Inna and I had an interesting experience on our US roadtrip: taking the route we did, we effectively went backwards through US history. First we experienced exploring and settling the western wilderness, then the mining boomtowns that brought people west, then the wild west, the American-Indian wars, the Civil War, and finally the earliest European settlements in America and the Revolutionary War.
All told, our roadtrip took us as far back as the early 1600s. And while the early 1600s may be yesterday compared to other places we’ve visited (Poland: 1000AD, France: 900AD, Italy: 30BC, Israel: 120BC, England: 3100BC, and Ireland: 3200 BC), it still meant a lot to us. After all, the US is our country, and its history explains why it is the way it is and how it came to be.
For this post, I will countdown the top 10 most interesting/powerful historical destinations Inna and I visited on our roadtrip. Please note that this isn’t a top ten of all historical destinations in the US, as there are several I have yet to visit (Fort Sumter, The Alamo, Pearl Harbor, Alabama’s Civil Rights Battlegrounds, and so on). And there are also sites that I’ve visited but didn’t visit on this trip (Route 66, the Mormon settlement of Utah, the Liberty Bell, the California Mission System).
That being said, we visited plenty of historical sites on our roadtrip, easily enough for a top ten. So here it is, the top ten historical destinations Inna and I visited on our US roadtrip:
One of the most notable cities in the Wild West, Deadwood was an outlaw town known for its vices: primarily gambling, drugs, prostitution, and murder. Deadwood was the quintessential Wild West city, home to corruptible political forces, a local sheriff, an opium laced Chinatown, and such famous figures as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill. Deadwood would rank higher on this list if so much of it hadn’t burned down in the 1890s, and also if it wasn’t so touristy today.
Under Seattle lies the original city of Seattle, one that, like Deadwood, burned to the ground. The Seattle Underground Tour does a great job exploring these areas and through them explaining the history of the city. And while Seattle is somewhat secluded from the rest of the US, its history (in particular, its interactions with Native Americans, industrial development, political corruption, and treatment of minorities/women/LGBT) can be looked at as a microcosm of US history as a whole.
The best preserved ghost town in Montana one of the best in the US, Garnet is difficult to get to but absolutely worth it. Once a thriving mining town, when the mines dried up so did this city. Today, the city is a great look at the old and developing west.
The most famous battle in the American-Indian Wars, Battle of the Little Bighorn is home to one of the US’s most well-known military moments: Custer’s Last Stand. Today, the battlefield has been preserved as a National Monument, and it contains a driving tour explaining the battle and also numerous memorials and tributes to those who died in the American-Indian War.
I think the Smithsonian’s American History Museum has the potential to be great, but it needs work. When we visited, half the museum was under construction and many of the open exhibits were lackluster. But not the Star Spangled Banner exhibit. This exhibit’s centerpiece, the flag Francis Scott Key saw raised over Fort McHenry following a crucial War of 1812 victory, the flag that inspired her to write our national anthem, was spectacular.
Virginia’s Historic Triangle contains three of the US’s oldest and most significant sites: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Jamestown, one of the first European settlements in America, is currently an archaeological site; Williamsburg, the city the Jamestown residents moved to after Jamestown burned down, is a functioning city that also serves as a living history museum; and Yorktown, the location of the final British defeat in the Revolutionary War, has been preserved as a National Battlefield, one you can drive through and learn about, just like the Battle of the Little Bighorn battlefield mentioned above.
While Virginia led the War of Independence in the south, Boston led the north. It was here that some of the most famous American Revolution events happened, including: the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and more. Many of these events are so iconic they have become synonymous with America, not just the Revolutionary War but America as a whole.
America’s greatest battle (maybe second greatest, after D-Day) and best presented battlefield, Gettysburg defines the Civil War much like Battle of the Little Bighorn defined the American-Indian War. Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, making it one of if not the most significant turning points in all US history. Additionally, with more than 50,000 deaths, Gettysburg resulted in the greatest loss of American life in any single event, ever. And during the memorial ceremony to the soldiers who died, Gettysburg once again became famous, as the site where the greatest speech in American history was given.
No single event has more influenced the course of modern history, not just in the US but throughout the entire western world, than 9/11. 9/11 was a terrible day, one that showed the worst of humanity, but it also showed humanity at its best: the emotional and resilient victims who maintained their dignity, contacted their loved ones, and did everything they could to survive; the heroic first responders who risked and sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others; the steadfast leadership who took charge of an unprecedented situation and got us through this harrowing day; and the brave Flight 93 passengers who wrestled control of their plane away from the terrorists, saving countless lives by thwarting the terrorists’ plans. Add to all this how the entire country came together, supportive and strong as we fought through the attacks, continued on and paid tribute to those gone, and rebuilt our buildings and as a nation grew stronger. 9/11 was a harrowing day, one each 9/11 memorial pays tribute to with the dignity and respect that the victims, their families, and the entire country deserves.
Throughout its history, the United States has been the greatest immigration destination in the world. It is the world’s greatest cultural melting pot, the land of freedom, of opportunity, the land where everyone yearning for a better life could come. Nothing captures this better than the Statue of Liberty, one of the most powerful symbols of the US, the symbol that welcomed so many immigrants, the symbol of freedom for our country. America owes so much to the immigrants who came here, who risked everything for a better life, who made this country what it is today. And not only did the Statue of Liberty welcome them, it also pays tribute to them all, it pays tribute to the freedom and opportunity that they traveled across the world to become part of.