonial NHP’s two major sections, Jamestown NHS and Yorktown Battlefield. The Parkway meanders amiably, allowing a stoplight and Interstate-free drive.

Independent concessionaires (antique shops and a restaurant) inhabit a few of the historic buildings that line Yorktown’s Main Street. The restaurant, Carrot Tree Kitchens, serves a terrific affordable lunch and boasts a hilarious menu. For example, the Admiral’s Crab Rarebit comes with this explanation: “The French Admiral only agreed to sail to Yorktown after he heard how good the crab was.”

COSTS (2/5)
Collectively, Yorktown Battlefield and Jamestown NHS are known as Colonial National Historical Park. The National Parks Pass (NPP) provides free entry into both Colonial NHP sites.

If you do not have the NPP, Yorktown Battlefield charges $5 per adult. Jamestown NHS charges $8 per adult. A combo pass is $10 per adult.

The Virginia State Park, Yorktown Victory Center, costs $8.25 per adult. The Commonwealth of Virginia also runs its own Park at Jamestown, called the Jamestown Settlement, which runs $11.75 per adult. Their combo pass is $17. The Yorktown Victory Center and Jamestown Settlement are not affiliated with the National Park Service; your NPP does not work there.

Fore the most part, Colonial NHP seasonal hires and volunteers have replaced Rangers at Jamestown and Yorktown. Throughout the country, Rangers have effusively answered our questions regardless of building access restrictions and closing hours. However, at Yorktown, a teenage Polish girl refused to let us into the Georgian-style Nelson House ten minutes before closing time.

This is not a complaint because we understand workers wanting to go home. But it is undeniable that hired help and volunteers have distinctly different teaching priorities and educational prowess than salaried federal employees.

We always see a consumer demand for Park Rangers. At Yorktown, the 3:30 p.m. Ranger-led tour of the siege ground left the VC with 45+ people. We travel to these great historical locations to learn from professional educators, who, unfortunately, are no longer being hired. Park Rangers at Park Sites is not a given.

A Pleasant StrollTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
The learning at Yorktown is visual, from the flashy 15-minute into film, to the replica ship located INSIDE the VC to historical artifacts used during the Siege at Yorktown. The tent George Washington used at Yorktown is usually on display here, but is currently on loan. Sad Michael. Sad Gab.

The same 18th-century Georgian buildings still line the streets of Old Yorktown. People still live and work here, unlike the reconstructed pseudo-historical constructions of the nearby Colonial Williamsburg. Yorktown does not feel like Disneyworld, it feels like colonial Virginia. Er…except for the luxury foreign automobiles that line the old houses’ driveways.

The two concise automobile tours of the siege grounds continue the visceral smörgåsbord. Here you can see earthworks built by the British, the Continentals, the Union and the Confederacy. We took many pictures of the actual cannons surrendered by General Cornwallis that are perched adjacent to the field where the Redcoats laid down their arms.

FUN (8/10)
Our first visit to Yorktown was late in the afternoon with just enough time to squeeze into one of the last showings of the introductory film. The tale of the American Revolution always puts us in a good mood. That mood carried us through the Visitor Center and out to Yorktown’s Main Street, where bare sidewalks were a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Colonial Williamsburg.

The catch: sidewalks were bare because most of the shops and concessions were closing. As you know, a resolute teen barred entrance to the Nelson House.

The next morning, we anchored our return visit with a wonderful brunch of Brunswick stew and Old Dominion biscuits at Yorktown’s Carrot Tree Kitchen. We hold fond memories of our time in Old Yorktown.

Out Ye BritonsWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
Combine a trip to Yorktown Battlefield with a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown NHS; take a stroll through Colonial Williamsburg (free if you don’t enter any buildings!) and you have a near perfect low-cost weekend trip from just about anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region.

The area’s historical significance is easily digested through living history exhibits, Yorktown’s residential Main Street and eclectic Visitor Center. Visitors of any age can find something of interest along this colonial corridor.

TOTAL 56/80

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Keystone, S. Dak.
Visited: June 26, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 59 of 353
NPS Website

Mount RushmoreWHAT IS IT?
60+ foot profiles of four American presidents carved onto the southeast side of a granite mountain.

BEAUTY (9/10)
Awe-inspiring. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum has captured the essence of his subjects: George Washington’s strength and determination; Jefferson’s aloofness; Roosevelt’s fighting spirit; and Lincoln’s pensive sadness. The dramatic granite pillars and ponderosa pine of the Black Hills provide a perfect setting. The park’s recent $60 million renovation is a stunning companion piece to an already impressive memorial. The renovation highlights include marble pathways, a boardwalk that leads to the base of the mountain and a gorgeous amphitheater.

In the 1920’s, South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson had an idea. He wanted western heroes carved onto the sides of various Black Hills spires. His motive: Bring in Tourists. Four years later a process began to create something much grander in scale: the United States’ answer to the Pyramids of Giza, an eternal remnant of our civilization. The sculpture is carved on such strong granite that it will last for thousands of years. It is our message to future generations. These are the people who have created, expanded, preserved and developed our great nation.

CROWDS (7/10)
There were thousands of people at Mount Rushmore when we visited. Our Ranger-led tour included at least 100. We had expected the worst, crowd-wise, but were pleasantly surprised. The Site is impeccably designed with numerous trails, museums and activities. We were never rushed, crowded or denied a view.

Goat-like IntruderEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Mount Rushmore N MEM is a bit out of the way, a 50-mile round trip along winding Black Hills roads from Interstate 90. The new renovation has created a completely accessible memorial. The entrance is a short walk from the five-level parking garage. The Site even offers a Braille version of the official Park brochure.

There are three separate bookstores, one of which is the size of a small supermarket, that shelve a plethora of Mount Rushmore souvenirs. An incredible choice of coffee cups, magnets, T-shirts, stuffed animals, shot glasses, Black Hills Gold, Native American trinkets, sweatshirts, patches and much more. The stores were an overwhelming fun mess because their products were so cool. The book selection was quite good except for the surprisingly poor set of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln books.

COSTS (3/5)
Entering the Site itself is free, BUT parking is $8 per vehicle. As the brochure explains, “No federal funding was used for (the parking garage construction) project. Thus, federal passports such as the National Parks Pass, Golden Age, Golden Access and the Golden Eagle are not applicable for parking.” Your $8 parking pass is good for one year.

Even though there are hundreds of people per Ranger at Mount Rushmore, the Park Service has skillfully distributed each Ranger and leaves no guest without a professional information outlet. Guided tours of the memorial as well as talks at the Sculptors Studio start every half hour.

The Ranger-led tour was tremendous. Through the Ranger’s skillful teaching, we gained awe and respect for the carvers, the sculptor and the four presidents. Michael most enjoyed the section of the tour where the group looked at the sculpture and described the character trait evident in each presidents’ visage.

At the tours start, the guide was inevitably asked if Ronald Reagan would be added to the mountain. His response, “Would you paint a smile on the Mona Lisa? Gutzon Borglum wanted no one to touch his masterpiece. For that reason he used up all available rock. So, no.” That’s when we realized that we were looking at art just as epic and brilliant as Da Vinci’s lady.

The Sculptor’s Studio talk was also a great learning experience if only for the setting. The Ranger gives her lesson a few feet in front of Borglum’s scale model. An in-residence working sculptor is also available nearby to answer questions about the artistic process.

Anything You Can Do...The newly remodeled Museum has many wonderful displays and interactive features. We especially enjoyed the Mount Rushmore in Popular Culture video as well as the T-bar dynamite detonator whose compression coincides with a dynamite blast clip.

Don’t watch the film. It was completed in 1985 and discusses nothing not already covered by either the Rangers or the museum.

FUN (8/10)
We came expecting the worst. Large crowds, high security and bad views. Michael had been to Mount Rushmore twice before and was less than impressed. Boy, were we wrong. The renovations have enhanced and dramatized the older views. The new Presidential Trail takes you right underneath the sculpture, a place we never imagined we would be able to go. What fun.

Of course, see it at least once in your lifetime. The Site is first class, a fitting tribute to our Memorial.

TOTAL 68/80

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