Beautiful Vistas in Valley Forge

IMG_4432Valley Forge National Historic Park is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Unlike other historic military sites, the Valley Forge Encampment was not the location of any battles. It has a peaceful beautyIMG_4115 any time of year. The place where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-78, there are rolling hills and fields, hiking and biking trails and an assortment of buildings to explore and see what life was like during that grueling winter.100_4642

The Visitor’s Center offers a look at the history of the area and has  artifacts on display. The 3500-acre park offers a 10-mile driving Encampment Tour with nine stops. The tour comes on a  CD that provides information about the park and what you are seeing as you drive the (mostly one-way) route and can be purchased at the park store or online. (We purchased the cassette version years ago and found it interesting and worth the money.) The drive can be completed in 20 minutes, more if you make multiple stops. There is also a cell phone tour which allows you to hear stories about the park after entering the code provided throughout the park. Trolley tours are another option; these leave from the Visitor Center.

IMG_4449Some original 18th century structures remain and many others have been rebuilt to show the living conditions the army endured.IMG_4093 Some, such as Washington’s Headquarters and Varnum’s Quarters, are open for tours. Muhlenberg Brigade, a collection of nine log huts and a reproduction of a Bake Oven is the center of the park’s Living History program. Throughout the year, there are special events with costumed interpreters giving

Valley Forge is home to a large population of White Tailed Deer.

demonstrations and sharing information here as well as at the Storytelling Benches at the Visitor Center and Train Station. Another program, Secrets and Spies, allows visitors to unravel a mystery while exploring the park (dates and times are listed on the park website).IMG_4577

There are a number of hiking trails in the park, which range from an easy walk along a creek to the more strenuous trek up Mount Misery. The park is the start of the 120-mile

Ruins along the trail

Horseshoe Trail, which begins near Washington’s Headquarters and connects with the Appalachian Trail at Sharp Mountain. There are also 21 miles of biking trails to bike or walk.

Looking out on the Grand Parade

Just across from the Grand Parade, where Washington trained his army, sits the Washington Memorial Chapel. Just outside the park, the chapel was built as a  memorial to George IMG_4122Washington in the early 1900s. An Episcopal church separate from the park, it welcomes visitors to the church and grounds, as well as the National Patriots Bell Tower and Carillon (played entirely by hand), which houses the Veterans Wall of Honor. The Cabin Shop behind the chapel offers souvenirs, gifts and snacks and provides a place for lunch, which can be followed by a peaceful stroll through the grounds.

University City Connects Education, Culture and Transportation

University City is a section of Philadelphia named for its institutes of higher education. The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University,and the University of the Sciences all call this area home as do several renowned hospitals and the Ronald McDonald House (which hosts out-of-town families who have a child receiving care in town). University City also has a number of arts and music venues and an abundance of restaurants and food trucks with an unending variety of cuisines.

The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is especially known for its Egyptian collection and is worth visiting. The more than 1 million items in the collection are from explorations in Italy, Greece, Africa, Asia and Central America. The building itself is of architectural interest. The exterior includes glass mosaics by Tiffany as well as beautiful courtyards and gardens.  The  University of Pennsylvania is also home to the Institute of Contemporary Art, which hosted Andy Warhol’s first solo show in 1965 and is known internationally (admission is free).

U of Penn’s Franklin Field is home to Penn’s football team and also hosts the annual 3-day Penn Relay Carnival, America’s oldest track meet (dating back to 1895) that attracts crowds of up to 100,000 each year.

Public transportation is available in the form of buses, subways and rail lines. Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, one of the busiest in the nation, is where the Amtrak and SEPTA rail lines meet.  The building itself is in the grand Art Deco style of the early 1900s and is fitting a hub that connects rail lines from the north, south, east and west. Inside The Spirit of Transportation, a bas-relief sculpture by Karl Bitter and the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, a sculpture by Walter Hancock commemorate local history. Just outside the main concourse, there are shops and both restaurant and fast food options for travelers. The station also has newly installed “The Porch,” an outdoor public space with seating and scheduled activities.

Savannah’s Southern Charm

Forsyth Park is the largest in historic Savannah

Savannah, Georgia boasts a wealth of history and Southern charm. With several museums and art galleries, Revolutionary and Civil War sites, ghost tours, riverfront shopping and dining, one can easily keep busy for several days. The Andrew Low House, the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts is also a popular attraction. There are various ways to discover the city, you can wander about on your own, join a walking tour, or sign up for a tour via segway, bicycle, trolley, carriage, water, even helicopter.

Forsyth Park

Since we only had a couple days for our visit, we started exploring via a trolley tour, which was a good introduction to the city. The ticket allows you to hop on and off all day, and we discovered that the continuously looping trolley was a handy method of transport for tired feet (and to get out of the rain).

IMG_2024IMG_2059One of the trolley stops is at Forsyth Park, the largest park in the historic district. It is home to the Confederate War Monument, which is on the site where soldiers drilled before going off to war. The park also features a large fountain (the water is dyed green each St. Patrick’s Day) and a bandstand at the Forsyth Park Cafe. Large expanses of grassy areas provide ample space for play and picnicking, or simply relaxing.

The altar at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist

While walking around between trolley stops, we got caught in an intense downpour and happened to be near the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where we sought refuge. (But not before we were soaked to the skin – everything in my purse was soggy, even the chewing gum.) This beautiful church is open for tours from Monday to Saturday. The parish dates back to 1789 when French

Statue of St. Patrick

Catholics (some were nobles fleeing the French Revolution) came to the area after an uprising in Haiti. The Diocese of Savannah was established in 1850 and at that time, included all of Georgia and most of Florida. A statue of St. Patrick has a place of honor in the cathedral and his feast day is one of the largest celebrations in Savannah each year.


River Street has wonderful views, shopping and dining

We spent an evening wandering River Street, which has an interesting assortment of shops, while trying to decide on dinner. We had tickets for the trolley ghost tour, so a fancy sit-down place was out of the question. We found a small seafood place where I had an amazing oyster dinner.

IMG_2097 There are several ghost tours offered in Savannah, whose history would indicate the abundance of spirits. We chose to take the trolley tour (there was a package deal) and were IMG_2098entertained by our guide with stories of ghostly presence and more history of Savannah (she was especially concerned that a ghost not accompany us home as we were leaving one site on the tour).

We didn’t make it to nearby Tybee Island, with its beaches, featuring birds, sea turtles, pirates and water sports. It is also home to a lighthouse, so we will be back!

Quincy Market, A Boston Landmark

We discovered Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall in Boston on our first family trip to the city decades ago. The Market captured all of our senses, it was a wonderful medley of sights, sounds and smells, and since we chose to get lunch there, of course taste. Faneuil Hall was built in 1742 by Peter Faneuil as a gift to the city and from the start housed merchants and served as a place to gather. In 1862, Quincy Market was added to create an even larger marketplace. In the early 1970s, street performers appeared on the scene to entertain construction workers and reported have been a common sight even since.

The USS Constitution

Of course Boston has much more to offer. One of my favorite cities, it has good food, plenty of activities for all ages and of course a wealth of history. Walking the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail, you can see 16 historic locations that led to the Revolution. Tours are available, or you can walk  the trail on your own.

Ducks at Boston Common

Boston Common, the first park in America is not unlike many city parks. There are statues, fountains and benches, as well as a playground and bandstand. The Frog Pond is a favorite wading place for children in the summer and serves as an ice skating rink in the winter. The park also offers relaxing Swan Boat rides which are propelled through the lagoon by foot pedals. During the ride, fans of E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings will likely be looking for their favorite feathered friends.



Portland, Maine Has Much to Offer

IMG_5277 crop Portland, Maine was for us a stop to break up the ride to Bar Harbour which was to be our home base as we explored Acadia National Park. Though we had only a short time in the city, we discovered that it is worthy of being a destination itself.

Spring Point Ledge Light, South Portland

Home to not one, but SIX lighthouses, Portland’s history (surprise, given the city’s name) is in shipping. Established in 1632 as a British fishing and trading community, Portland has suffered setbacks, such as fire and loss of industry, but remains a thriving metropolitan center with the current focus on art, shopping and food. Named by the National Historic Trust one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2003, the city demonstrates the resilience of its natives.

The city’s cobblestone streets contribute to its historical vibe as do its forts and the historically significant architecture found throughout the city. The Portland Museum of Art, in the center of downtown, is home to over 17,000 pieces of art. The childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is also in Portland, next to the Maine Historical Society. Paddling enthusiasts can rent kayaks or paddle boards or choose a guided tour and bicycle rentals and tours are also offered.

Spring Point Ledge Light

Since my son was prepping for a hike, we Spent a half a day completing a 10k “year-round” hike organized by the Southern Maine Volkssport Association which took us past the Spring Point Ledge Light.  Built to warn ships of a dangerous ledge in Portland Harbor, the lighthouse took almost ten years from approval to completion and was first lit in May of 1897. Originally it stood out in the harbor at the end of the ledge; a

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The breakwater is composed of large granite boulders,and touring the lighthouse involves climbing a ladder, so good shoes are recommended

950 -foot granite breakwater connecting it to the shore at Fort Preble was completed in 1951. The breakwater is open to the public (solid shoes are recommended as the footing can be slippery) and admittance to the lighthouse is by ticket at select times. Since we were hungry after our walk, we stopped at Joe’s Boathouse for lunch and enjoyed both the food and atmosphere.

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Portland Head Light from a distance

Before heading up to Acadia, my family knew it was inevitable that we visit the lighthouse we were able to see in the distance from the Spring Point Ledge Light. The Portland Head Light, the nation’s first lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington and built in 1791

Portland Head Light

and was even more impressive up close. It is adjacent to Fort Williams Park and is owned by the Town of Cape Elizabeth. The 90-acre park offers hiking, picnicking and other outdoor recreation as well as the option to explore the historic fort structures.

We stopped again in Portland on our way home later that week. It was an even shorter stop this time, just for dinner and an overnight, but we did have another wonderful meal at a place we found nearby. Now, I readily admit to being a pizza snob. When asked my favorite food, yep, it’s pizza, and although I like many varieties (regarding crust and toppings), I have to admit I am a bit judgemental when it comes to quality. I am happy to say that the Portland Pie Company met all expectations. We each ordered a personal size, which was a rare treat for me as I could have thin crust (the rest of the family prefers the thicker stuff). Of course being in Maine, I went with the option of putting lobster on mine. It sounds a bit strange, but was delicious! (Unlike everyone else, I had no leftovers for lunch the next day.) If pizza is not your thing (gasp!) they do have other items on the menu as well.

This was our first trip to Maine and we saw several things that make us want to return. Portland (and the Pie Company) are definitely on the list!

Outer Banks Offer Relaxation, History

Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Outer Banks of North Carolina, the barrier islands that run along Rt 12 on the coast of North Carolina, are home to a number of beach towns and  a popular vacation destination. Although the beaches are beautiful, IMG_5348there are many other things to do and explore while you are there. There are of course, many restaurants and shops, as well as activities, such as mini golf and climbing structures, but there are also a number of historic sites to explore.

The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the location of the first English settlement in America, which tragically ended in mystery. All 117 people in the colony vanished without a trace. At a ranger-led talk at our visit, we explored the possibilities and most popular theories. A live performance, The Lost Colony is held during the summer months by the non-profit Roanoke Island Historical Association. The nearby Roanoke Island Festival Park, a North Carolina Historic Site offers a peek into history as costumed interpreters demonstrate life in the 1585 settlement or onboard the Elizabeth II, which represents one of the seven ships bringing colonists to America in 1585.

IMG_5356The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills celebrates the birthplace of aviation. While there, one can visit the Flight Line where history took place, peek into 1903 camp buildings and explore the Visitor’s Center.

As is common with coastal land, nature has shifted the coast and created and moved dunes and inlets. Numerous hurricanes have changed the structure of the Outer Banks, which have effectively served as a protector to mainland North Carolina.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Between Corolla and Cape Hatteras. there are 5 lighthouses. Just south of Nags Head, the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”) stands 150 feet tall and is open to climb subject to weather conditions. On the day of our visit, thunderstorms threatened so admission was limited to the ground floor. The other lighthouses are the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, the Okracoke Lighthouse (which is the nation’s oldest operating), the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest brick lighthouse in the country), and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras delves into maritime history. The coast of North Carolina is known for its density of shipwrecks, which is one of the highest in the world. The waters are known for their tales of pirates and Civil War battles, as well as engaging with submarines during the World Wars.

We only had a week on the Outer Banks, so we still have much to see. I look forward to future visits and to further exploring the historic sites.

Revisit History at the National Mall

The Washington Monument as seen from the World War II Memorial

The National Mall is a 2-mile long public space between the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial that includes a number of memorials and the collection of Smithsonian museums dedicated to various aspects of US history.  All of these are free to the public. The monuments are accessible 24 hours a day and are worth a visit day or night. There are also many other attractions in the surrounding area worth visiting, so one could easily plan to spend a few days in Washington.

100_8471The Washington Monument, the centerpiece of the National Mall, is an easily recognizable landmark. The 555-foot obelisk was the tallest building in the world when it was build in 1884. An elevator takes visitors to the top to an observation deck for a view of the city. (Timed tickets are required and can be obtained the day of visit, starting at 8:30 am. Advance tickets are $1.50.)

100_4273The Lincoln Memorial is a larger-than-life sculpture of the 16th president sitting in a structure modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.  The steps of the monument begin at the edge of the Reflecting Pool and have been the site of historical events such as Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Lincoln’s second inaugural address and his Gettysburg address are both inscribed on the interior walls of the monument.

100_8345The WWII Memorial is perhaps the prettiest of the memorials. It consists of 56 columns forming two half circles, framing the Rainbow Pool and fountain. 100_4280Two 43-foot tall pavilions stand at either side. As with all memorials, each of these design elements has special significance.  It is a powerful place of reflection and remembrance.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a moving collection of life-sized statues depicting a military unit on the move. From a distance, one might think a re-enactment is taking place and even up close it is easy to imagine these figures in motion. The result is a haunting and emotional reminder of what it really means to be at war.

The Vietnam Memorial, is a black granite wall contains a chronological list of 58,000 Americans who lost their lives, as well as the Three Servicemen Statue and the Vietnam Women’s Museum. A catalog at each end of the wall contains the location of the names listed. Among all the sites in DC, this is among the most somber.  Hundreds of thousands of 100_4278personal items, letters and flowers have been left here. These are collected each day by the National Park Service with plans to construct an Education Center for their display. Some of these can currently be seen online.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which stands in a straight line with the White House, was designed specifically with his architectural taste in mind, and echoes design elements found in his two most famous buildings, Monticello and the Rotunda at University of Virginia. A stature of Jefferson stands in the center of the rotunda.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is a 30-foot sculpture that sits across the Tidal Basin from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It is composed of a likeness of Dr. King as well as a wall of quotes representing his message.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the only memorial to include a statue of a First Lady,

Eleanor Roosevelt

actually goes against the wishes of the 32nd president who once said that if a memorial was dedicated 100_8462100_8466to him it should be no larger than his desk. (A desk-sized 100_8479monument was placed in front of the National Archives, but Congress decided this was not enough; the current memorial opened in 1997.)

A soup kitchen line at the FDR Memorial.

Taking up more than 7 acres, a path meanders through four outdoor “rooms” and features 21 FDR quotes inscribed on stone walls, as well as related statues and murals depicting historical events. The memorial also includes fountains and numerous benches to sit and ponder.

The D.C. War Memorial remembers the residents of D.C. who died in WWI. It was created as an open air bandstand large enough to hold the US Marine Band with the intent that every concert held here would be a tribute to those who served.

Margate NJ, Home to Lucy the Elephant

  SCAN0190Lucy the Elephant is a hidden treasure of the Jersey Shore. We made a side trip years ago to see her and were captivated by the structure and its interesting history. More recently, I was going through old photos my mom had given me and found several of her and her parents also atop the pachyderm! She had not mentioned her visit, so I doubt she remembered it, but I have photos to prove we all were there.

Atop Lucy late 1950s
Atop Lucy late 1950s
Atop Lucy late 1990s

Lucy is the only one of three such structures that remains. Built in 1881, the 65-foot high wooden elephant reportedly cost more than $25,000 to build and the idea of an animal-shaped building was patented in 1882. James V. Lafferty conceived of the idea to attract buyers for his property in what was then South Atlantic City. He also built two others, in 1884, the 40-foot Light of Asia in what is now South Cape May (torn down in 1900 due to severe deterioration) and the 122-foot Elephantine Colossus, an amusement attraction at Coney Island NY, at a cost of $65,000. (This elephant had 7 floors and 31 rooms. A financial loss from the very start, it was sold and later burnt down in 1896.)

From 1902 to 1969, Lucy served as a four-bedroom home, a tavern and a tourist camp. She survived fire and hurricanes that destroyed many nearby structures. Since 1916, she has been a popular attraction. Notable visitors include President and Mrs. Wilson and Henry Ford who have paid admission to visit the elephant and climb her 130 steps in her hind legs to the viewing platform on her back.

Lucy late 1990s

In 1969, a developer bought the land Lucy sat on and agreed to donate the building to the town with the stipulation that it be moved in 30 days. The cost to make this move to a public park was $24,000 which was raised by donation. The estimate for restoration was $124,000. Work began in 1973 and tours resumed in 1974. Costs to upkeep the structure have been considerable and numerous fundraising campaigns have been launched to care for it. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lucy is currently maintained by the non-profit Save Lucy Committee Inc.

Lucy the Elephant can be found at Josephine Harron Park in Margate, NJ. Tours are given every half hour. It is also available for private events, such as weddings and parties.

Investigating Independence National Historic Park

Independence HallIndependence National Historic Park is a must-see for visitors new to Philadelphia. The area is rich in history and architecture and during the summer months, costumer interpreters bring history to life. One could easily spend a days exploring all that the area has to offer in depth, but a good starting point is the Independence Mall Visitor’s Center, a newer addition to the park which is free to the public (and the only place to get your free timed tickets to Independence Hall). While here, you can also watch or two short films and get more information about the historic district of the city.

Independence Hall was the location of the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, and the place both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed, so it is a popular stop for visitors to the city. Park rangers provide information about the rooms and the artifacts contained within. Know your basic history, as some will test your knowledge while on the tour. During peak times, tickets “sell out,” so you will want to go early in the day to reserve your spot. The grounds behind Independence Hall are quite pretty and a good place to stroll or sit and people watch.

Between these two buildings is the Liberty Bell Center. Be aware that this is a popular location and the lines may be long. While waiting to see the actual bell, there is a short video and numerous displays about the bell and its history, as well as the history of our nation. I think it is worth going to see this, at least once, and have discovered with repeat visits (as the exhibits, as well as the bell’s location have changed over the years) that there always seems to be something new to learn.

There are several other buildings in the Independence Mall area that are open to the public, including two that I missed seeing over the course of many visits. The Free Quaker Meeting House is a quiet place to stop and sit for a bit and if you time it right, learn more history. The site has varying hours, depending on the season. The “Free Quakers” who supported the Revolution separated from their pacifist Quaker brethren and founded this church in 1783. This is one of the sites around the park where you might find a costumed interpreter who will share information about the late 1700s with you. Carpenter’s Hall, which hosted the First Continental Congress and later Franklin’s Library, the American Philosophical Society and the First and Second Banks of America, is a little gem with many stories to tell. The history is detailed in a charming story written for young readers here.

Franklin Court is where the home of Benjamin Franklin once stood. The surrounding buildings include the Franklin Court Printing Office, where you can learn about printing methods of the time, and hear about Franklin’s history as a printer. Recent years have revealed more about Franklin and a steel structure now outlines where his house once stood. The Franklin Museum explores Franklin’s life through hands-on exhibits and recovered artifacts.

The mini golf course at Franklin Square features icons of Philadelphia in miniature. Here is Boathouse Row.

There is much more to explore in the surrounding area. Other nearby buildings, such as the Betsy Ross House, the Declaration House (where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence) and Edgar Allen Poe house are also park of the National Park System. Franklin Square with its carousel and mini golf is just a few blocks away. Also nearby are the National Constitution Center and Christ Church Burial Ground (both charge fees, but are worth visiting). The Historic Philadelphia Gazette is a free paper that details each day’s happenings and there are multiple tour options of the city, by foot, trolley, horse drawn carriage, duckboat or Segway; many cater to specific interests.

Step Back in Time to Historic Fort Delaware

Fort Delaware, originally built to protect the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia, is a Union fortress that once held Confederate prisoners of war. IMG_2399The fort, which dates to 1859, sits on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. The island is only accessible by ferry via Forts Ferry Crossing which runs from Delaware City, DE with tickets available on the day of visit at the park ticket office (first-come, first-served).

The park offers a number of activities, from birding (it is the summer home to nine species of herons) to hiking, (the Prison Camp Trail, is an easy 0.8 mile loop over grass and packed earth) to Living History events.IMG_2362 IMG_2331IMG_2335IMG_2364Visitors are free to walk throughout and around the fort and see numerous artifacts and reproductions of items that would have been in the fort over 150 years ago.

IMG_2368There is a daily schedule of events with costumed re-enactors explaining life in 1864 with enough to see and do to keep you busy for much of a day. Visitors are welcome to ask questions and sometimes even to help with tasks.IMG_2370

Soldiers preparing the cannon to fire
The order is given to fire (those with sensitive ears might want to cover them).

When we visited, we watched as soldiers fired a cannon, talked to a soldier about conditions in the barracks, learned how the women washed clothes, watched a blacksmith demonstration, helped in the kitchen and even practiced drill as enlisted soldiers.

There is also the option to travel to Fort Mott, which is on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. The fort was built up in the late 1800s in preparation for the Spanish American War, as part of a three-fort defense system, along with Fort Delaware and Fort DuPont in Delaware City. This 124 acre state park also offers picnicking, an easy walking trail and special educational events.

There are no food vendors on the island, but packaged snacks are available in the gift shops. Picnic tables and grills are available if you choose to bring food with you.