Monday, August 15, 2011

Walking in the steps of history

By Trish Milburn

One of my favorite school subjects has always been history, particularly American history. One of my minors in college was in History. So it's no surprise that I love visiting historic sites be they homes, battlefields, roads, whatever.

Growing up in the South, you can almost pitch a rock in any direction and hit something that has a tie to the Civil War. Historic re-enactments almost always pit the blue against the gray. But one of my favorite periods in American History is actually Colonial/Revolution. So this summer when I had the opportunity to visit New England for the first time, I was mucho excited. I was going to see places that really helped to shape our country before it even became the United States of America.

There have been times when I've visited a place of such historical significance that it was surreal. I felt that way the first time I visited Washington, D.C., in high school. All those monuments, the Smithsonian, the White House -- those were things that you just saw on the nightly news. Several years later, I took a driving trip out West and stopped at several points along the Oregon Trail in Nebraska and Wyoming. There are parts such as Windlass Hill in Western Nebraska where you can still see the ruts from the wagons that were headed west along the Oregon Trail. Fast forward to 2003 and my first trip to New York City. I had the same surreal feeling when I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

This summer, I experienced it again when I stopped at Minute Man National Historic Park outside of Boston. Here I walked along the road (pictured here) that Paul Revere rode down to warn the countryside that the British were coming. The park and the Battle Road commemorate the famous Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the beginning of the American Revolution. I stood in the middle of the road and was hit with an overwhelming sense of history.

The big destination for my trip, however, was Salem, Massachusetts, set of the infamous witch trials in 1692. I have a YA paranormal trilogy coming out next year, and books 2 and 3 take place in Salem, so I wanted to see it firsthand. I walked all over town, and you can tell how steeped the town is in its witch history. Museums dedicated to the witch trials, businesses with names like the Witch's Brew Cafe, and visitors touring cemeteries. There's also a memorial comprised of 20 carved stone benches. Each one lists the name of one of the victims of the trials, when they died and how they died. 19 people were hanged and one pressed to death as a result of the hysteria that had no basis.

In nearby Marblehead, I visited the grave of Wilmot Redd, the only person from Marblehead to be executed for being a witch.

Another must-see in Salem is a literary landmark. The famed House of the Seven Gables (pictured), made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne, sits overlooking the harbor.

They have a very nice tour that takes you through the circa 1668 house and showcases its history and construction. I happened to visit on Hawthorne's birthday, so everyone was in a festive mood. Also on the property is Nathaniel Hawtorne's birthplace and a nice gift shop where I just might have purchased some witch-themed novels and a very pretty pair of earrings. :)

Now I'm curious -- do you enjoy visiting historical sites? If so, what kinds in particular? Have you ever visited a site where you really felt the history of the place? If so, where? And tell us about your favorite historic site.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Here Chookie Chookie!

We have a 'history' together! ;-)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

LOL. I was wondering who would get that little rooster. We should dress him up in some re-enactor gear and send him to the battlefied. :)

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT post, Trish!

You know I'm a HUGE history buff too! I've visited Boston, the Lexington and Concord site, and Salem. What a FUN town! Of course, the witch trials were anything but fun...

It's really difficult for me to pick a favorite historic site, esp. if you include Europe... But since you are talking about American history, I will say that visiting the Gettysburg battlefield was an unforgettable experience for me! I LOVED the costumed docents who let tour groups around and (completely in character) talked about the significant points in the battle.

If you haven't been to Gettysburg, GO! You'll never feel quite the same about the American Civil War.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

I agree, Trish! Let's dress the GR in Confederate gray and give him a drum to beat. No WAY I'm giving him a weapon!


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

I actually stopped at Gettysburg briefly on this trip, Cindy. I did the tour when I was on a high school trip, so I didn't do it this time. It was so incredibly crowded. All the Civil War sites are since this year is the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. I did tour Antietam Battlefield this time since I'd not been there before.

If you love living history places and you haven't been there, Colonial Williamsburg is fantastic. Plan to stay several days. There is so much to see and do.

Rebecca Buckley said...

Loved it, Trish! Good post!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

I have been to Colonial Williamsburg, but not for nearly long enough! Been to Antietem battlefield too, but is was POURING rain. :-( Have also been to Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Chicamauga, which has a great weapons collection. That one is in Tennessee. Have you see it?

Oh, and lest you think I ONLY visit Civil War battle sites, I've been to the Revolutionary battlefield at Yorktown, and the WWII USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (several times).

I didn't think the Arizona Memorial would move me as much as it did. That's why I go back every time I'm on Oahu. I can't recommend it enough.

What's that? The GR thinks I should take HIM to visit the Arizona Memorial. I'm afraid he'll just have to wait for Kim In Hawaii to "win" him for the day! ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Trish!

The first historical place that comes to mind is Sutter's Fort in Sacramento. It was a favorite place for field trips during grade school. John Sutter was granted land by the then Spanish governor in California. Gold was discovered on one of Sutter's tracts. The rest was history. :)


Anna Campbell said...


Watch out, Rooster!

Cindy, congrats on getting the dubious pleasure of his company today.

Trish, what a lovely post. I love, love, love the photos. I remember Bandita Jeanne driving me through the Shenandoah Valley in 2009 when I was over for the DC conference and how we passed so many historic sites, mainly battlefields. Would have loved to have had time to stop and see them. Oh, well, one day.

I love to visit historic sites. Yeah, you knew that! Some of the old houses in England just breathe history. I remember Ightham Mote particularly fondly - if any of you have read Green Darkness by Anya Seton, it's the house that inspired that story.

By the way, I'm heading down to my very neglected blog from Wednesday tomorrow (been on the computer for hours after flying back from Melbourne and I'm running out of steam). I'll answer comments and I'll announce a winner before the next blog goes up tomorrow night. Thanks for your patience. I had NO email access while I was gone.

Helen said...

Aunty Cindy he is enjoying staying with you lately LOL


Loved the post and the pictures I too love to visit historical places and here in Sydney there is a place called The Rocks which was pretty much the first settlement here in Australia I have done a tour through there and the old roads and buildings and lots of tunnels as well and it is pretty erie walking thru some of it with a guide explaining lots of the history other than that as much as I would love to visit more I haven't as yet

Have Fu

Kim in Hawaii said...

I thought history was boring until I "discovered" historical romances in the Army Thrift Shop in the Netherlands. Thereafter, I couldn't soak up enough history fast enough! We moved from Euorpe to Baltimore, offering me to opportunity to indulge in American history. Now in Hawaii, I am exposed to the Pan Pacific histories and cultures ... which includes a little romance!

Nancy said...

AC, looks like you and the chook will be extending your "history" today. Bwahahaha!

Oooh, Trish, history! I love history! It was my undergrad major, you know.

The dh and I visited the Boston area some years back. I'd love to go again. We went to Plymouth and to Lexington and visited the battlefield. And the cemetery. I love reading old tombstone inscriptions. Geek heaven!

One of my favorite historical sites is Kings Mountain National Military Park. Thanks in part to the timely arrival of the Over the Mountain Men from, ahem, Tennessee, the Colonial forces won against overwhelming odds. There's a beautiful trail through the battle lines.

Nancy said...

Kim, you lived in the Netherlands? How cool! I'd love to see that part of the world someday. I have a Dutch heroine in one of my historicals.

Anonymous said...

I love visiting historic sites. Sadly, I've never been to the US, but if I ever get there I want to visit as many places as I can.

Europe has some great historic sites and I particularly love those from the Roman Empire. I'm always in awe at how well-preserved they are. Romania (that's where I'm from) has a lot as well, and they are really exciting. However, the people who are supposed to help preserve and promote them don't really care. It's a pity.

EllenToo said...

I have visited a whole lot of historic places and am fascinated by them but the one that most evokes my feelings is the Alamo where brave Texans made a stand. After saying that I should mention I'm a born and bred Texan and a retired history teacher.

Deb said...

I, too, love history. I teach Iowa History to fifth graders and love it! I've visited a lot of historical places right here in my state.

I've been to W., D.C. and think it is a great place; unbelievable memorials.

There is a mansion in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (I've mentioned this before here in the Lair) that was built in the
1880s and is now on the National Historic Registry. My daughter absolutely loves visiting Brucemore and its 26 acres of yard and gardens.

What about family history? I was awed to visit the farm where my grandfather was born and raised in Denmark and to see his family church that was built in the 1100s. Wow!

I take my fifth graders to Living History Farms every spring where we see an 1600s Ioway Indian farm, an
1850s farm, a 1900s farm, and a little prairie town of the late 1800s. Love it and love how my kids nail every single answer correctly when asked questions! :)

MsHellion said...

I'm a huge American Revolutionary War (or Colonial history) fan too.

I loved Boston's American Revolutionary War walk; and I adored being on the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides). But I think the place I went to that I felt this is surreal and amazing: George Washington's house--Mount Vernon. Standing on his back lawn, looking out over the Potomac, I thought, "I could live here."

I would love to see Thomas Jefferson's plantation, and the other founding fathers.

Anyone got any recommendations for American Revolution set novels?

Deb said...

@MsHellion--does it matter to you if the stories are by a Christian author? If not, Gilbert Morris' House of Winslow series starts in the 1600s and continues through to the 1900s.

Sally Laity and Dianna Crawford have written a series called Freedom's Holy Light about the Revolution. (Christian authors as well.)

An old middle school book by Ann Rinaldi is really good. It's titled Time Enough For Drums.

Deb said...

Gilbert Morris also wrote a series called The Liberty Bell.

Karen H in NC said...

I am a huge Antebellum home fan and several years ago, I visited Natchez, MS for their Spring Home Pilgrimage. I was there for three days and took AM and PM bus tours daily. Three homes were visited during each tour. The tour also included a tour of Natchez and points of interest and history of the town. It was fantastic and I'd highly recommend it for anyone interested in 19th Century Southern American History.

And then there is the Natchez Trace...a must do drive. Absolutely beautiful with a 2-lane paved road in a park-like homes or commercialism, limited access and parts of the original trace still available to walk on and experience for yourself. Some of the original historic inns and homesteads are still there to visit too. With all of the stops to visit century old family graveyards, historical buildings and to walk on the trace, it took me about 10 hours to drive from Natchez to Tupelo, MS, a distance of about 275 miles. For those of you who aren't familiar, the Natchez Trace is a trail between Natchez and Nashville, TN. Originally an Indian trail, it was used by the riverboat men returning to their homes after using a raft to float their goods down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

In addition to the many homes in Natchez, there are several other historical homes in other parts of MS and LA along the Mississippi River, all open to visit. I didn't go that far..not enough time. Sad...maybe some day I'll get back there.

jo robertson said...

Yay, AC! You got the rooster. We know all about your infamous history together LOL.

Great post, Trish. I, too, have a minor in history and love exploring the past and visiting historical sites.

California isn't quite as steeped in the American past as the east coast, but we have lovely old missions you can visit scattered throughout the state.

jo robertson said...

Oh, I meant to say that for years I taught Arthur Miller's seminal play "The Crucible" about the Salem witch trials. Fascinating story and John Proctor (the protagonist) has some wonderful lines!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Love visiting historical sites! I visited Fort Pulaski outside Savannah last year. Just going to places like that makes me want to find a story to set there.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Now that I am catless and thus able to take longer trips, I'm looking forward to some bus tours, beginning with America's Historic East (DC, VA, PA), and then a New England tour that spends some time in Boston.

I remember moving to AR and then NC after having lived in North Dakota for so long, and being amazed at how OLD everything was! Why, some of it went back to the 17th Century! (My British friends are highly amused.)

~Sia McKye~ said...

I do enjoy visiting historical sites. Like you, history was one of my favorite subjects in school and one of the few non-fiction subjects I can sit and read and enjoy as much as a good novel.

When I lived in the DC area I had the chance to visit many of the battlefields. I explored all of the many monuments and Smithsonian. I took my son to DC a couple of years ago to share the same with him.

my husband is from New England--about an hour west of Boston. We went to Sturbridge Village. That was very cool.

Enjoyed the article, ma'am!

Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Thanks, Rebecca.

Cindy, I've been to Manassas and Chickamauga too. The latter is partially in Tennessee and partially in Georgia just south of Chattanooga.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Oh, and Cindy, I think one of the prettiest battlefields is actually Shiloh, which is in Tennessee in a rural area in the southwest part of the state.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jennifer, I'll have to see Sutter's Fort when I go back to California. I bet that was a fascinating place to learn about your state history. I grew up in Kentucky, and sort of the ultimate historic place there was Fort Boonesborough.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna, the Shenandoah Valley is really pretty. Virginia is super rich with early American history as well as Civil War history. There are still so many places I want to see there.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Helen, that sounds like a really neat place. I have to say I hate that during my history studies that Australia and pretty much anything that was Europe or the U.S. wasn't really covered. I know so little about the history of large parts of the world. The only site I could think of in Australia was Ayers Rock.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Kim, how cool that you've gotten to live in so many different places that really allow you to dig into the local history. Very cool.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Nancy, yep, Tennesseans have historically been big volunteers, and thus our state's nickname, the Volunteer State. In fact, another of those surreal places I've visited is The Alamo. The state from which the most Alamo dead came was Tennessee.

You mentioned the Overmountain Men. One of my favorite state parks is Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton, Tenn. It was here at Fort Watauga that the Overmountain Men assembled to start the march to King's Mountain. The fort was also the first permanent settlement outside of the original 13 colonies.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Antonia, how very cool that you're from Romania. You still live there now? I've never been outside of the United States (I know, sad), so there are so many places in Europe, Japan, China, Australia, etc., that I'd love to visit.

If you ever make it to the U.S. the sheer size of it can make picking what to see difficult. So you'll just have to visit several times. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Antonia, I also meant to say that that's sad that preservation of historic sites isn't high on the officials' lists there. We're lucky to have many preservation societies and trusts here, but we still lose things. Many of our battlefields have had huge sections overrun with development before they were able to be preserved.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Ellen, I loved the Alamo and the other missions along the Mission Trail. I actually like visiting the others better because they're nowhere near as crowded as the Alamo, but still, the first visit to the Alamo was awe-inspiring.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Deb, yay for history teachers! :) I've been through Iowa a few times, but unfortunately I've not been able to explore the state. I was usually either on a multi-day trip to Wasington state and trying to cover a lot of ground or was on a train and couldn't get off to explore. But someday.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

MsHellion, Mount Vernon is surreal, isn't it? It's so wild to walk along the same pathways as George Washington. I've been to Monticello, Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, and it's lovely too. It sits up on a mountaintop and has a marvelous view.

There are three presidential homes in Tennessee -- James K. Polk's, Andrew Johnson's and The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home, just a few miles down the road from my house. I've been to all of them and The Hermitage many times.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Oh, meant to say, that I remember loving Miranda Jarrett's colonial stories from several years ago. Also, a friend recommended Pamela Clare's.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Karen H., when I still worked full time for a magazine here in Nashville, I did a story on the Natchez Trace and took a few days to drive the whole thing from Nashville to Natchez. The homes in Natchez were stunning, very much evocative of the Old South. One of my other favorite parts were the Indian mounds, one set in particular which I think was Pharr Mounds in Mississippi.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jo, as I mentioned earlier, I love to visit old missions. Along with Colonial history, my other favorite time period is Westward Expansion and have always had a love affair with the West.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Debbie, I've never been to Savannah, but I hear it's gorgeous and rich with history.

Carol, lol. Yeah, I guess we're babies in history compared to Europe. BTW, I think North Dakota is lovely. I drove across it once and rode the train across once. I just love all that open space and lakes and ponds. And there was a ton of waterfowl. Visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park on my driving trip. Saw the Fort Union Trading Post from the train so want to go back and visit that along with Knife River.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Sia, I almost stopped at Sturbridge Village during my trip last month, but there wasn't time in the schedule. The Smithsonian is awesome. It was the summer before my senior year in high school when I went the first time and three things stick out in my mind -- The Spirit of St. Louis plane in the Air and Space Museum, the Hope Diamond and the mammoths in the Natural History Museum.

Na said...

I love the idea of visiting historical sites but haven't done any visits yet. Most of my ideas of sites to visit come from books and the more I read the most that list grows. I think it would be would be a wonderful experience to see a site and image myself as the character during that time period.

Donna MacMeans said...

Trish - I love, love, love visiting historical sites. My book Seduction of a Duke was based on a tour I did of the historical homes in Newport, Rhode Island - and of course, Redeeming the Rogue includes quite a bit about the assassination of President Garfield.

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland where field trips to the monuments and museums of Washington DC were pretty regular, I think I lost some of that Wow! This is living history! impression. However, I found it on the battlefield of Gettysburg - makes you want to weep, and on the settlement of Jamestown. WIlliamsburg doesn't give me that sense - must be due to too much tourism, but Jamestown does. Monticello and Valley Forge - two others that carry a strong emotional impact.

I'd love to visit Salem one day...and so many places. One thing about America - we're blessed to have such diverse history spread across the land. There's always someplace special to visit (except in Ohio. All we have are Indian burial mounds LOL).

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Na, what are some of the places on your to-visit list?

Donna, Valley Forge is someplace I'd like to visit. And, hey, you have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio. :)

Anonymous said...

"Antonia, how very cool that you're from Romania. You still live there now? I've never been outside of the United States (I know, sad), so there are so many places in Europe, Japan, China, Australia, etc., that I'd love to visit."

@ Trish: Yes, I still live there. Like you, I have many places I want to visit and re-visit. It's a list that never ends lol.

Cassondra said...

Oh, Trish, you really should not have opened such a can of worms for me.

I love history. I've taken so little of it in school--always seemed to be in one degree program or another which was so intense that there was no time for anything extra. So most of my history courses focused on the particular subject I was studying, like Press History, Broadcast History, Theatre History, Art History, Ag History, etc etc.

I had the basic classes in high school and college of course, but they don't even scratch the surface. This is one of those subjects which is just deeply frustrating for me, because....I want to know it ALL. I'm fascinated by it and I want to know ALL of it. And you can't.

No matter how much you study, that little landmark you pass on the road--and the next and the next--you're not going to know about that. Every time I read a marker outside an old courthouse, or the plaque on a cemetery's stone wall, I realize how much I DON'T know about history. It opens another whole chapter to explore. You can just never learn it all, and that makes me nuts.

Oh, I should answer the question. Hmmm...Lemme start another post. This one's too long already.

I guess I'm so crazy about history that I'm overwhelmed with it.

Cassondra said...

My favorite historic places...let's see.

I think I'd have to pick some of the castles in Scotland. In particular Edinburgh. Actually, just walking down the streets of Edinburgh was surreal for me. I experienced that thing they call "ancestral memory" where I felt as though I'd come home.

But in the United States, there are too many to name. I love visiting state Capitols actually. I love reading the history of the places. I have a particular interest in the westward movement of settlers--how the towns sprang up and grew along rivers and trade routes. This movement--the ebb and flow of human habitation--I could just lose myself in that.

And I get really excited to walk along roads or paths which have been used for many years. I would absolutely LOVE to walk that path traveled by Paul Revere. I've never been to New England (other than passing through) and visiting those historic sites is one of my life goals.

I live in a 160-year-old house, which sits on a stagecoach route. I know that native Americans camped here on the site of my house, and I know that fur traders traveled through here. We found a bunch of old coins under the house (where the back door met the old porch), and one of them is a one-quarter Ana, from the British East India Company. I speculate all kinds of things--like maybe the lady of the house sold food or baths to passersby for extra money. We found leg irons under the house, which had been cut, and a secret compartment in the attic. Based on its proximity to a known stop on the underground railroad, we think that maybe our house was a part of that.

I chose this house because it spoke to me--and it's the age of it which held a lot of the appeal. These walls have stories.

All the (older) houses along this road are from another era--and each has its own interesting story. The teensy community where I live was once the largest in our region because the railroad passed through here. But then they dammed the river near Bowling Green, built locks, and that's now the hub of commerce, while once-thriving Woodburn has become a wide spot in the road.

There I go again--I'm rambling.


I never get tired of it. I need another whole lifetime to JUST study history.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Cassondra, that's really cool about the history of your house, the coins, etc.

And wouldn't osmosis be helpful for learning history? Stick a history book next to your head and, voila, you know everything in it. :)

Sheree said...

As a child, the Statue of Liberty wasn't that fun, with the crowds and interminable climb up and then down. The USS Intrepid though was a different story. We kids got to touch things, run around on deck, and climb over the guns. I had a t-shirt from there that I wore for years (good thing it started out too big on me).

But I think I'm more of a museum gal than a historical sites one. When I was visiting different cities in Europe during college, I went to as many museums as I could. On that trip, I realized what I really appreciated was post offices - not the little ones tucked into the corner of a store, but the main ones, such as the one in Barcelona with the beautiful mosaic ceiling.

Pat Cochran said...

There are two historical sites that
have affected me in an unusual manner.
The first is the Alamo in San Antonio,
Texas. We were there with our young
children, introducing them to this
most important piece of Texas history.
In the hushed atmosphere of the Chapel,
I suddenly could hear voices in outcry.
I became dizzy and had to be helped
out of the area. Once outdoors every
thing cleared away & I never felt such
a reaction again. No one else in our
party reported such an experience!
Another area that caused a reaction
was the San Jacinto Battlegrounds,
also connected to the battle for Texas
Independence. We were there late on
one visit & as darkness began to fall, we could feel an atmospheric change.
It went from enjoying a picnic to
sensing an eerie, not-there-alone
feeling. We were uncomfortable enough to pack up immediately & head for home! I call them my woohoo moments!

Cassondra said...

Trish Milburn said:

And wouldn't osmosis be helpful for learning history? Stick a history book next to your head and, voila, you know everything in it. :)

YES! That would be a perfect solution for this problem!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Sheree, a really good museum is a great way to spend a day or more. You get snapshots of different parts of history. There is a museum in Memphis called the Pink Palace Museum, and they have lots of exhibits. But one of my favorites is a walk-through model of the first Piggly Wiggly grocery store, which was the first self-serve grocery.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Pat, wow, those are some strong reactions to place. It makes you wonder about these places where horrible things happened, if that leaves a lasting mark on it that can be felt generations later.

Nancy said...

Ms. Hellion, I think Patricia Potter wrote a series set in the American Revolution, some years back.

Elswyth Thane wrote a series following different couples in a family from the American Revolution to WWII. The first book is Dawn's Early Light. The second, a Civil War novel, was Yankee Stranger. The books were primarily set in Williamsburg.

Inglish Fletcher wrote a series about NC from the Lost Colony (Roanoke Hundred) to the ratification of the Constitution. I think that one is Queen's Gift.