What I call the mid-eastern states include New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. They offer mountain scenery, fertile farmland and a few significant urban areas, in which are concentrated the majority of the tourist attractions. Below is a compilation of the best of this region, with associated photos.
1. Gettysburg National Historic Site, PA
Gettysburg National Military Park commemorates the bloodiest and most decisive battle of the American Civil War. The battlefield area is extensive and requires driving in and around the town of Gettysburg to fully appreciate the drama. There are also monuments for the various states and militia which took part in the battle. Head for the Visitor Center first and obtain an orientation map and self-guiding auto tour. Also check out the special events scheduled for the day and attempt to include some in your visit.
Be sure to view the Cyclorama Sound and Light Show which highlights the major events of the battle, using a circular painting.
While in the area, travel north to Hershey, Pennsylvania, famous, of course, for the production of chocolate. The town celebrates chocolate in various ways, including streetlamps which look like Hershey Kisses. Hershey’s Chocolate World explains the entire process of making chocolate. There is also a musical program called “Hershey’s Really Big 3-D Show” as well as shops.
Also, in the vicinity, is Hershey Park, an amusement park popular with families.
A lengthy excursion, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of Gettysburg is Fallingwater, one of well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature and most famous homes. It is located in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, in the town of Ohiopyle. The home is constructed of stone and concrete and is dramatically cantilevered over a waterfall. A trip to this fairly isolated location is probably best accomplished as an overnight.
At Gettysburg, take a personally guided tour with a licensed battlefield guide. It is worth the cost because it is so difficult to appreciate the scale and timeline of the battle without an expert.
Also, it is helpful to either see the movie, “Gettysburg” or read the book, “Killer Angels”, by Shaara, prior to a visit so that the events of the battle are fresh in the mind.
2. Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is another great American city which is loaded with history. It was once the capital of the young United States. Its major attractions focus on colonial times in America (the mid to late 1700’s).
Independence National Historical Park consists of the Liberty Bell Center, which houses one of America’s enduring symbols of freedom, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and signed, and Benjamin Franklin’s home as well as a US Post Office which commemorates Franklin as the first Postmaster General, and numerous other buildings which help to chronicle this time period of American History. The Visitor Center, at 6th and Market Streets provides information, a walking tour map of the Park, as well as a 30-minute film, “Independence”, shown continuously during the hours of operation. Admission to Independence Hall is by guided tour only and timed tickets may be obtained at the Visitor Center as well.
During the summer, in Philadelphia, check out the evening sound and light show called “Lights of Liberty” which begins at the PECO Energy Liberty Center at 6th and Chestnut Sts.
The Reading Terminal Market, west of the park, is a great food and shopping experience.
A wonderful excursion from Philly is to Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (about 30 miles/50 kilometers southwest of the city), located on an estate once owned by Pierre du Pont. There are thousands of varieties of flowers and other plants as well as fountains and lakes on the grounds. Extensive greenhouses make this a year-round attraction. Summertime offers evening illuminations and music concerts. It certainly ranks as one of America’s, and perhaps the world’s, great gardens.
Another great excursion from Philadelphia is Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a place which allows visitors to experience a very different and unusual culture without leaving the USA. The people who settled this region, primarily religious groups, such as the Amish and the Mennonites, depend primarily on farming and have continued their traditions and customs despite the incursions of modern society. Many have shunned modern conveniences such as the automobile and electricity, yet they thrive, since their farms are efficient and productive. There are numerous attractions in the area which offer glimpses into their lifestyle and culture. Visit their farm stands or markets for abundant, high quality fruits, vegetables and prepared foods.
A third excursion, for those interested in gambling, is east of the city in neighboring New Jersey. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is over four miles long and dates to the late 1800’s when the city became a vacation paradise. Piers along the boardwalk offer amusement park rides, concession stands and shops. The boardwalk itself is lined with shops and restaurants. As its heyday ended, the area began to take on a seedy and somewhat sleazy atmosphere, until the influx of gambling casinos, which have replaced the beach and amusement parks as the area’s prime attractions. The streets of the boardwalk area have been immortalized in the game, Monopoly.
3. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
Mammoth Cave National Park, in western Kentucky, claims to be the longest cave system in the world. Access to the caves is by guided tour only. A variety of different tours are offered, with varying degrees of difficulty, and they change with the seasons, so it is wise to contact the park prior to a visit. Many cave tours are strenuous and require climbing numerous stairs. Reservations may be made in advance (probably a good idea during the summer months). There are also many above-ground activities for those spending more than a single day in the area.
If the visit to the caves occurs during May, a great side trip is to travel north to Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of the Kentucky Derby, perhaps the premier horse race in the United States. Derby Day is the first Saturday in May, each year, and pits the leading three-year-old thoroughbreds against one another. It is the first of three races which comprise the “Triple Crown”, horse-racing’s greatest achievement. A museum on the grounds is dedicated to the history of the race and celebrates its greatest contestants.
Another possible excursion lies east of the park. The Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, Kentucky, is devoted to the history of man’s relationship with the horse. A Parade of Breeds takes place in the show ring and acquaints visitors with the many breeds of horses employed by people and their distinguishing characteristics. The International Museum of the Horse has fascinating exhibits about every aspect of this long-lasting relationship. There is also a short orientation film. One of the all-time most famous thoroughbreds is buried on the grounds and is commemorated with a huge statue, the Man o’ War Memorial. The countryside around Lexington is particularly pleasant to drive through because of the picturesque horse farms which dot the landscape.
4. West Virginia
The "Mountaineer State" of West Virginia, while not possessing any major tourist attractions, nevertheless offers the traveler great mountain scenery and a friendly, slow-paced lifestyle which is a welcome change from the hectic metropolises of the East. Drive through the picturesque countryside and appreciate the tranquility. Visit Black Water Falls in the eastern part of the state or the New River Gorge in the south, or check out the sprawling campus of the University of West Virginia in the north, at Morgantown.
For a different type of activity, visit the town of Clarksburg for its annual Italian Heritage Festival, held on Labor Day Weekend.