Best Historical Sites in New England Part One In Maine vs Vermont vs Connecticut
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney, Inukshuk
The states that comprise New England were among the original 13 American Colonies, so much of the early history of the United States resides there. From pre-colonial fortifications to Revolutionary War battles, you can walk the path of our forefathers and get a sense of the world they way they saw it. In addition, grand mansions and estates tell the tale of the rise of the American merchant class, and later the industrialists that dominated the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here, we explore the historical sites in three of the six, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut.
Method 1: In Maine
On the northeastern tip of the United States and sharing a border with Canada to the north, Maine's history is entwined with the sea. Lighthouses dot its rocky coast, speaking of its deep connection to the North Atlantic.
- 1Victoria Mansion, Portland. Victoria Mansion stands as one of the best examples of the Italian Villa style in the United States, and when it was constructed between the years of 1858 and 1860, it was ahead of its time in many ways. It had many of the comforts that we take for granted today, such as hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, a lighting system (gas), as well as comforts still sought after today, such as wall to wall carpeting and central heating. This perfectly preserved mansion has been carefully restored as closely as possible to what it looked like in 1860.Advertisement
- 2Winslow Homer Studio, Prouts Neck. Renowned American painter, Winslow Homer (1836-1910) fell in love with Prouts Neck, Maine, when he visited the town with his family in the 1870's. He loved it so much, that he moved there from New York in the early 1880's and commissioned architect John Calvin Stevens to build a home for him out of an old carriage house. Homer settled down there and painted many of his masterpieces there, painting the rocky Maine coast, until his death in 1910. The house contains many of Homer's works, plus photographs, furniture, and memorabilia from his time. You can take guided tours of his studio where you will learn more about the artist, his life, and his work.Advertisement
- 3Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, South Portland. The Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse was constructed in 1897, after years of ships wrecking on the ledge that ran from the shore and into the shipping lanes. As maritime traffic continued to grow through the 1800's, more and more ships ran afoul of the ledge, and finally, the steamship companies mounted a powerful effort to get a lighthouse approved by the local government. The lighthouse still functions today under the care of the United States Coastguard and remains the only working caisson-style lighthouse that you can reach by foot.
- 4Kennebec Arsenal, Augusta. This arsenal was built in 1828 to protect the state's borders from New Brunswick following the War of 1812. Providing munitions for the Civil War and the Mexican-American War, the arsenal operated until 1901 when it was shut down. The site was picked up by The Maine State Hospital (Augusta Mental Health Institute), and the Arsenal was turned into a sanatorium, which operated until 2004. As a sanitorium, the Kennebec Arsenal has a dark history. As many as 11,647 people perished while staying there. After 2004, a company purchased the property with plans to improve it, but there are strict guidelines that must be followed. It is one of the best examples of 19th-century arsenals in the United States.
- 5Portland Observatory, Portland. Standing seven stories tall, the Portland Observatory was constructed in 1807 to let shipowners know when their vessels were returning from the sea. Guided tours take you up to the top of the Observatory where you can get stunning 360 degree views of the city and the harbor. If you're there from between the middle of July and the end of August, the Observatory hosts special sunset tours every Thursday night where you can see the sun setting over the beautiful Casco Bay.
- 6Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, New Gloucester. Home to the last congregation of Shakers left in the world, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is an 1,800 acre compound of farms, historical buildings, and forests where the modern Shakers live and continue to worship as their ancestors did. Many buildings on the lands date back to the 1780's, and the friendly residents are happy to share their history through education, craft workshops, and more. The Shakers are known best for their simple style of furniture and crafts, which is still popular in many modern homes; however, they also invented innovations such as the circular saw blade, flat broom, and chair tilter buttons.
- 7Fort Knox, Prospect. Built between the years 1844 through 1869 and named after America's first Secretary of War, Major General Henry Knox, the fort's purpose was to guard against a British attack from New Brunswick, Canada. Following the War of 1812, there had been some skirmishes between the British and the Americans along Maine's border over the years, and the United States wanted to better protect its borders. Fort Knox is a well-preserved slice of history from 19th century America. The fort itself open from May 1st to October 31st, while the grounds remain open all year around. Inside the fort, you can access the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, which includes an observation tower that rises 420 feet into the sky.
- 8James G Blaine House, Augusta. The venerable Blaine House was built in 1833 and sold to James G. Blaine, who bought it for his wife, Harriet. Upon the death of her grandson, Walker Blaine Beale who was killed in action during World War I, Harriet Blaine Beale donated the house to the State of Maine to serve as its Governor's Residence. Governor Carl E. Milliken was the first governor to live there, and in 1920 he had the architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers design the grounds. Every Maine governor since that time has lived in the house with his family, including current Maine governor, Paul R. LePage with his First Lady Ann LePage.
- 9Neal Dow House, Portland. Neal Dow House was the home of Neal S. Dow, a military general and Republican political leader. Dow also has a strong history as an abolitionist and a temperance advocate. In fact, he authored the "Maine Law," which prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol in the state decades before Prohibition in the 1920's. The home, which was built in 1829, is now a museum to the memory of Neal Dow and his support of the abolishment of slavery as well as an advocate of the temperance movement. It is also the home of the Maine Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
- 10Eagle Island, South Harpswell. Eagle Island was the home of Robert E. Peary, the first and only man to ever reach the North Pole, which he did in 1909. The unique house he built on the island features a room that's designed to feel like the wheelhouse of a ship with beautiful views all around. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands manages the estate and keeps it perfectly preserved. Follow the hiking trails around the island, and you can traverse its entirety in one hour while you take its picturesque grounds, and be sure to take a tour of Peary's home.
- 12Hamilton House, South Berwick. This beautiful Georgian mansion and its grounds survey the surrounding countryside from high atop a hill. Built in 1785, it was the home of Jonathan Hamilton, a shipping merchant. It later became the residence of Emily Tyson and her stepdaughter. The house and its grounds serve as a carefully preserved Colonial-Revival estate, which you can view as well as have a picnic in the beautiful garden as you watch the river flow by.
- 13Old York Village, Old York. Old York Village is a town center made up of historic buildings that date back to Colonial times. Settled in 1624, it received a royal charter in 1639 and was the first English town to receive that honor. Enjoy the "costumed interpreters" that make history come to life before you as you walk through this quaint little township. Preserved by the Old York Historical Society, It includes the following buildings:
- Old Gaol. The oldest jail in Maine, and possibly the United States, it was built in the early 1700's.
- Emerson-Wilcox House. A home built in 1740.
- Jefferds Tavern. A tavern built in 1750, which sits across from Emerson-Wilcox House
- Old School House. This place of learning was built in 1745 and sits next to the tavern.
- 14Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland. Wadsworth-Longfellow House was the home where Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow grew up. The house was built by General Peleg Wadsworth In 1785 to 1786 and Anne Longfellow-Pierce, Henry's younger sister lived there until her death in 1901. After that, the house passed to the main historical society to preserve the memory of Henry.
- 15Tate House. House was the home of Captain George Tate who served as the Senior Mast Agent in the British Royal Navy. It was his job to oversee the production of white pine lumber to ship back to England. The home was built in 1750 and is the only pre-revolutionary war home in Maine that is open to the public
Method 2: In Vermont
Vermont is a small state with a picturesque countryside of covered bridges and tall steepled churches. It boasts having the earliest constitution, ratified long before it was admitted to the Union as a state, and was the site of major battles during the Revolutionary War.
- 1Chimney Point State Historic Site, Addison. Nestled on the shores of Lake Champlain, this site celebrates the 9000-year history of human habitation of this region. In a tavern that was built around 1785 resides the museum which offers a display of Native American artifacts going back thousands of years, and more recently, French Colonial and early American furniture and décor. In the tavern is also an old tap room and a post office circa 1905.Advertisement
- 2Old Constitution House, Windsor. The Old Constitution House is the place where the original Vermont constitution was drafted. It governed the Republic of Vermont until it became a state. It was notable for being the first constitution in America to outlaw slavery, ratify universal suffrage for all men, regardless of whether or not they owned property, and created a public school system.
- 3Mount Independence, Orwell. Originally a fortification against French invasion from the North, this site was renamed Mount Independence after the American Colonies declared independence from Britain in July 1776. American troops were stationed there until July 1777, when British General Burgoyne routed them and took over the position. After Burgoyne had lost the Battle of Saratoga in November 1777, he ordered his troops to raise the buildings before they retreated to Canada. Hiking trails through the site lead you on an exploration of the ruins and tell the story of what life was like for the soldiers who lived, worked, and died there.
- 4Round Church, Richmond. The Round Church was built in 1812-1813 to serve the congregations of five separate Protestant denominations. It is perhaps the only example of an early 19th-century 16-sided meeting house that is so well-preserved. It is open to the public during the summer and fall and is available for weddings and other events.
- 5Bennington Battle Monument, Bennington. This 306-foot tall obelisk was completed in 1891 and is dedicated to the memory of the Battle of Bennington, which occurred in August of 1777. The Battle of Bennington was a key element in eventually securing victory for the Americans in their fight for independence from Britain. It is open every day from about the middle of April until Halloween.
- 6Calvin Coolidge Historic District, Plymouth Notch. This site preserves the flavor and history the era in which the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge was born and raised. Coolidge's family homestead is here, as well as the neighboring homes, general store, church, and cheese factory.
- 7Lake Champlain Underwater Preserves, Lake Champlain. If you are a diver, the State of Vermont has preserved seven shipwrecks in the waters of Lake Champlain for you to dive to. Get coordinates to each wreck from the Historic Sites Department with instructions on how to reach them, as well as dive difficulty ratings among other things.
- 10Robert Frost Farm, Ripton. This 150-acre property was Frost's main residence, and he penned many of his famous writings while living there. He became Vermont's poet laureate and is well-beloved by Vermonters; this historic site preserves his memory. Walk in his footsteps as you meander through the property and experience Vermont as he did.
- 11Shelburne Museum, Shelburne. Founded by Electra Havemeyer Webb, Shelburne Museum collects and preserves pieces of early American history. From historic buildings that have been moved to the museum grounds, to duck decoys dolls, and much more, Shelburne Museum is a walking history exhibit for early American life in New England. The highlights include the Steamboat Ticonderoga, which was built in Shelburne in 1906. The ship served ports along the Vermont and New York shores until it was decommissioned in 1953. After that, it was moved overland to Shelburne where it is now on exhibit.
- 12Adams Family Farm, Wilmington. The Adams Family Farm has been operating as a family-run enterprise since 1865. It remains a working farm under the ownership of Christopher Adams, a fifth generation family farmer. Buy locally grown meat, eggs, and maple syrup at the farm store and take part in the many seasonal activities hosted on the property throughout the year. Activities include horseback riding, wagon rides, fishing, pony rides, and farm-to-table BBQs.
- 13Old First Congregational Church, Bennington. This historic church building is the meeting place of the First Congregation of Protestants, the first in the region. Although the congregation was "gathered" in 1762, the church building was not built until 1805. The importance of this church in American and Vermont history is that it was the first that reflected the American notion of separation of church and state. The building has been kept up by the Church organization alone with no government assistance or interference.
- 14The Rokeby Museum, Ferrisburgh. With structures dating back to the 1780's, The Rokeby Museum preserves the history of the land and the buildings on it, particularly as it relates to the Underground Railroad, which brought freed slaves up from the South to where they could be safe and free.
- 15Stellafane Observatory, Springfield. Built as a meeting place for the telescope and astronomy nerds in 1924, modern versions of these nerds still meet there every year.
Method 3: In Connecticut
Connecticut has been the home to artists, artisans, authors, and industrialists. Like Maine and other New England states, it has a strong connection to the ocean and to the whaling industry.
- 1Mystic Seaport. Connecticut, like other New England states, has a rich maritime history, and that's what Mystic Seaport is all about. From preserving historic vessels that you can board and see first hand and see how the men who worked aboard these ships lived, to the beautiful village itself with its taverns, inns, and shops. A notable exhibit is the Charles W. Morgan, which is the last of a fleet of 2,700 wooden whaling vessels.
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