It’s hard to choose which patriotic attractions to visit on a tour of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic because both regions are steeped in U.S. history. Here are some sites that should be on any group’s itinerary because they represent major victories or turning points, for good or ill, in our nation’s history.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park commemorates the three-day Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, which took place in July 1863. The Union was victorious, successfully stopping General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North. It was a major turning point of the Civil War. Not only was it the bloodiest battle of the war, but it also inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Group visitors wanting to learn more about the battle should first stop at the Gettysburg Heritage Center to watch a 20-minute introductory film about the battle, see a 360-degree Cyclorama painting depicting the battle, and visit the museum to learn about the battle through interactive displays, 3D video and photography. There is a fee to visit these three attractions, but the battlefield park is free.
Groups can organize a tour of the battlefield with licensed battlefield guides who can step on the bus and give a two- to three-hour driving tour of the site, which covers more than 6,000 acres. The site’s natural beauty stands in contrast to the death and destruction that occurred back in 1863, and many people visit just to get out into nature. Eisenhower National Historic Site, the former home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, is another nearby spot worth a visit, since Eisenhower used his farm as a second Camp David, welcoming foreign dignitaries during the Cold War.
History buffs will want to spend a few days in Boston following the Freedom Trail to learn about the American Colonists and their bid for freedom from the British. The trail is a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that takes visitors to 16 historically significant sites, including museums, meeting houses, churches and burial grounds.
Boston Harbor is the site of the infamous Boston Tea Party and the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat today. The ship launched in Boston in 1797 and earned the nickname Old Ironsides during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere.
The Old North Church is the site that launched the American Revolution. It is Boston’s oldest church and is best known for the midnight ride of Paul Revere when he was tasked with putting lanterns in the tower “one if by land, two if by sea” to alert the Colonial militia the British were coming.
Groups can tour Paul Revere’s home, as well as the Old State House, which is the oldest surviving public building in the city, built in 1713. The Boston Massacre happened on March 5, 1770, and was a clash between the people of Boston and the Redcoats over their occupation and taxation. Five civilians were killed by gunfire, and the event led to the city’s denizens rallying against the British crown.
Private Freedom Trail tours are available, led by 18th-century costumed guides. They can be customized to fit any schedule and are available year-round for groups of any size.
Most tours include entrance fees to Freedom Trail sites.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Built on the site of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum tells the story of September 11, 2001. Visitors to the museum will experience “In Memoriam,” an exhibition that honors the 2,977 individuals killed as a result of the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Using artifacts, images, first-person testimony, archival audio and video recordings, this exhibition and others relay how the terrorist attack unfolded, what happened immediately afterward and the ongoing repercussions.
The 9/11 Memorial takes up about half of the former World Trade Center complex, with twin reflecting pools that are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Bronze parapets are engraved with the names of everyone who died as a result of the attacks, including from the impact of the planes and the buildings collapsing. The North Pool commemorates the victims of Flight 11, the collapse of World Trade Center North and the victims of the World Trade Center attack on Feb. 26, 1993. The South Pool commemorates the victims of World Trade Center South, first responders, Flights 175, 77 and 93 and the Pentagon attack.
Groups of 20 or more people are required to schedule their visit through the group sales department. Tickets are required to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but the memorial itself is free to visit.
Groups can arrange hourlong guided tours of the memorial, some of which are available in the mornings before the site opens to the public.
The Submarine Force Museum-USS Nautilus
The USS Nautilus, which launched in January 1954, is the main attraction at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut. The vessel gained fame as the first nuclear-powered vessel, the first nuclear-powered submarine and the first nuclear-powered vessel to make it to the North Pole. The submarine set new standards. Not only could it get places faster, but it could stay submerged longer and stay out longer than any other sub that came before it.
“It was a drastic turning point in U.S. submarine history,” said Derek Sutton, director of the museum and officer-in-charge of Historic Ship Nautilus.
For the first time in 20 years, the Nautilus is undergoing preservation. It will receive a new coat of paint and new lighting. While the vessel is in dry dock, visitors can participate in the augmented reality experience, which gives a virtual tour of the sub from the convenience of a cell phone.
The museum is part of Submarine Base New London, which is the first and largest submarine base in the U.S., with 16 attack submarines home ported. The communities of Groton and New London have grown up around the U.S. Navy’s presence on the Thames River. If groups give advance notice of their visit, the museum will arrange a docent to provide an overview of the museum, its exhibits and answer any questions.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Overlooking Baltimore Harbor, Fort McHenry is a star fort that was made famous during the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, witnessed the 25-hour Battle of Baltimore on September 13–14, 1814, from the deck of an American truce ship in the harbor. After a long night of bombardment by the British, Scott Key marveled that the large flag flying over the fort was still there. It inspired him to write the poem that would become the U.S. national anthem.
The fort was active for more than 100 years and was named after George Washington’s Secretary of War, James McHenry, when it opened in 1803.
The Battle of Baltimore was the first military engagement at the fort, which later saw action during the Civil War and became a 3,000-bed hospital during World War I.
Visitors to the fort will want to stop at the park museum in the visitor center and watch the 10-minute orientation film, “Battle of Baltimore,” which talks about the creation of the national anthem. Rangers lead tours throughout the day, and living history demonstrations such fife-and-drum music and weapons demonstrations take place during the summer months. And visitors are always wowed when they can watch the flag being hoisted over the fort or taken down in the evening.