Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War’

What better way to spend it than reading about the site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson?

Who doesn’t love Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
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.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
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.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
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.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
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.

Read Full Post »

Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 5 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun-Philled 2004 Philadelphia Phoray.
Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of that Day.

Kosciuszko
WHAT IS IT?
Small townhouse where Kosciuszko (pronounced kosh-CHOOSH-koh) lived in the winter of 1797-98 after his exile from Poland.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Kosciuszko House is one of many quaint Federal-style redbrick houses in Philadelphia’s charming Society Hill neighborhood. Its corner lot, well-maintained exterior and adjoining cobblestone streets scream “I am worth a ridiculously high price per square foot.”

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
During Gab’s first days as an English teacher in Poland, her students asked for her thoughts on Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Gab’s sheepish reply was “Who?”

Her students vociferously responded, “You do not know Kosciuszko!?! He saved your country!” Their fantastic conclusion holds much merit in romanticized legend-making Revolutionary War retellings. Kosciuszko was one of a handful of young, brilliant Age of Enlightenment values-driven Europeans who aided the American Revolution through military, intellectual and spiritual means. Both he and the Marquis de La Fayette returned to their respective countries post-American Revolution with the aim of spreading our new nation’s liberal democratic ideas to their homelands.

Kosciuszko arrived in the Colonies in August of 1776, a 30-year-old military engineer who had been living in Paris. The Park Brochure states that he traveled across the Atlantic on his own spontaneous accord, wrapped up in the fever of the colonial uprising. Other reports say that Benjamin Franklin recruited his services while in Paris. In October 1776 Kosciuszko was named head engineer of the Continental Army.

From there the legend grows. Kosciuszko’s engineering genius allowed for a successful retreat at Fort Ticonderoga, an historically monumental victory at Saratoga and the successful creation of a Hudson River fortress stronghold at West Point. More of Kosciuszko’s handiwork can be seen at the Ninety Six Battlefield in South Carolina.

Kosciuszko returned to Poland in 1784 where he helped write the Polish Constitution, modern Europe’s first, and was named Commander in Chief of the Polish Army. From 1792-94, Kosciuszko successfully defended Poland against a 100,000-soldier strong Russian Invasion, winning every battle. The Polish King, however, surrendered to the Russians. Intrigue, treaties and confusion abounded. In late 1794, the Kosciuszko Uprising, a last-ditch attempt to expel the Russian influence, failed and Tadeusz was imprisoned in Siberia.

KosciuszkoIn 1797, Tadeusz was freed and exiled to the United States. Where did he live? Right here in Philadelphia at Pine and 3rd, just blocks from Independence Hall. He lived here for less than a year before returning to Europe with plans to free Poland.

If you are of Polish decent this rating could be higher. In fact, we think we may have upped it a little bit already.

CROWDS (6/10)
No one. While it would have been nice to have seen someone else, more people would have made the Site’s four tiny rooms unbearably cramped. At approximately 900 square feet, this Site is the NPS’s smallest. In 2005, the Kosciuszko House averaged 16 visitors per day so all Revolutionary War buffs of Polish descent suffering from claustrophobia can be sure of a fear-free visit.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
In 2004, we scratched our brave Altima’s left front while parallel parking into a too-small space.

In 2006, there were at least a half-dozen open spaces in a one-block radius. “We’ve got two hours of free parking, Gab. Want to go to Independence NHP? It’s only a few blocks away.” “Uh, no. That wasn’t in the plan.” “Well then, it’s settled. Let’s see the Liberty Bell.” And we did. And we had fun, says Michael.

The Kosciuszko House has shortened its operating hours in the last year. Its door is now open from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Even so, pull hard. We found the door defiantly locked at 12:30 p.m. until a Ranger unlatched it and let us in.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The few Kosciuszko-related knickknacks for sale were wholly unmemorable.

Sadly, the wonderful six Kosciuszko lithographs designed by Art Institute of Philadelphia students and on display inside the House are not for sale. We got some good pictures, however, and they might soon adorn our apartment walls despite the Park’s shortsightedness.

COSTS (4/5)
Totally free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Ranger to Tourist Ratio: High.

Ranger Interest to Tourist Interest Ratio: Very Low.

Both our 2004 and 2006 visits revealed a less-than-enthusiastic on-duty Ranger with minimal Kosciuszko knowledge and an I’ve-just-been-sent-to-National-Park-purgatory look on their face. Perhaps they’re just lonely from only seeing 16 visitors per day.

KosciuszkoTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Little effort has gone into the educational offerings at this tiny Site. The 1970’s-produced cartoon film is action-filled campy fun but begins and ends with Kosciuszko’s Revolutionary War exploits. We wanted more information on the Polish Constitution, the Kosciuszko Uprising and Tadeusz’s dealings with Napoleon. Since the Park brochure and other handouts are printed in both English and Polish, we are guessing other visitors want more background info too.

The Site’s marquee (or is it marquis) attraction is Kosciuszko’s recreated boarding house bedroom, stuffed with period furniture, symbolic items and sequestered behind bullet-proof glass. A push-button tape recording dispenses a general recap of the bedroom’s contents. A Ranger-led recap would have been nice; it’s not like they are overwhelmed with visitors or a sprawling mansion.

FUN (5/10)
Kosciuszko is our favorite Revolutionary War hero. He is dashing, he is a military genius and he is Polish. Every Kosciuszko statue, every Kosciuszko-named town and every Kosciuszko-related Park Site makes us giddy. We love you dear Tadeusz. You saved our country.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (2/10)
This Site is only for fellow Kosciuszko enthusiasts. His exploits are better understood at the battle sites. Saratoga NHP shows his unparalleled strategic genius while Ninety Six reveals his subtle artistic eye and unorthodox creativity.

After reading this review, has your passion for Kosciuszko reached an uncontrollable ecstasy? If yes, then get to Philly soon! The Ranger told us that the House will soon undergo renovations and, perhaps, a multi-year closure.

TOTAL 36/80

Read Full Post »

Boston, Mass.
Visited: April 17, 2004
Second Visit: July 28, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 26 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website; Freedom Trail Foundation Website

Want More?

Click Here for Gab’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston
Click Here for Michael’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston

Ready for War...or a Parade

WHAT IS IT?
The 2½-mile Freedom Trail. Blazed in Boston’s streets is a redbrick pathway leading from the verdant Boston Common downtown to a 211 foot-high obelisk, the Bunker Hill Monument, in Charlestown. The helpful path guides you (and 1.5 million annually) to 16 sites critical to the birth and early life of our nation.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The redbrick historic structures that make up Boston’s Freedom Trail intermingle well with the surrounding modern buildings. The inner vistas provided by Boston Common’s expansiveness are breathtaking as is its welcoming verdant space.

Many of the historic buildings that skirt the Freedom Trail are archetypical examples of Georgian-style architecture, as in these buildings are the ones shown in textbooks as the most representative and the most beautiful. The State House is an exception as the most famous use of Federalist-style architecture.

No American city’s buildings garner more of a powerful historic sense than those in Boston, primarily because they remain vibrant, living among the skyscrapers of today. These structures never died. Most of them still serve the same purpose as they did in the 18th century.

The Site’s numerous graveyards hold their own macabre feeling of beauty. Many of the ancient tombstones hold fancy etched calligraphy and intricate, symbolic designs including sinister skulls, mourning angels and mirthful skeletons. These designs, while pleasantly normal in Puritan New England, would be out of place in a modern cemetery.

Midnight Ride ManHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
Downtown Boston and its famous portion of the Freedom Trail are the epitome of American history. It is our self-imagined vision of what American history is: Georgian-style, redbrick buildings; stern men with white wigs saying important things; men with tri-cornered hats on horseback; lots of talking and rabble rousing; serious churches and Revolutionary War success. Our history-deficient country takes history-themed vacations here where we “follow in the footsteps of history” and clamor to listen to high-priced tour guides recount facts we tried not to listen to in school.

What exactly happened along this part of the Freedom Trail? Well, from Stops 1-11 (the downtown section) there was a lot of talking and political planning and a lot of everyday boring activity that occurs in every large city. History remembers many of the important people buried in the cemeteries along the way.

Stops 12-14 (the North End section) are where the fun starts and where the legends were made. OK, stop 10 is the Boston Massacre site but if you blink you’ll miss it. Its only marked by a circle of cobblestones and is located next to a busy auto intersection. Where were we? Stop 12 is Paul Revere’s House, the oldest house in Boston and Stop 13 is the Old North Church of two lantern lighting fame. If you want the rest of the Patriot’s Day story go to Minute Man NHP. Stop 14 is another cemetery.

Stops 15-16 are located in Charlestown, a long walk (bridge crossing included) from downtown Boston. Stop 15 is the USS Constitution, our first and greatest warship and Stop 16 is Bunker Hill, site of the Revolutionary War’s first major battle. FYI, the Boston Tea Party ship is NOT a part of the Freedom Trail and the National Park Service but it is within walking distance of downtown and was the sight of a significant historic event.

CROWDS (8/10)
Downtown Boston is perpetually crowded with cars, tourists, workers and everything in between. In addition, Beantown’s streets are maddeningly circuitous, cross at weird angles and make it very easy to get lost. No worries, though, the redbricked and clearly painted Freedom Trail changes everything.

It’s OK to be a tourist and almost impossible to get lost once you get downtown and onto the Trail. You share the walk in this vibrant beautiful city with its citizens and the sightseers around you. There is so much to see and so much to take in. Time quickly becomes irrelevant and the crowds become a joy.

The First American SoldiersEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
First, the bad parts. Parking is a nightmare. We tried and it nearly reduced us to tears. We repeat, do not attempt to park on the streets. Parking garages are a pricey but do-able option; the garage under Boston Common runs $6 for the first hour, $18 for up to nine hours. Downtown Hotel self-parking runs about $25 per day. Boston traffic is notoriously bad. The Big Dig collapsing has made things worse.

The good parts. Well, once you get downtown you should have no worries. After testing the car option, we stayed on the outskirts of town, took the subway (the T) in and had no problems. Many Boston tourists choose one of the myriad guided tour trolleys that circumnavigate the historic areas. They allow you unlimited re-boarding privileges and take you to most tourist-friendly parts of town.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The National Park Service (NPS) Visitor Center bookstore stocks a half-hearted selection of Revolutionary War-era books. You are better off looking for that perfect title at one of the bookstores in the privately-run Freedom Trail sites. Remember, no admission price is necessary if you are just going to the bookstore.

Freedom Trail Stop 8 used to be the Old Corner Bookstore, once home to Ticknor and Fields the Boston publisher who brought the world Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson, Alcott and Stowe, among others. As recently as our 2004 visit, the building housed the Globe Corner Bookstore. No longer. The current resident is the Chicago-based diamond retailing chain, Ultra Diamonds, who have 143 nationwide stores where “you should Never Pay Retail”. Why must one of them be in one of America’s most storied literary buildings and a part of the Freedom Trail?

The Globe Corner bookstore is now located across the Charles River in Cambridge. If books are your thing, you might as well go to Cambridge and browse its many clean and well lit bookshops.

Park Street Church COSTS (3/5)
The NPS portion of Boston NHP is free. However, the NPS maintains only a few of the Freedom Trail’s attractions. Still, only three of the 16 units charge an entrance fee: the Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere House and the Old State House. Entry into the Trail’s three churches is free but a donation is suggested. The USS Constitution Museum, while free, also asks for donations.

Check the listings at the bottom of the review for the following information: Freedom Trail Site and Stop Number; whether the Site is free; if the Site offers free tours; if the Site has a Museum; and with whom the Site is affiliated.

Boston and the Freedom Trail can be as cheap or as expensive as you would like. Just be careful. Staying in the city, parking in the city, visiting all the Freedom Trail stops, taking a guided tour and riding a tourist trolley will make your costs skyrocket. If you stay outside the city, ride the subway in and around town, walk the Freedom Trail, visit only the free sites and take only the NPS, State House and USS Constitution tours your day could be surprisingly inexpensive but also long and tiring.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
The NPS presence at Boston NHP takes a back-seat to private and public entities who are, in turn, seen as Park affiliates, as well as the numerous for-hire tour services. There are Rangers here who give tours and talks but unless you are looking for them, as we were, you might not even realize that the Freedom Trail is a National Park Site.

TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
The Freedom Trail is easy to follow, stacked with informational help and sufficiently self-guided. We skipped the Ranger-led tour along the Freedom Trail but hit two other wonderful (and free) Ranger-led talks which included a humorous look at the history of Faneuil Hall, from inside the so-called “Cradle of Liberty”, and a terrific tour of the USS Constitution.


Our Guide
The tour of the 200 year-old Old Ironsides, still an active warship, is given by the U.S. Navy. Our guide was an active duty sailor. Despite the large group, 80 or so, he answered every question, cracked jokes, and explained everything we wanted to know about the ship. He was superb. Arrive early to ensure a spot on the Old Ironsides tour. There is limited access, security checkpoints can be an issue and the waiting queues sometimes grow out of control.

FUN (9/10)
Great free Ranger talks, sunny days, hours spent lounging and reading in Boston Common, easily followed tour paths, superb people watching and gorgeous views made our trips to Boston NHP unforgettable. There are also plenty of restaurants, shopping opportunities and taverns along the Freedom Trail in case you need a break from walking through history.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
Of course. Walking the Freedom Trail will bring every American History test you have taken come to life. Seriously, though, Boston sits among the pantheon of American cities and the Freedom Trail is a perfectly created tourist center. We prefer the suburban Boston Minute Man NHP but you cannot go wrong in downtown. Just don’t forgot to visit the North End and Charlestown portions of the Freedom Trail; the Old North Church and the USS Constitution are Boston NHP’s shining gems.

TOTAL 61/80

Stop No.; Site; Cost; Free Tours?; Museum?; Administrator

1. Boston Common; FREE; NO; NO; City of Boston
2. The State House; FREE; YES; NO; Comm. of Mass.
3. Park Street Church; FREE; NO; NO; Self
4. Granary Burying Ground ; FREE; NO; NO; City of Boston
5. King’s Chapel; FREE; NO; NO; Self
Follow History's Footsteps6. First Public School; FREE; NO; NO; Old City Hall
7. Old South Meeting House; $5; NO; YES; Self
8. Old Corner Bookstore; FREE; NO; NO; Ultra Diamonds
9. Old State House ; $5; NO; YES; Bostonian Society
10. Boston Massacre Site; FREE; NO;NO; City of Boston
11. Faneuil Hall; FREE; YES; NO; NPS
12. Paul Revere House; $3; NO; YES; Self
13. Old North Church; FREE; NO;NO; Self
14. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground; FREE; NO; NO; City of Boston
15. USS Constitution; FREE; YES; YES; U.S. Navy
16. Bunker Hill Monument; FREE; YES; YES; NPS

Read Full Post »

Lexington and Concord, Mass.
Visited: April 18, 2004
Second Visit: July 27, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 27 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More?

Click Here for Gab’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston
Click Here for Michael’s 2004 Patriots Day Open Letter to Boston

The Minute ManWHAT IS IT?
Battle Road, Hartwell Tavern, the North Bridge and other sights preserved to commemorate the events of April 19, 1775, Patriots Day. The day that the American Revolution began. Also included at Minute Man NHP is The Wayside, the Concord home of Louisa May Alcott, later purchased by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Minute Man NHP is situated along Boston’s outskirts, in between the city’s urban sprawl and the beginnings of the Massachusetts countryside. In fact, the Battle Road portion of the Site ends before it reaches Lexington because of U.S. Interstate 95, the road that is effectively Boston’s beltway. The Site itself is not particularly beautiful; it looks like a pleasant suburban park. The significance is historical, not natural, as are the visual draws: the Lexington and Concord Minute Man statues, the oft-rebuilt North Bridge and the period structures that still stand along the Battle Road.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
The place where the American Revolution began. That’s the popular, understood and correct contextualization of the events of that fateful April day. At the time, however, the event was purely a local phenomenon. A single national consciousness and determination began to form over a year later when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And even then the solidarity was dubious and pragmatic at best.

Bostonians wanted the British out of their backyard. Simple as that. At no time did these unruly and violent rebels see themselves as either a part of a greater national whole or catalysts for a world-quaking governmental revolution. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, William Dawes and thousands of Bostonians probably never thought they were starting a War. The British only thought they were seizing contraband rifles.

The notion that the United States of America, in every sense, began and exists today due to a few Minute Man who fired back because they (mistakenly) believed the Redcoats were burning their rural town is overwhelming. We wonder if those Minute Man are the epitome of the American spirit: determined, hot-headed, reactionary, delusional, resourceful and stubbornly successful. They started it all, right?

If that is not enough, the Site also includes the house where much of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” took place, perhaps America’s most beloved children’s novel.

Crowded StatueCROWDS (6/10)
Our first visit to Minute Man NHP came on Patriot’s Day, 2004. Understandably the crowds were large and the excitement was tangible. A whole lot of people were wearing three-cornered hats. If you can visit Boston during their Patriot’s Day holiday, do it.

Our next visit was a lot less hectic, although there were no open spaces in the Minute Man Visitor Center parking lot (too many bus spaces). On Patriot’s Day everyone parked on the grass. On a mid-summer weekday, however, the crowd tended more towards babysitters and their obligations, local joggers enjoying their park and (gasp) foreign, even British, tourists.

Most out-of-town Boston vacationers appear to stay downtown where they slog the Freedom Trail, relax at Boston Common and enjoy the city from their centralized hotel. Few venture out to the sticks to see where the Revolution began and that’s a shame. But who can blame them, Boston’s subway does not drop you off here and the traffic can be horrific.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site’s Minute Man VC is located right off U.S. Interstate 95, about 20 miles west of Boston. Take I-95, Exit 30 (Massachusetts Route 2A) and go west. The Minute Man VC will be on your right in about a quarter mile. The Site continues westward from the Minute Man VC along the Battle Road. A driving route parallels the Battle Road Trail for about four miles until you get to the town of Concord and the North Bridge Visitor Center.

There are five parking lots located along the Battle Road Trail if you wish to walk the historic trail. The trail itself consists of crushed stone and might be difficult in a wheelchair. Both the Hartwell Tavern, a restored tavern that sits along the Battle Road, and The Wayside are only open from May through October.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The Minute Man NHP Visitor Centers vend a good selection of Revolutionary War books as well as books by and about the Concord-area writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

COSTS (4/5)
Battle Road and all Minute Man related sections of the Park are free. There is a $5 per person charge (free with the National Parks Pass) for entry into The Wayside and the mandatory Ranger-led tour.

ReloadingRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
The Rangers were working hard on Patriots Day weekend. Most were dressed in period costume. Lectures were plentiful. We spoke to the musket-shooting Ranger about Revolutionary War-era Tavern culture and the events of April 19 for about 20 minutes. After his lecture, we saw him walking with about seven other people explaining incidents along the Trail. He was wonderful. He had a nose for people who wanted to ask questions.

Our second, less eventful visit, happily brought the same level of Ranger surplus and attentiveness. And a few were still dressed in period costume! They probably dress in modern clothing when off-duty. Then again, who knows?

TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
We really enjoyed the multi-media Road to Revolution theater presentation shown at the Minute Man VC. The show, which combines electronic maps with set pieces, video screens and a moving clock, does a terrific job at establishing the complicated geography and time frame of the day’s events. Michael had been inculcated with the “one if by land, two if by sea” story since he could read but never fully grasped its complete topographic meaning before the multi-media presentation. Start your visit here.

The best part of the Site is that Minute Man NHP posts a few of its Rangers at the important Battle Road locations, instead of just at the Visitor Centers. We love this method and wish that more Parks would put there knowledgeable staff at the places where the questions are sparked. The Rangers at Minute Man NHP know their history and are immediately engaging. Our interactions delved into historical theory, legend creation and 18th-century tavern life. And yeah, they all shoot muskets too!

We were disappointed by the confusing, abstract designs of the Minute Man VC and in the lack of substantial learning opportunities at the North Bridge VC but the Rangers and the intro film more than made up for any static display shortcomings. The Wayside Tour was a little under whelming and very slow; perhaps the privately-run Concord area writers’ museums (Louisa May Alcott’s The Orchard House and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Old Manse) offer more engaging tours.

On the Road to FreedomFUN (9/10)
Pictures of the North Bridge and Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue are so ubiquitous in tourist photos and history text books that seeing them in person feels revelatory. The distant past, the reckless bravery, the fiery chase down the Battle Road, the manic urgency and the epic drama become inescapably real. The ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ is instantly imagined; this is a place where the World’s political path irrevocably changed, moving towards a system of representative government and away from the monarchy not because of political decisions, voting solutions or protracted thought but because an angry farmer fired a rifle.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
The Battle Road from Lexington to Concord, with its leafy shade, forested turns, restored buildings, oft-pictured statues and famous bridge, is the real Freedom Trail. Don’t be distracted by the moniker of downtown Boston’s wonderful tourist walk. No visit to New England is complete without a visit to Minute Man NHP and no place offers a better visceral understanding of the American Revolution and the American character.

TOTAL 62/80

Read Full Post »

Stillwater, N.Y.
Visited: March 29, 2004
Second Visit: July 23, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 10 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website


Red
WHAT IS IT?

Site of two pivotal 1777 Revolutionary War battles.

BEAUTY (5/10)
Hills mixed with forested terrain and open fields characterize the main portion of Saratoga NHP, the approximately 3000-acre battlefield site. A 10-mile self-guided auto tour route scurries the visitor around the countryside to the time-honored places of interest with able battlefield park aplomb. Helpful red and blue stakes throughout the Site remind the visitor of the battle lines held by the British and American soldiers respectively in 1777.

Once you leave the pavement and set off on foot, the landscape’s historical power sinks in. The up-and-down hike from Chatfield Farm to the Balcarres Redoubt delves into the forest, crosses a mild ravine and eventually delivers you to the Barber Wheatfield, and open field where hours of fierce fighting occurred.

The path is the same trail that the American soldiers took over 225 years ago. When you edge out of the forest and see the cannons pointed toward you and the British fortification stakes it is not hard to be transported back in time.

The Schuyler House and the Saratoga Monument sit eight miles northeast of the Saratoga Battlefield grounds and share the small New York town ambiance of their host, Schuylersville. The Schuyler House, country home of General and patroon Philip Schuyler, is a typical two-story yellow Colonial Georgian design, fully restored and ready to tour. The 155-foot tall Saratoga Monument is a surprisingly ornate obelisk that offers spectacular views of the not so spectacular scenery.

Two PolesHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10)

The National Parks Guidebook ranks the Battle at Saratoga as one of the 15 most decisive battles in World History. It was our nation’s first significant victory of the Revolution. A Park Brochure states that in 1999 the New York Times Magazine called it the “most crucial battle of the 1000 years.” We are not going to succumb to that kind of hyperbole.

Nevertheless, had we not won, the Britons would have effectively cut New England from the remainder of the breakaway nation, dooming our chances for success. From the victory came French support and perhaps most importantly an impetus to France to rekindle war efforts in Europe against England. No Saratoga victory, no United States.

CROWDS (8/10)

During our first visit, in March of 2004, we saw very few people, just locals walking their dogs and joggers enjoying their isolated park. In March, the auto tour road had not even opened for travel. You can use your car only from April through November.

In August, however, the Saratoga area becomes a tourist mecca with the beginning of Saratoga Spring’s racing season and jam-packed waters of nearby Lake George. Given the season, the Site’s crowds were still not as large as expected. We had the hikes and the auto tour road largely to ourselves.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Schuylerville, N.Y. is ten miles east of Saratoga Springs and I-87, Exit 14 via the winding New York Route 29. The Battlefield is a further eight miles south on U.S. Route 4. Once the auto tour road is opened, the Battlefield is very accessible. But during any time of the year you owe it to yourself to get out of the auto tour rut and walk. Short paved trails to and through the Redoubts make your excursion easy.


Ornate Obelisk
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
As would be imagined, the Store stocks a good selection of Revolutionary War texts. We bought a nice postcard of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the handsomest man of the War and designer of the Saratoga Battlefield’s redoubt defense system.

We are pretty sure no other National Park Site vends bottled Saratoga spring water outside its Visitor Center.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $5 per car into the Battlefield portion of the Park. Admission is free with the National Parks Pass and free from November through March (when the roads are closed).

The Schuylerville sites are both free. You can climb Saratoga Monument and tour the Schuyler House without spending one penny. What a bargain!

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
There are very helpful Rangers at the Battlefield Visitor Center. Once you get out on the auto tour, however, you are on your own.

It is a different story in Schuylerville where stellar, knowledgeable Rangers spew Revolutionary info at both its attractions.

TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)

The Saratoga NHP Visitor Center Museum has seen a flurry of recent additions. In 2002, a new film debuted while in 2005 the Museum welcomed a gargantuan fiber-optic map and new exhibit panels. We were not overly impressed by any of the improvements, especially the 15-minute+ electric map program, which would have been perfect with a good deal of editing.

Kosciuszko's OverlookThe Site’s educational forte is its Rangers. Their talks and understandings are indispensable. Our Ranger-led tour of the Schuyler House was one of the most skilled, subtle and perfect historical teaching talks of our entire trip. A different Ranger, posted at the Saratoga Monument, talked our socks off about Benedict Arnold, the Monument’s quirks, answered dozens of our questions and enchanted us with his vibrant personality.

FUN (8/10)
When we came through Saratoga NHP the first time, we thought a 5-mile hike through the battlefield was sufficient. We were wrong. While we may have gotten the gist of the battles, we missed out on a great house tour and an equally impressive monument, each with their own stories. We made the right choice stopping in Schuylerville this time around.

We toured the Schuylerville sites with wonderful fellow central Pennsylvania tourists and a set of friendly New York history buffs and golfing enthusiasts. Our conversations and laughter with our traveling cohorts were the highlights of our return visit and made us thankful that we had given this Site another chance.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Yes. It is such an important part of American history. If you are in the delightful and historic town Saratoga Springs for the races in August, definitely come. If not, Saratoga NHP deserves far more pilgrimages than it receives. At least as many people as the throngs that flock to Gettysburg.

TOTAL 58/80

Read Full Post »

Greensboro, N.C.
Visited: October 31, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 277 of 353
NPS Website

General GreeneWHAT IS IT?
Site of a bloody March 15, 1781 Revolutionary War battle won by the British forces commanded by General Cornwallis.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Battlefield endangerment purists probably won’t like it here because much of the Battleground lays outside the Park boundaries, victims of development. There are also lots and lots of monuments. Monuments and statues honoring everyone from War heroes like Nathanael Greene (hence Greensboro) to North Carolina’s Declaration of Independence signatories to a woman who lost her son in the battle to the countless people who made the Guilford Courthouse NMP possible.

But we liked it. The Park occupies a lovely narrow bit of public green space wedged between the suburban sprawl of Greensboro. Its humble acreage creates a cozy, well-trod feel. The Battlefield was manageably walked and easily completed in less than two hours.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
“Another such victory would ruin the British Army,” was the response of Charles James Fox, head of Parliament’s opposition party, when informed of the results at Guilford Courthouse. He was, as they say over there, spot on.

In fact, the British Army never got a chance to win again. Their “victory” came at a high cost: the loss of the American colonies. General Cornwallis lost ¼ of his 1,900 men and was forced to retreat to Yorktown, Virginia where he would surrender his Army seven months later.

The Site claimed Guilford Courthouse as the most important Revolutionary War battle fought south of Philadelphia. We agree. We also agreed when the same thing was said at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Fort Moultrie, Moore’s Creek and Yorktown… but we really agree this time.

A Pleasant WalkCROWDS (8/10)
We saw hundreds of Greensboro-ians enjoying the beautiful day at their National Park. No, they were not touring the battlefield, they were picnicking, running, walking and utilizing the grounds more as a pleasant City Park than a Battlefield. Seeing non-history-buff-type people was nice, especially after walking mile after lonely rural mile through the Carolina’s other Revolutionary War parks.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
The sprawl of Greensboro, N.C. has completely engulfed the once separate village of Guilford Court House. The Park is located just off U.S. Route 220, about three miles northwest of downtown. An isolated 2¼-mile auto tour, populated with more joggers than cars, circles the battlefield. Numerous paved and unpaved trails weave around the battlefield meeting at unexpected angles.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The Guilford Courthouse NMP is so extensive and chock full o’ titles that we openly wondered, “are you sure this wasn’t a Civil War battle?” You know, because the Civil War-related bookstores are all great. OK, maybe this is only funny to us; we have been to a lot of battlefields.

COSTS (4/5)
Free. An in-depth Revolutionary War education is cheap.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Rangers are posted at the entrance desk armed with answers. The fully self-guided Museum is bound to generate questions.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
When did “electric maps” become “fiber-optic battle presentations”? Guilford Courthouse’s fiber optic presentation is encased in a soundproof glass booth. We felt like we were on a quiz show.

The tremendous map is par for the Guilford Courthouse’s educational course. An excellent and new Museum examines the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War at great length with skilled panels and original artifacts. The Museum also included a tactile map of the Battlefield, combined in its display with a Braille recap of the different stages of the fight. Amazing stuff.

If the free NPS exhibits do not satiate your 18th-century appetite, the Tannebaum Historic Park is less than a ¼ mile away.

Charming BridgeFUN (7/10)
Guilford Courthouse NMP offers the best learning experience of the seven Carolina NPS Revolutionary War Parks. We came here last, which was not a bad choice. The Museum tied together everything we had learned over the course of our whirlwind tour.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
March 18-19, 2006 marks the 225th Anniversary of the Battle that won the Revolutionary War. If you are in Greensboro on that date, you should definitely enjoy the festivities. Why would you be in Greensboro then, you ask? Well, that date coincides with Greensboro’s hosting of the 2006 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The first round games are on the 16th, second round on the 18th. We say go to the second round games and enjoy history on the 19th. Go Hoyas!

TOTAL 61/80

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »