The Byway to Gettysburg: A Vista that Inspires

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment


My earliest historical memories as a child involve a road trip up to Gettysburg National Military Park. At the time it felt like an epic journey (field trips rule!) with a group of friends. I must have been in elementary school at the time because my impressions of that first trip are mostly of being somewhere away from school, and not much about the battlefield itself.

The battlefield. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

Fast forward a few years later. I was a senior in high school and we were back over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. What’s different about this time is context. We had spent weeks talking about the battle and its role in the Civil War. We watched Gettysburg, read The Killer Angels to see how the battle was interpreted, and recognized the love for a fictional Buster Kilraine. I knew more about what I was looking at, and where I was standing. Together the group - like many before us - reenacted Pickett’s Charge, posed in Devil’s Den like a Matthew Brady photograph, and tried to charge up Little Round Top - getting a clearer idea for tactics. It was a great trip. Public history at its finest.

The hills and woods of Gettysburg are covered in boulders. (Photo: macwagen on Flickr)

Although I've been to Gettysburg a few times since then, a day trip this past weekend made me think about the journey in a different way.  For those of you not from this city, Gettysburg is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, DC. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 270 and Route 15 just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania.  It is a beautiful drive with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising past you into a brilliant blue sky (in my case this was a surprisingly clear sky following a gentle snowfall).  It is also a drive that includes the Catoctin Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway.

Scenic byway through Gettysburg. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

I think the best definition of what a byway is from the New York Department of Transportation website which states “A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It's a road with a story to tell.” These roads push travelers off the beaten path and links together history, transportation and culture. In the case of the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway, you learn about the soldiers who marched to Gettysburg, Maryland’s Native American history, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint.

Above all else, what pulled me in and made me grateful for the opportunity was how the byway linked the natural beauty of our country with our past, providing me with a vista that inspires.

The National Scenic Byways Program is just one of many preservation programs threatened in the new American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7). Learn more about the bill and its effect on historic preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

I Brake for Brown Highway Signs (And Other Road Trip Thoughts)

Posted on: February 3rd, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment


Although I formally count train travel as my favorite mode of long-distance transportation (something about gliding through countryside and cities, admiring the backs of buildings and never getting stuck in traffic), my far more prevalent travel mode is the road trip.

No boarding calls to miss. No need for real luggage (a laundry basket or bundle of reusable grocery bags will do). The chance to split travel costs with friends. Frantic fast food roulette (will the next exit have better options??). That backseat jumble of pillows, outstretched legs, and stray french fries. Beef jerky. Nighttime belting of 80s and 90s classics as a caffeine substitute during exit-less and therefore often creepy and winding stretches. And the total (read: schedule-dependent) freedom to detour and explore.

Something about these brown signs always draws me in. (Photo: Jun Belen)

The beauty of road trips is that they aren't just about the destination. Those stops at seedy, half-lit gas stations tend to make up roughly/statistically 50 percent of the stories and memories of the trip itself. Or so it seems.

And if I'm in the driver's seat (with no apologies to history-hating and/or sleeping passengers), some exploration is hard to escape.  I'm a sucker for brown highway signs - you know, the ones advertising so-and-so's birthplace and this-or-that historic district, for ramshackle and seemingly abandoned buildings (keyword: seemingly; see: Memorial Day 2011 road trip to the beach with pit stop at awesomely-ruined-looking house that, upon further inspection, appeared to be an active meth lab), and any food or pitstop option that has more of an air of local-ness about it than just another Chick-fil-A (*ducks*).

Gotta stop for the local (and good for you, too!) stuff. (Photo: Flickr user futurowoman)

A few weeks ago I took such a trip down to Lowgap, North Carolina with a car-full of friends. If you've ever been, you'll remember it as the place with more farm fields and random highway-side patches of English Boxwoods than, anecdotally and without any real information, anywhere else in the country. At one point during the trip we found ourselves on a riverside road in Lexington, Virginia, in search of a gas station - one of those "gas arrow is already below E" moments where everyone's got their eyes peeled.

We were rolling along when all of a sudden we whooshed past (then quickly circled back for a better look) a little silver-colored building shaped like a coffee pot - which turned out to be an actual quasi-historic roadside attraction that we had absolutely no intention of seeing... but saw. And googled. And now love.

The abandoned ones. They beckon me. (Photo: Flickr user kristina k. dymond)

Sometimes it feels like historic preservation is this very formal and staid task. And, sometimes, it is. We talk about it as a responsibility, which it certainly is. But our interest and engagement with old and historic places can be as casual as slowing down to admire a building shaped like a pot. Or running screaming from a creepy old house. Or easing the gas pedal while passing through an old main street. Our appreciation and interaction with these places, whether accidental, intentional, planned, or spontaneous, is one of the most crucial elements of their eventual memory and sustainability.

I think I'll probably keep braking for brown highway signs. And sneaking up to scary houses for a closer look. And detouring and exploring and finding and remembering. Join me?

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Although he tends to prefer a more mellow playlist, he can say only somewhat ashamedly that, thanks to his latest female-heavy road trip, he now knows most of the lyrics to Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." At final edit, it appears the song will be stuck in his head for the remainder of the workday.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Climbers Inspect the Washington Monument for Earthquake Damage

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Sarah Campbell

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

Under a cloud-riddled sky, more than five hundred feet above tourists, Park Rangers, and news crews, an engineer secures ropes and cables to the apex of the Washington Monument. It’s not a sight seen every day, but is one, weather-permitting, we’ll be seeing over the next week.

The engineering firm of Wiss, Janney, Estner Associates, Inc . will send four members of its Difficult Access Team to rappel down each side of the monument and inspect its exterior stones, which suffered damage in the August 23rd earthquake. The structure was built between 1848 and 1884.

“WJE has hired the best. The rated climbers are also architects and engineers; they know what they’re looking at,” said Carol Bradley Johnson, communications officer for the National Mall & Memorial Parks.

The Washington Monument has been closed to the public since the 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The timetable for reopening hinges upon assessments made by the firm, hired by the National Park Service to access structural damage left by the natural disaster. Though the monument already has been determined to be fundamentally sound, cracks in its marble exterior, loss of joint mortar, and other concerns must be examined before the tourist favorite can reopen.

Yesterday, representatives of the National Park Service - the federal agency responsible for the monument - along with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie Meeks, were interviewed by PBS NewsHour about the inspection process and the importance of maintaining our national icons. Meeks said:

I would hope that what comes out of this is just sort of a re-awareness on behalf of all Americans about these significant structures that we all sort of take for granted -- they're in our backyards here in Washington, D.C. -- the really important national monuments across the country, and remember that they are vulnerable to natural occurrences like this and that they need our very best care and support.

WJE anticipates releasing a report outlining costs and next steps in mid-October.

View additional photos of the inspection process on Flickr, and video on You Tube.

Sarah Campbell is an intern at Preservation magazine.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Soon, it'll All be Nice on Ice at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Posted on: October 20th, 2010 by Guest Writer


Written by Liz Williams

Inside the ice well where ice was stored, using straw as insulation.

Inside the ice well where ice was stored, using straw as insulation.

At home, the ice maker in the fridge provides cold drinks in an instant. At a birthday party, what is birthday cake without the ice cream? To the modern traveler, the rattle of the hotel ice machine can mean welcome refreshment or the interruption of a good night’s sleep (depending on one’s perspective).

The common thread in all of these stories is ice. Today, ice is so easily accessible that it is usually taken for granted. But in Alexandria, Virginia, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s 18th century ice well--a contributing feature to this National Historic Landmark--is taking center stage during a restoration and education campaign.

For our nation’s founding fathers, ice was a luxury. Forget the local convenience store! You had to wait for the river to freeze, cut sections of ice into blocks with an enormous saw, haul the blocks by cart to an ice well or ice house, drop the blocks down a hatch, melt the ice together to create one big ice blob, and pack the ice mound with straw for insulation.

The result wasn’t something you would want to actually put into your drink. In fact, ice was used to chill your beverage from outside the glass. And in the 18th century, ice cream was all the rage; popular flavors were vanilla and oyster.

Sharing the story of the ice well.

Sharing the story of the ice well.

In 1792, Alexandria entrepreneur John Wise built an ice well adjacent to his newly constructed City Tavern to cement the establishment’s position as simply the best place in town. Eleven feet deep with the capacity to hold 68 tons of ice, the ice mound was accessed by slaves via a small tunnel from the tavern basement. When John Gadsby took over the tavern’s management, having a ready supply of ice allowed him to host some pretty fabulous parties, the most famous was George Washington’s Birthnight (or birthday) Ball. One can envision the smile on George’s face as he sat back to enjoy his bowl of ice cream with his cake.

The massive scale of the Gadsby’s Tavern ice well is hard to imagine, which is why part of the brick was cut away and windows were installed during a renovation in the 1970s. Unfortunately, 35 years of time and grime have taken their toll. Plant growth is abundant and cracks are appearing throughout the well, threatening to undermine its structural integrity.

Artist’s rendering of the ice well viewing area.

Artist’s rendering of the ice well viewing area.

Working with a team of preservation professionals, a plan has been created to fully restore the ice well and improve the visitor experience. New viewing windows will even be designed to open so that guests can feel the blast of cool air from the ice well’s interior. The open-plan seating will provide an inviting atmosphere to those walking by day or night. New signage and special engraved stones will explain the importance of the ice well not only for the tavern, but for thousands of travelers along the Eastern Seaboard.

So often the big, “pretty” preservation projects get all the attention and fundraising dollars. But, it is the utilitarian structures that really tell the forgotten stories of the past: a time without electricity and refrigeration. Without the ice well, Alexandria’s thriving center of hospitality wouldn’t have been so thriving, or hospitable.

And just think...without the ice well, George Washington would have missed out on that vanilla –or oyster-flavored!--ice cream with his birthday cake.

Liz Williams is the assistant director at Gadsby's Tavern Museum, owned and operated by the City of Alexandria. She previously worked in the National Trust's Preservation Services department as well as Woodlawn/Pope-Leighey. Contact her by email at liz.williams[at]alexandriava[dot]gov (replace the bracketed text with the customary symbols).

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

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How We Spent Our Summer Vacations

Posted on: September 2nd, 2010 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment


For National Trust staffers, summer means playtime -- a chance to visit all the historic places we love studying and sharing. What follows is a sample of our colleagues' adventures. But it's not all about us -- please share your travels in the comments!

Citizenship Ceremony at Mt. Vernon

Charlotte's husband poses with George and Martha Washington at his swearing-in ceremony at Mt. Vernon.

Charlotte Bonini, Senior Education Planner

July 4th, 2010 – it was a glorious day! My husband Driss became an American citizen on July 4th at Mt. Vernon. Yes, that’s right, Mt. Vernon!

Driss has been in the US for 12 years. Becoming a citizen was always something that he talked about doing and that day was finally here. Even with temperatures soaring toward 100, I still had goose bumps.

One hundred and one new citizens were to be sworn in; Driss was #100. Families, friends, and regular visitors to Mt. Vernon were there to witness our little piece of history. George Washington spoke, and we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance by a Marine who’d served in Iraq and was also being sworn in as a new citizen. Finally they all took their oath -- 101 of our newest citizens from the four corners of the Earth.

It was official. Driss had realized his dream of becoming a citizen. I can't say it enough -- it was truly a glorious day, exciting, thrilling, and downright moving. We have always enjoyed and celebrated the 4th of July; now we will do it as a proud American family.

David Brown, Executive Vice President

On this year's vacation/college tour with my kids, I paid my first visit to the Vassar campus. I must admit I’m a sucker for great libraries and the Thompson Memorial Library there didn’t disappoint.  The outside is fine early 20th century Gothic, but the inside is terrific.  I could study here all day!  As a friend of mine said, these really are cathedrals for learning.

Erica Stewart, Outreach Coordinator, Community Revitalization

Diamond Cove

The author visited the abandoned fort in the early '80s -- a preservationist in the making!

This summer I had the opportunity to return to a place I hadn’t been in almost 30 years but, as a favorite childhood destination, I had re-visited many times in my mind and in pictures.

When I was a young girl living in Maine, my grandparents would take me sailing along the coast and islands. If the winds and seas were favorable, they would give in to my pleadings to visit Great Diamond, a largely uninhabited Casco Bay island near Portland. We would quietly slip into a deserted cove, beach our rowboat on the shore, and then wander among the ruins of Fort McKinley.

Built at the turn of the century, the fort guarded Portland Harbor during the Spanish-American War and through World War II. During that time as many as 1,000 soldiers lived among its brick barracks and Queen Anne-style officers’ quarters which framed a grassy parade ground. Before that, the island was an artist retreat and vacation colony, attracting the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The fort was abandoned in 1945 and was totally deserted when we visited in the early 80s—the grounds overgrown and its artillery eerily silent.  My seven year-old imagination found the remains peaceful, mysterious, and a little bit scary.

Diamond Cove (restored)

The author returned to the island to see the graceful restoration of Diamond Cove, nearly 30 years later.

After forty years of vacancy, a private developer stepped in and restored the barracks and officers’ quarters into Diamond Cove, a community of condos and townhouses marked by original slate roofs, wooden porches, grand staircases, and fireplaces. The former Quartermaster's storehouse is now a high-end restaurant, the wagon shed is an art gallery, and the PX houses are a restored duckpin bowling alley, exercise room, and gymnasium.

Greater Portland Landmarks gave me the opportunity to visit the island on a daylong home and garden tour, where I could see firsthand the tasteful revival of this private community. The island is just as serene as I remembered, but any scariness I once felt as has been replaced by another feeling: envy.

James Schwartz, Editor-in-Chief, Preservation

We were visiting friends in New Hampshire earlier this year, and drove a few miles north of Concord to see Canterbury Shaker Village -- a remarkable historic site that can turn anyone into an instant admirer of Shaker architecture. Hundreds of Shakers (members of the religious group formally known as the United Society of Believers) lived here in the 19th century, and the buildings and gardens they left behind exemplify elegance and simplicity.

Walking around the 1792 meeting house, with its gambrel roof and 12-over-12 windows, reminded me that beautiful architecture has the capacity to inspire—even centuries after it was conceived. Next on my list? Two other U.S. Shaker villages:  Sabbathday Lake in Maine and Pleasant Hill in Kentucky.  I can’t wait.

Sarah Heffern, Content Manager

Having blown through a large portion of my travel budget for 2010 before the end of January, the theme of my summer was staycation. I vowed to myself that I’d find a way to be touristy even if I wasn’t traveling, and as part of that goal I decided to finally visit Mount Vernon.

Yes… I’m a life-long history geek who has lived in Washington, D.C. a dozen years and worked at the National Trust for more than a decade, but I had never gotten around to visiting the George Washington’s home, which is also mothership of the American historic preservation movement. It was a gaping – and embarrassing – hole in my preservationist street cred.

Ann Pamela Cunningham exhibit at Mt. Vernon

This Mt. Vernon exhibit features Ann Pamela Cunningham, the mother of the preservation movement in the U.S.

Though I don’t what on earth took me so long, I have to say that visiting toward the end of August turned out to be a great choice, as it wasn’t crowded and I could wander around at a leisurely pace taking pictures without being in anyone’s way.

And though I know the site is the home of the father of our country, I kept my eyes peeled the whole time looking for signs of the mother of our movement, Ann Pamela Cunningham, who was responsible for saving the site more than a century ago.

At last I found her – and the preservation story of Mount Vernon – on the way out of the museum, just before I left. Had there been a statue of her, I would have posed with it.


If we've inspired you to travel over Labor Day for one last summer hurrah, check out Gozaic for last-minute ideas on Labor Day festivities and events:

Summer's Last Gasp: Labor Day Events at Gozaic (Part 1)

More Ideas for Labor Day Events and Activities! (Part 2)

Have stories from your own summer travels? Please share them with us!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.