The east coast of the US (particularly the Interstate 95 corridor) has numerous sights which recall the country’s early colonization period (16th – 17th century) and its initial struggle for freedom from English rule in the late 18th century. This trip is designed to incorporate many of the these sights into a coherent whole. Times and distances are approximate and can be customized to fit the traveler’s time and other restraints.
This road trip begins in Boston, MA, certainly the cradle of our fledgling republic back in the 1760’s. The sights which should be visited in the city are all linked together into a walking tour, called the Freedom Trail. Pick up a map of the trail, including explanations of the various sights at a kiosk on the Boston Common (the city’s "central park") and follow the route (marked with red bricks or a red line) at your leisure. The trail ends at the USS Constitution, a restored warship from the era. Highlights along the route include the Granary Burial Ground which contains the remains of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, to mention a few, The Old State House, the scene of verbal debates between the vocal colonists and British officials, Fanueil Hall, where the idea of the Boston Tea Party was discussed, Old North Church, where the famous signal which launched Paul Revere’s ride was given, and the Bunker Hill Monument which commemorates this important Revolutionary War battle. (minimum — 4 days)
From Boston (and available as a day trip if you are staying in Boston) travel west on Massachusetts Ave to its junction with Rte 2A, where you will find the Visitor Center for the Minute Man National Historical Park, which commemorates the first skirmishes of the Revolutionary War, at Lexington and Concord, MA.
Another day trip from Boston can be found along Rte 1A, north of the city, in the town of Salem, MA. Salem is not associated with the American Revolution, but, instead, with events which occurred in the late 17th century in this capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, concerning witchcraft. The famous Salem witch trials and the events which lead up to them are recreated daily in this area. There are numerous museums and other sights which can be easily incorporated into a walking tour, available at the Visitor Center in town.
A third day trip, which involves an even earlier period of American History can be found in the seaside community of Plymouth, south of Boston, on Rte 3. Here, colonists, fleeing England because of religious persecution, established the first permanent colony in New England. Plimoth Plantation is an open-air museum which recreates this early settlement. Individuals in period costume speak and act as they would have in the early 1600’s. Demonstrations of early American crafts and skills take place daily. Nearby, along the waterfront, visitors may observe Plymouth Rock, thought to be the ground on which these settlers first set foot on the new continent, and also tour the Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship which brought these courageous pioneers here in 1620.
From Boston, travel south along Interstate 95 to Providence, RI, for the next stop on this historical journey of remembrance. On the east side of the capital city is the Roger Williams National Memorial, which pays tribute to the founder of the state, who left Massachusetts for his own religious reasons. (1 hour)
Continuing south on I-95, the next possible stop is in downtown New York City. (For those who are timid about driving in New York, or who have limited time, this location can be skipped, since there is not much to see) If you love New York or relish the opportunity to spend a day in Manhattan, take the Bruckner Expressway and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drive into Lower Manhattan island. Marvel at what Peter Minuit was able to obtain for about $24 in trinkets, back in 1626, from the local Indians. Imagine how much it would cost today for this exclusive real estate.
The other attraction in the city is found on Wall Street. Stop in at Federal Hall National Memorial, to see where the 1st congress met and where George Washington was inaugurated.
From New York, travel south along the New Jersey Turnpike, then west toward Trenton, NJ, for another attraction which recalls George Washington. One of the most famous events of the Revolutionary War was Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in the winter of 1777, a difficult undertaking which saved the city of Trenton from being taken by the British. The event is marked in several places which are quite close to one another. The first is known as Washington Crossing State Park, in Titusville, NJ, accessed via State Rte 546, northwest of Trenton. Continue west across the bridge, onto Pennsylvania Rte 532 to see a more extensive celebration of this event at Washington Crossing Historic Park, near the town of Washington Crossing, PA.
From Rte 532, continue south and pick up I-95 again, heading for Philadelphia, PA, the next major stop on this journey of rediscovery. Downtown Philadelphia, right along the Delaware River waterfront, is the location of one this country’s major historic areas. Known as Independence National Historical Park, the area is a living history lesson. Walk the tree-lined streets of this quaint and well-preserved enclave to visit Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were hotly debated and finally ratified. Take a close look at the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of this country’s fight for independence from England. (Minimum 3 days)
Also in the area are several attractions which are associated with one of the giant of the revolution, Benjamin Franklin. His museum, home, and first Post Office are fitting tributes to this larger-than-life character.
While in Philadelphia, be sure to check out City Hall, with its statue of William Penn atop this striking classical-style building. You will find City Hall at one end of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, an elegant, flag-lined boulevard which leads from the downtown area to the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose broad stairway was featured in the movie, Rocky.
Just west of the city, along I-76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is Valley Forge National Historic Park, the location of Washington’s encampment prior to his crossing of the Delaware. This visit is an easy excursion from the city.
A bit farther afield, along Rte 30 west, is York, PA, location of the Colonial Complex, a group of buildings preserved from this period, which features the York County Colonial Courthouse, where the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Articles of Confederation.
Along the way to or from York, travelers will pass through the Pennsylvania Dutch area, a string of towns and villages which are home to numerous Mennonites or Amish families. Although not exactly fitting this themed tour, it is an interesting area, nevertheless, and may be worth a few hours.
From Philadelphia, continue south on I-95 to Washington DC. My suggestion is to stay just south of the city, in Alexandria, VA, because hotels are much cheaper yet is fairly convenient to the attractions in the area. (Minimum 2 days)
Washington was built after the period we are exploring, however, there are a few locations in DC which fit nicely into this itinerary. First of all, there are the monuments to a number of the major players during the early days of our Republic. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, for instance, allow visitors to learn much about these two American heroes. More importantly, the National Archives preserves original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
Just south of the city, accessible via the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is Mount Vernon, the estate of our first President, which contains numerous relics recalling his life and times.
Alexandria’s Old Town is also a worthwhile stop since much of its Colonial architecture is preserved. Obtain a map of the area and stroll the quaint streets.
After Washington, continue south along I-95 to Richmond, VA, then travel eastward along I-64 to the city of Williamsburg, VA. This area, known as the Hampton Roads section, has several important historical attractions. Most important, and worth a full day, is Colonial Williamsburg, a perfectly preserved, living history museum, which allows visitors to experience life in 18th century America. It is the largest museum of its type in the world, and has become a model for venues like this elsewhere. Residents are dressed in period costumes, speak as people did then, and are engaged in activities of the time. Demonstrations and other events occur throughout the day, so be sure to pick up a list at the Visitor Center. (Minimum 2 days)
One of my favorite stops is the Kimball Theater for A Conversation With Patrick Henry. Other important stops include the Governor’s Palace and the Capitol. However, the real charm of Williamsburg is revealed by just walking the streets of the city.
While in the area, take a scenic drive along Colonial Parkway which traverses the countryside between Yorktown and Jamestown, passing through Williamsburg along the way.
Yorktown, VA, is the sight of a Revolutionary War battlefield as well as the location of Gen Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington which marked the end of the conflict. The village has been carefully preserved, as well as elements of the armed forces who faced one another here.
At the other end of the parkway is the the location of the very first permanent settlement in the United States, Jamestown. Here, in 1607, English colonists established a village, a foothold on the new continent. At Jamestown Settlement, another open-air museum recalls the daily life and struggles of these courageous colonists. Nearby by is the archaeological site which has just recently discovered the location of the original colony.
For many travelers, depending on time available, this is the end of the nostalgic look at Early America. But for those with more time and energy, there is more available, further south.
Continue eastward on I-64 to Norfolk, then south on Rte 168 which becomes Rt 158 south in North Carolina. Cross over onto the Outer Banks region and Rte 12 south. The attraction here is an evening performance of a play known as The Lost Colony, a dramatization of the first English colony in the New World, on Roanoke Island, accessible via State Rte 64 west from Nags Head, NC. Prior reservations are essential for this seasonal (Summer only) nightly performance. Roanoke Colony was established by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585, but mysteriously disappeared sometime before the next English expedition in 1590. No one knows what became of the colonists. (2 days)
Continue south on Rte 12, then cross back onto the mainland via the ferry at Okracoke (reservations strongly suggested). Here the road becomes Rte 70 south, then Rte 24 south to Jacksonville, NC. From there, take US Rt 17 south into South Carolina and continue to the charming city of Charleston, SC, a city founded in 1670, which has preserved many of its early buildings. Stroll the streets to experience the laid-back atmosphere of this southern town. (1 day)
Continue south on US 17 to I-95, then south to Savannah, GA, your next historical stop. Savannah was the location of James Oglethorpe’s original Georgia colony and the city has managed to preserve much of his groundbreaking design. Oglethorpe laid the city out as a series of wards which centered on a square. 21 of the 24 squares still survive and give the city a special charm and ambience. Walking the area, as well as the Savannah waterfront, with numerous shops and restaurants, is highly recommended. (2 days)
The last stop on this historic journey can be reached via I-95 south in Florida. The city of St Augustine, FL, was the first European settlement in America, reached first by Ponce de Leon in 1513, then established as a Spanish colony in 1565. Much of the Old City survives and can be easily explored on foot. Notable stops include Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the Spanish fortification, the Oldest House, and the Colonial Spanish Quarter, a living history museum which recalls life in the colony. (2 days)
This concludes the entire historical tour. The sights commemorate almost 300 years of history, the infancy of our great nation.