Immerse yourself in American history where much of it began.
By Kristy Tolley
From visiting monuments honoring America’s sons and daughters in Washington, D.C., to strolling the cobblestone streets of historic Williamsburg, exploring our nation’s heritage is a wonderful way to gain an appreciation for the events that brought our freedoms to light. In-depth itineraries with varied AAA preferred travel partners can provide extensive insights — and sometimes an exclusive glimpse — into museums, landmarks and historic homes.
Monuments and Memorials
Time spent in Washington D.C., will help you gain a new perspective on the city’s over 225-year history. A good place to begin is at America’s most famous house, the White House. Public tour requests must be made through your member of Congress and submitted up to three months in advance (and no less than 21 days prior to your visit). One of the advantages of choosing a group tour with a AAA travel partner is that the legwork for those types of things is already managed.
Visitors get a peek into public rooms in the East Wing, which include the State Dining Room, the China Room, the Blue Room and views of the White House Rose Garden (among others). Planning a garden at the White House began with President Washington and continued throughout the years with several presidents adding noteworthy improvements. Edith Roosevelt worked with the White House Gardener in 1902 to create a colonial garden. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife Ellen replaced the colonial garden with a rose garden in 1913, giving today’s garden its name. In addition to roses, the gardens teem with tulips, crabapple blossoms, scarlet salvia, chrysanthemums and other colorful blooms.
After your White House tour, take time to peruse the nearly 1,600-square-foot museum style White House Visitor Center. You’ll find varied permanent and rotating exhibits, a large-scale model of the White House and immersive elements. Also on display are nearly 100 White House artifacts, many of which have never been on public display.
Some preferred partner itineraries may include exclusive experiences like early admission to the Rotunda of the National Archives with a private viewing of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights with a National Archives researcher.
Built to honor George Washington, one of our founding fathers and our nation’s first president, the 555-foot marble obelisk has been a focal point of Washington, D.C., for over 150 years. Enter the ground floor lobby to board the elevator that ascends to the top-floor, 500-foot observation deck at the base of the pyramidion that provides views out two windows on each side. Viewing from outside, you might notice a significant color change in the monument’s stone. When construction began on the monument in 1854, the Washington National Monument Society ran out of money, forcing them to halt the project. In 1884, the U.S. Government took over the project and completed the upper two-thirds using marble from a different quarry.
Architect Henry Bacon believed that a memorial to a man who defended democracy should reflect the birthplace of democracy. This prompted him to model the Lincoln Memorial after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The memorial’s 36 fluted Doric columns represent each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of President Lincoln’s death.
As you ascend the steps of the memorial, you can almost hear the echoes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech or Marian Anderson’s powerful rendition of ‘Of Thee I Sing’ performed one brisk Easter evening in 1939.
The inside of the memorial is divided into three chambers separated by two rows of four Ionic columns. Look up to admire the glowing ceiling framed by bronze girders and embellished with laurel and oak leaves. The sight of the larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln is likely to evoke a sense subdued reflection and awe.
Spend time along the National Mall, the swath of land dubbed “America’s front yard.” Here you’ll find the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million people who served in the U.S. armed forces and the more than 400,000 who died. Often called “The Wall That Heals,” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans two acres. The memorial chronologically lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who fought and died in the controversial war, as well as those who were unaccounted for during the war.
Venture outside Washington D.C. to discover more of our nation’s historic gems. Tread in George Washington’s footsteps at his beloved former home, Mount Vernon. Overlooking the Potomac River, it’s perhaps one of America’s most iconic 18-century homes. The beginnings of Mount Vernon took shape when George’s father constructed a one and one-half story home in 1734. When George took charge of Mount Vernon 20 years later, he expanded it over the next 45 years to create the estate we see today. An average of 1 million people visit each year to take in the mansion and its verdant gardens and grounds, as well as enjoy immersive programs and museum galleries.
There’s no shortage of historic spots in Richmond, Virginia. Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia State Capitol was modeled after an ancient Roman temple in France. It was completed and first occupied by Virginia’s General Assembly in 1788. This National Historic Landmark also served as a meeting place for the Confederate Congress during the Civil War.
Don’t miss a visit to St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech before the second Virginia Convention in 1775, which included future presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. His persuasive speech is credited with altering the course of the American Revolution.
Other historic highlights in Virginia include Jamestown Settlement, the first permanent English settlement in the new world. This 46-acre living history museum chronicles the history of America’s first English colony. Here you’ll find re-creations of a Powhatan Indian Village and Jamestown Fort. You can also board replicas of Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, the three ships that carried America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia in 1607. A riverfront discovery area provides a deeper look into European, Powhatan and African economic activities associated with water.
Costumed interpreters dressed in period clothing bring 18-century history alive for visitors at Colonial Williamsburg, once Britain’s largest colony in the New World. As you tour authentically restored buildings like the Courthouse, the Governor’s Palace and Raleigh Tavern, the critical meeting place for radical members of the House of Burgesses in 1769. Strolling through Williamsburg, you’ll encounter local artisans, tradespeople and residents who’ll happily share their stories of life in Colonial times.
Explore our nation’s history today! Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 to plan your perfect itinerary.
(Traveler Summer 2020)