Best Historical Sites in the Mid-Atlantic States Part Two Virginia vs In West Virginia
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney
The mid-Atlantic states of Virginia and West Virginia were once just Virginia, but the Civil War, a conflict that often pitted brother against brother, tore the state into two, one re-joining the Union and the other remaining with the Confederacy until the South lost the war. Although the wounds of that awful war have healed, the two Virginias remained separate. Here's a rundown of the best historical sites that these states have to offer.
Method 1: Virginia
Virginia is important to U.S. history because it was one of the first English colonies established in the New World and saw decisive battles in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Here are 15 historic sites that you should visit while you are in Virginia.
- 1Mount Vernon. George Washington, a Revolutionary War hero, founding father, and the first President of the United States lived on this estate from 1759 to until his death on December 14, 1799. The home itself is a 21-room Georgian manor typical of the era. The home is on a hill which looks out over the Potomac River and also contains extensive gardens and a four-acre farm.Advertisement
- 2Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington. A symbol of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, this somber location holds the graves of some 400,000 active duty military, veterans, and their families. The rows of white gravestones on the carefully manicured lawn present a serious reminder of the price so many have paid for the freedoms Americans cherish. It also includes the graves of President John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.Advertisement
- 3Manassas National Battlefield Park. The Battle of Manassas was the first significant battle of the Civil War. On July 21, 1861, the Confederate forces, led by General P.G. Beauregard fought and won the battle against the Union soldiers, led by General Irvin McDowell. There was a second battle at that location in August of 1862 when General Lee's Confederates clashed with General Pope's Union soldiers in another sound defeat.
- 4White House of the Confederacy, Richmond. This home was the residence of the only President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis and is called the White House of the Confederacy because the Rebels thought of it as analogous to the White House in Washington DC. Davis lived there only for the period of his short-lived presidency, from 1861 to 1865, and later in the 19th century, it was designated a museum.
- 5Monticello. This stately mansion and estate were the home of founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who also wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson began building his home in 1769 but presided over an extensive remodel from 1796 to 1809. The home and grounds were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the only home in the United States to have this honor.
- 6Yorktown Battlefield. Yorktown was the site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War. It was here that the English forces, led by Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans and ended the years' long conflict. Park rangers conduct tours of important sites, and there are displays that show how the events played out on a momentous day.
- 7Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond. Kill two birds with one stone by visiting this museum, and no, they don't have to be Ravens! It was opened by a group of dedicated Poe fans in 1922 when their request for a monument in commemoration of the great poet was denied. It was housed in the oldest known structure in Richmond, "the old stone house," which was built in the 1740's.
- 8Booker T Washington National Monument, Hardy. This was the tobacco plantation where Booker T. Washington was raised. See the house where he was born and where he lived as he grew up. Tobacco had always been an important crop in Virginia, and you can see some of how such a plantation functioned here.
- 9Jamestown Settlement. Established in 1607 by Captain John Smith, Jamestown is the oldest English settlement in North America. There is not much left of the original structures except for remnants, including the footings of the church tower that went up in 1639. The museum was built in 1957 for the 350th anniversary of the town's founding, and there, you can see exhibits detailing the lives of the colonists as well replicas of a Powhatan Village, and the ships that brought the colonists over.
- 10Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg was the state's capital during the Colonial and Revolutionary War period, and as such, it contains a wealth of history from that period. Many of the buildings from that time have either been preserved in their original state or reconstructed to resemble it, and costumed actors roam the streets, performing re-enactments of what life was like back then. It's a fun place for the entire family to enjoy a slice of American history.
- 11Appomattox Court House. Appomattox Court House was the site of the final battle in the American Civil War on April 9, 1865. Following his defeat at Petersburg, General Robert E. Lee rallied his exhausted Confederate troops for one final push, but seeing how badly outnumbered he was, decided to surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender took place at William McClean's home, which has also been preserved.
- 12Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. This park commemorates four separate and key Civil War battles: Wilderness, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania. It covers 8,374 acres of land around where the original battles occurred and included the Union headquarters and military hospital at Chatham Manor.
- 13Christ Church, Alexandria. If you want to see an authentic colonial-era church, Christ Church is one of the most authentic in the country. Completed in 1773, it has not been significantly altered since that time. It was designed by James Wren and is Georgian in style, which is typical for its era. Notable visitors include George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
- 14Gadsby's Tavern, Alexandria. Gadsby's Tavern has been around since it was built in 1785 and has been serving patrons since that time. Like many taverns during colonial days, it was the gathering place for townsfolk to come, have a bite to eat and a pint or two while chatting with their neighbors about local events. The tavern still operates out of its original dining room, but there is also a museum on site with artifacts of life in the new nation.
- 15Scotchtown. Scotchtown was the home of Virginia's first governor, Patrick Henry, and his family. They lived there from 1771 to 1778, harvesting tobacco on the plantation. Patrick Henry is best known for his firebrand statement "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Take the 30-minute guided tour to see the restored rooms and see how Henry and his family lived back then.
Method 2: In West Virginia
West Virginia started out as the western portion of Virginia, but the Civil War caused it to split the state into two, with West Virginia forming out of that western portion and rejoining the Union. Here are important historical sites that you should not miss when you visit that state.
- 1New River Bridge, Fayetteville. The New River Bridge is a steel arch bridge that spans over the New River Gorge. Opened in 1977, this bridge set world records at the time for height and span: it sits 876 feet from the river, and its span is 1,700 feet. It has since been succeeded by a couple of Chinese bridges in the 2000's. The best time to see the bridge is during Bridge Day, which occurs every October on the 3rd Saturday of the month. On that day, the bridge is closed to all traffic except pedestrians. Join the crowds as you walk across the bridge and enjoy the spectacular views of the river and the surrounding landscape, and if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can even participate in the sport of BASE jumping, in which you jump off the bridge and parachute down to safety.Advertisement
- 2Harper's Ferry National Historical Park. This historical park is located where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet. It is the location of the abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid that drove the nation closer to the civil war. Other things to see here include a hub of the Appalachian Trail, twenty miles of trails, and some museums with historical exhibits that date back to the Civil War and beyond.
- 3Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Built in 1901 for the purpose of ferrying lumber for the forest to the mill, the Cass Railroad has been converted into a scenic train ride up to the top of Bald Knob where the 1940's logging camp of Whitaker Station has been faithfully re-imagined. Settle down and get comfortable because the journey takes four and half hours as the original steam locomotive pulls you up a winding track with grades as steep as 11 percent.
- 4West Virginia Penitentiary. Opened in 1876 and in operation until 1995, this prison housed as many as 1,000 prisoners and performed 100 executions. It is open from April through November for tours, during which you a survey the tiny cells where the prisoners slept, the dining hall where they ate, and the execution chamber where many drew their last breaths. If you're brave, come during the night when ghosts are said to roam its halls, crying out for vengeance against the wrongs done to them within its walls.
- 5Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Part of the dark history of the treatment of mentally-ill persons in the United States and around the world in the 19th century, construction of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was finished in 1881. Tour the building to learn about how mental illness was treated as well as details surrounding its architecture.
- 6West Virginia State Capitol, Charleston. The seat of the Virgina State Legislature, the State Capitol building was constructed between the years of 1924 to 1932. Its most unique feature is its golden dome, which rises to 293 feet and is five feet taller than the U.S. Capitol building. The State Capitol is open for public tours daily.
- 7Fort Edwards at Capon Bridge. Fort Edwards was a Colonial British outpost during the early and middle of the 18th century. Its most important moments came during the French and Indian War when it was key to protecting the Western Frontier from invasion by the French. A visitors center has displays and artifacts from that time period, and you can see a restored colonial kitchen as well.
- 8Adaland Mansion, Philippi. This two-story home built in the Greek-revival style popular during its era was constructed in 1868. It represents the oldest home in Philippi and is open for guided tours through the home. Also on the site is a barn built in 1850 where you can see demonstrations of common 19th-century crafts such as candle making, spinning, and weaving.
- 9Barbour County Historical Museum, Philippi. This little museum is a little weird. Alongside some Civil War rifles, swords, and photos on display are also two mummied corpses of mental patients from the year 1888.
- 10Historical Charles Town. Keeping it all in the family, Charles Town was founded in 1786 by Charles Washington, the younger sibling of the better-known George Washington. But that's not Charles Town's claim to historical fame; that honor goes to being the place where the abolitionist and upstart John Brown was tried and executed. From the Jefferson County Courthouse where you can see where he was tried and sentenced to the museum where you can see the cot he slept in and even the wagon that took him to his death, you can get a clear picture of what his last days were like. Additionally, there are fine examples of 18th and 19th-century homes here, some the very first homes to be owned by African Americans.
- 11Bulltown Historic Area. Bulltown was the location of an important Confederate attack on a Union-controlled Fort to block the Union's access to the valley. The attack occurred on October 13, 1863, and was ultimately unsuccessful. Run by the US Army Corps of Engineers, this site commemorates that battle. On site are Civil War era rifles and even a howitzer.
- 12Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. This battlefield is what established the state of West Virginia as a separate from Virginia. On September 10, 1861, the Union and Confederate armies clashed in battle, with the Union coming out the victor. This allowed it to take over the western portion of Virginia, and on June 20, 1863, West Virginia was admitted to the Union.
- 13Fayetteville Historic District, Fayetteville. The Fayetteville Historic District pays homage to Fayetteville's namesake, the Marquis de Lafayette, the famous French officer who served under General George Washington and whose French soldiers aided the fledgling nation in securing its independence from Great Britain.
- 14West Virginia Independence Hall. This building has seen its share of historical debates including the vote in 1861 to secede from Virgina and enter the Union as West Virginia as well as debates on the morality and merits of slavery, among others. Its three floors contain a variety of exhibits from Civil War times, including the original battle flags and the desk of Governor Francis H, Pierpont.
- 15Blair Mountain, Logan County. In the late summer of 1927, a group of 30,000 coal miners who were attempting to unionize the West Virginia coalfields attacked about 3,000 police and strikebreakers in a violent and bloody clash that would be the best organized and largest armed labor conflict since the Civil War. The rebellion was put down by the United States Army on the orders of the President.
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Categories : Travel & Leisure
Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw