400 Years in the New World
Traveling through modern America, the past is often hidden, masked by strip malls and skyscrapers and suburban sprawl. Our historic roots aren’t as readily apparent as the castles and great stone edifices of our European ancestors. Of more humble origins, our preserved past is often in the form of sod houses, remnants of forts or an imprint of a wagon wheel rut. So many of our early structures were lost to the destructive forces of man and nature. However, restoration and reconstruction projects are continuously going on in cities across the nation to preserve our past for future generations. One of these cities, Jamestown, is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. The cities showcased here, along with Jamestown, are among the earliest established American settlements. All had a major impact in the colonizations of their states.
Historic Triangle, Virginia
The Historic Triangle is formed by Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, three cities that were instrumental in our nation’s development, freedom and democracy. This year marks the anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown. On May 14, 1607, the ships sent by the Virginia Company of London, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, landed at Jamestown Island with 104 men. Decimated by disease, famine and Indian attacks, less than half of them survived the first year. However, with more settlers arriving every year and the establishment of their first cash crop, the tiny settlement began to flourish. More settlements followed and it was in Williamsburg that the seeds of revolution were sown by the intellectual and independent thinkers who flocked to the city. The port city of Yorktown forms the third point of the Historic Triangle, famous for its decisive battle and end to the Revolutionary War.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown there are numerous festivities planned. America’s Anniversary Weekend occurs May 11-13, 2007 with interactive exhibits, dedications, live music and celebrity appearances. The spirit and resolve of our early pioneers will continue to be celebrated throughout the year with signature events, festivals and community programs. Key attractions not to be missed include:
Historic Jamestown. This area is still being discovered through archaeological digs. The newly opened Archaearium showcases these discoveries for the first time, allowing visitors to see the items used in daily life by our first settlers. Visitors can also witness the 1607 James Fort excavation, tour the original 17th-century church tower and watch costumed glassblowers at the Glasshouse.
Jamestown Settlement. View our nation’s beginnings through film, gallery exhibits and living history. Visitors can board replicas of the three ships that landed in Jamestown in 1607, view re-creations of the colonists’ fort and explore a Powhatan village. Costumed historical interpreters describe and demonstrate daily life in the early 17th century. The World of 1607 is a special exhibit opening in May, 2007. With art and artifacts on loan from museums across the world, the exhibit takes a look at the 17th century from a global standpoint. The Jamestown settlement will be placed in context with other world events of the time.
Colonial Williamsburg. You can easily spend the day walking the grounds of this 300+ acre living history museum, the world’s largest. All of the historically restored or reconstructed buildings have been furnished and decorated in the manner of their time. The inhabitants of this 18th-century city come to life as costumed interpreters relate their stories and the hardships and challenges they faced in the new world.
Yorktown Battlefield. Explore the fields where the final battle marking the end to the Revolutionary War took place.
Yorktown Victory Center. This museum showcases life during the American Revolution through artifacts and living history exhibits. Tour a re-created Continental Army encampment and a 1780s farm.
Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, linked by the Colonial Parkway, can be reached via interstates 95 and 64, U.S. Route 17 and scenic Route 5. For more information on attractions and anniversary celebrations, call Jamestown 2007 at 757/253-4659 or visit www.Americas400thAnniversary.com.
St. Augustine, Florida
Ponce de Leon's search for the Fountain of Youth brought him to St. Augustine in 1513. Although he never found the magical waters, his quest was not in vain. After his exploration, other settlers soon followed and a permanent settlement was established in 1565 to defend Spanish trade routes. The Presidio de San Agustin was built as a military base to defend Spanish territories against the intruding French and English. The original fort, Castillo de San Marcos, built in the late 1600s, still stands, having played a part in the Revolutionary War, Indian Wars and Civil War. Various re-enactments and festivities take place here throughout the year. Other St. Augustine historic highlights include:
The Oldest House Museum Complex. The complex consists of two museums, a changing exhibition gallery, an ornamental garden and the main attraction, the González-Alvarez House. Dating back to the early 1700s, it is the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida.
Old St. Augustine Village. Nine historic houses on this city block span the period from 1790 to 1910. In and among the courtyards and gardens are exhibit galleries. Learn the colonial history of the block on a thirty minute guided tour which includes the archaeological features underground as well as the history of former occupants.
Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth. View the foundations and see the displays of artifacts of the first St. Augustine mission and colony. Through exhibits and presentations you can learn about early Spanish explorers, Indian life in the 1500s and discover the navigational techniques used by early explorers.
St. Augustine is located in northeast Florida on the Atlantic Ocean along Hwy A1A. For more information on attractions and events, contact St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, 88 Riberia St., Suite 400, St. Augustine, FL 32084; 800/653-2489 or visit www.visitoldcity.com/.
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan/Ontario
Sault Ste. Marie, or "The Soo" as it is called, has the unique distinction of being the oldest city in both Michigan and Ontario. Established in 1668 by Father Marquette, as a mission and later a fur trading post, it was split into two cities in 1818. The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Mary’s River between the United States and Canada, connecting the twin cities.
On the Michigan side, visiting the Le Sault De Ste. Marie Historical Sites will give you a glimpse into the craftsmanship of the early shipbuilders. The Tower of History offers spectacular views and the Museum Ship Valley Camp tells the maritime story through art and artifacts.
In Ontario you can cruise the first canoe lock, tour the original Ermatinger-Clergue Old Stone House, or step back in time at the Bush Plane Museum and the Sault Ste. Marie Art Gallery and Museum.
The main attraction, however, is the Soo Locks. An annual open house, known as Engineer’s Day, affords a rare opportunity to explore this engineering marvel. Walk across the walls of one of the world’s busiest lock systems and observe the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. For more information about Engineer’s Day, call 1/800-MISAULT (800/647-2858).
Sault Ste. Marie is located at the northern end of I-75. Exit 392 enters onto the I-75 Business Spur at the city limits and Exit 394 enters onto Easterday Avenue in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. For more information:
Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie Convention & Visitors Bureau, 536 Ashmun Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783; 800/647-2858 or visit www.saultstemarie.com.
Ontario: Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, 99 Foster Drive, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada P6A 5X6; 800/461-6020 or visit www.sault-canada.com/tourism/.
At the mouth of the Columbia River, amid towering forests and breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, sits Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. First explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was settled five years later in 1811 by John Jacob Astor who established Fort Astoria as a trading post. Surrounded today by the same unspoiled natural beauty that Lewis and Clark found two centuries earlier, Astoria is a town of Victorian homes, rich maritime history and Scandinavian ancestry. Its location at the mouth of the Columbia River has been called “The Graveyard of the Pacific” because of the 200+ shipwrecks that have occurred here.
Highlights of the area include the Captain George Flavel House Museum, a Queen Anne style house built in 1885 by the area’s first millionaire. Completely restored to its former glory, the Victorian mansion reflects the furnishings, artwork and exquisite workmanship of the period.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Fort Clatsop commemorates the winter encampment site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Although the original fort finally deteriorated due to the damp climate, a replica was built based on Clark’s sketches. Buckskin-clad rangers re-enact daily life for visitors, carving dugout canoes, preparing meals and making candles.
Fort Astoria is no longer standing but a partial replica stands at the original location and a mural re-creates the view from the fort in 1813.
Astoria is located on the Pacific Coast along Hwy 101. For more information, contact Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, 111 West Marine Drive, P. O. Box 176, Astoria, OR 97103-0176; 503/325-6311 or visit www.oldoregon.com.
Ogden’s humble beginnings started with a chance meeting between a mountain man, Miles Goodyear and Mormons traveling west in 1847. With the sale of his land claim and fort, settlement of the area began. Although established mainly as an agricultural area, the advent of the transcontinental railroad changed the face of the community forever. Development increased as Ogden became a major railroad and commercial center. Historic sites of interest include:
Fort Buenaventura. The fort was built in 1846 by Miles Goodyear as a rest stop for westbound pioneers. It has been reconstructed on its original site complete with livestock, cabins and gardens.
Utah Pioneers Museum. The museum is a treasure house of artifacts and memorabilia dating back to 1848. Displays depict the pioneer life of early Utah.
Miles Goodyear Cabin. The cabin, the first pioneer home in Utah, was originally the home of trapper Miles Goodyear. Although it is not open to the public, visitors can view it through a wire mesh enclosure.
Ogden Railroad Depot Museum. In addition to documenting Ogden’s railroad history, the museum houses the Browning Gun Collection and the Kimball-Browning Auto Museum.
Ogden is located 35 miles north of Salt Lake City and is easily accessible from either Interstate 15 or State Highway 89. The Wasatch mountain range forms the city’s eastern border and the Great Salt Lake stretches to the west. For more information contact Ogden/Weber CVB, 2501 Wall Avenue, Suite 201, Ogden, UT 84401; 866/867-8824 or visit www.ogdencvb.org.
Elizabethton (formerly Sycamore Shoals) became the first permanent settlement outside the original 13 colonies when it was settled in the late 1760s. The largest private land transaction in U.S. history took place here – 20 million acres purchased from the Cherokees – making Elizabethton a notable site in America’s westward expansion.
At Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area and Park visitors can view a re-creation of historic Fort Watauga, built to protect them against threats and attacks by the Indians. Each July an outdoor drama of “The Wautaugans” is performed, re-creating the events that formed Tennessee’s history.
Take a walk through the downtown historic district and view examples of the early architecture of the area. Constructed in the late 1700s, the Carter House is the oldest frame house in Tennessee. Compared to the neighboring dirt floor log cabins, the mansion was considered lavish by local standards. The house includes original hand carved panels, crown molding and chair railings.
Before leaving Elizabethton, you must take a walk across the Doe River Covered Bridge, the most photographed landmark in the county. Built in 1882 it stretches one hundred and thirty-four feet across the Doe River.
Surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, Elizabethton is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in East Tennessee along Interstate 81. For more information, contact the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Council, P.O. Box 190, Elizabethton, TN 37644; 423/547-3852 or visit www.tourelizabethton.com
Take a walking tour of Wethersfield and feel as if you’re in a living history museum as you view 17th, 18th and 19th century homes. First settled in 1634, the community has 300 historic structures still standing, 50 built before the Revolutionary War. A sampling of noteworthy sites to visit includes:
First Church of Christ. This beautiful mid 18th century church was constructed with the help of the entire community. Those who couldn’t make financial contributions donated ropes of red onions, the major cash crop at the time. Behind the church sits the Wethersfield Village Cemetery. This ancient burying ground relates the area’s history perhaps better than any historic structure. Headstones crafted by master stone carvers date back to 1648. Poignant inscriptions mark the graves of generations of families, among them Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers.
Buttolph-Williams House. This museum was the home of Benjamin Beldon in the early 1700s. The authentic kitchen features original cooking tools and implements.
Old Academy. Originally a schoolhouse, this 1804 structure now houses the Wethersfield Historical Society with an extensive genealogy and research library.
Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum. The restored homes of merchant Joseph Webb (1752), diplomat Silas Deane (1766) and leather worker Isaac Stevens (1788) comprise this museum. Period furnishings give a glimpse into the everyday life of the 18th century.
Hurlbut-Dunham House. This beautiful 20th century brick Georgian home has been restored to its original elegance.
Wethersfield is located in the center of Connecticut off I-91, exit 26. For more information, contact Wethersfield Tourism Commission, 505 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield, CT 06109 or visit www.historicwethersfield.org/.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Recaptured by the Pueblo Indians for over a century, the Spanish again took over the region in 1692 and Santa Fe developed and grew. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the mid 1800s and with the advent of the Santa Fe Trail, American traders, trappers and pioneers began to settle in the area. Walking the streets of this charming city, evidence of the early Spanish influence is apparent in the historic missions and houses. Among the highlights are:
Chapel of San Miguel. Destroyed by the Pueblo Indians, the original 1626 structure was burned to the ground. Rebuilt in 1710, this chapel, the oldest church in the U.S., is now a part of Saint Michael’s College. It contains 16th century animal hide paintings and an 18th century wooden altar screen.
Sena Plaza. From its humble beginnings in the 18th century as an adobe hut, this structure grew over the years to become a 33-room hacienda. Its architectural style
features tall narrow doors, trim of baked brick, portals and many other unique features. Today the hacienda is a public plaza housing shops, galleries and offices. Its peaceful gardens afford a quiet respite for tourists and natives alike.
Saint Francis Cathedral. This French Romanesque cathedral stands out among the Spanish architecture of the city. Constructed in 1869 on the remains of an early mission, it retained the original adobe chapel. It contains many breathtaking stained glass windows and the wooden statue of the Virgin known as Our Lady of Peace, brought to Santa Fe in the early 1600s.
Palace of the Governors. This 17th century adobe structure was originally used as Spain’s seat of government. Now a history museum, it is a treasured landmark documenting New Mexico’s history. Every year the Palace of the Governors is host to the Mountain Man Trade Fair.
Santa Fe is easily reached via I-25 in north central New Mexico. For more information, contact the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau, Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504; 800/777-2489 or visit www.santafe.org.
Burlington, New Jersey
This early settlement in New Jersey was founded by the Belgians who established a trading post here in 1624. The Dutch came soon after, followed by the Swedes and Finns. Eventually Burlington became occupied by Quakers who were fleeing religious oppression.
A visit to Burlington is truly a step back in time as over 40 historic sites remain from the 17th and 18th centuries. Maps are available and include the Ulysses S. Grant House (1856), Dr. John Howard Pugh House (1716), (Old) St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (1703) and the James Fenimore Cooper House (1782). Other highlights include:
Revell House. Built in 1685, this home also goes by the name of Gingerbread House. According to local folklore, Benjamin Franklin was sold gingerbread and given supper here on his way to Philadelphia. The Wood Street Fair, held on the first Saturday after Labor Day, provides for the upkeep of this historic home.
Endeavor Fire Co., circa 1795. Established by the Quakers, each member was required to obtain a bucket, a ladder and axe … and pass a morals test.
Burlington Pharmacy. Still in operation, the pharmacy, built in 1731, had ties to the Underground Railroad. Once owned by abolitionist and Quaker William J. Allinson, the tunnels underneath are reputed to have hidden runaway slaves.
Captain James Lawrence House. Here, Lawrence was born and raised in a town rich with shipping and shipyards. 2007 marks the 225th anniversary of his birth and plans include museum exhibits, a sea shanty concert, tours and more.
To get to Burlington from the NJ Turnpike, Exit 5 (Burlington), turn left onto Route 541 and take it approximately 4 miles into Burlington. For more maps and information call 609/386-0200 or visit www.tourburlington.org.
The term “melting pot” may sound cliché, but there really is no better way to describe our nation. Digging back into the history of early settlements, you’ll find that in addition to the big three triumverate of England, Spain and France, early pioneers hailed from Russia, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy … the list goes on. Their motivations for settling here were as varied as their nationalities. What brings these people to life is not the major events of the time, but details of their daily life – what they cooked, what they wore, the music they listened to, the books they read, their joys, their hardships, their beliefs.
Try to overcome your memories of high school history and visit your local and state historic societies. Their archives can offer fascinating glimpses into the private lives of our forefathers. Diaries and journals, letters and newspapers reveal their personalities. Tour historic homes, churches and businesses and get an understanding of how they lived and worked and worshipped. You will come away with a respect for the courage and resourcefulness of the peoples who settled this nation many centuries ago.