America’s history spans several centuries as waves of pilgrims, pioneers and settlers spread across the New World. Some places were founded a little over a century ago, and others, such as Plymouth, Massachusetts, which is preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary, predate the country.
History often gets pushed aside as dull and dusty, but these historic destinations, whether they exemplify 1700s Europe or embody the spirit of the Wild West, bring history to life
Dodge City, Kansas
Dodge City, Kansas, is known around the world as an iconic American frontier town that embodies the spirit of the Wild West. That reputation is probably “a little bit romanticized” in Westerns and, of course, the television series “Gunsmoke,” but all those fictional characters and their stories “are composites of people who really existed,” said Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau director Jan Stevens.
“The Hollywood version of Dodge City is really interesting, but the truth is much more interesting,” she said.
Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday all spent time in Dodge City, and Dora Hand was a dance hall singer and actress that was accidentally killed in the first “ride-by shooting,” Stevens said.
“There’s lots of great history here, and it’s real history,” she said.
At the Boot Hill Museum, visitors can step back in time when they step inside false-front wooden buildings. The re-created Western town includes real artifacts from the period housed in a saloon, a drugstore, a hardware store and other buildings. The museum also does shootout shows and a chuck-wagon dinner. At the top of the hill, groups can wander around Boot Hill cemetery, the town’s pauper graveyard.
When visitors tour Boot Hill Distillery in the old City Hall, they’ll also get to see the old jail and fire department. Groups of 25 can take a Historic Trolley Tour to see the Lora Locke Hotel, Fort Dodge and the Home of Stone mansion, which is also open for tours; step-on guides are also available. Dodge City Days is a 10-day festival in July and August that celebrates the city’s Western heritage with rodeos, parades and a longhorn cattle drive.
St. Charles, Missouri
In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition first made camp on the Missouri River in St. Charles, Missouri, launching into the unknown. Today, the city takes pride in its Lewis and Clark history.
The Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center museum, which sits on the riverbank, offers groups tours of exhibits that include dioramas of the expedition, native prairie replicas, and keelboats and pirogues like those the Corps of Discovery used.
The museum is on Bishop’s Landing on the river, which is just a block east of the city’s crown jewel: its 10-block restored historic district. The neighborhood dates to the 1800s, and more than 100 specialty shops and restaurants line its gas-lamp-lit, brick-paved streets. The CVB offers walking tours with guides wearing historic attire showing off the Main Street district, where buildings date back to the 1700s. Also downtown, next door to the visitor center, is the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site, where groups can tour the building that served as the capitol from 1821 to 1826.
A few blocks north, the Foundry Arts Centre is a working art facility with 20 artist studios upstairs and gallery space on the ground floor, housed in a 1920s train-car factory. Just a five-minute walk away, groups can tour the Shrine of St. Philippine Duchesne at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. Docents lead groups through the shrine and talk about the French missionary who brought formalized education for girls to the Missouri frontier in 1818.
About 30 miles west of St. Charles is the Historic Daniel Boone Home at Lindenwood Park. At this 300-acre site, groups can tour Boone’s home and the adjacent Boonesfield Village, with a blacksmith shop, a log cabin and a chapel.