Travel

My American Road Trip, Part 1: Leaving Town

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 17 Comments

 

Two years ago, almost to the day, I drove my little hatchback from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, with nothing more than a couple boxes of kitchen items, some books, and my boyfriend, Blaise. I had said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and headed out to become an assistant editor with Preservation magazine. (Writing about old buildings and the people who save them? Definitely worth the 2,500-plus mile drive.)

Other than a few brutal battles with humidity (I lost), I have loved every second of my time here. What’s not to like about a city that’s immanently walkable, with traces of history around every corner? And from my little perch in a 1909 row house, I’ve watched my neighborhood of Columbia Heights change, grow, and welcome new residents who have restored their own old houses or started businesses in empty storefronts.

But now Blaise and I are packing up the car again and pointing her west, back to Los Angeles, where, I’m happy to say, I’ll be continuing my work with Preservation. In my new location, I’ll be bringing you all the latest news from the West Coast -- and, for the next two weeks, from many of the places I’ll pass on my way there.

After all, the best part about driving between coasts is being able to investigate all the nooks and crannies that you miss when you fly over them.

I leave DC today (gulp). From there, I’ll be driving to Nashville to check out the historic sites, then on to do the same in Columbia, Missouri; Boulder, Colorado; Jackson, Wyoming; Butte, Montana; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Davis, California; and finally, Los Angeles. That’s a lot of ground to cover in such a short time, but if there is something in any of those cities -- or on the roads in between -- that I absolutely must not miss, I am all ears.

Rest assured, my laptop and my camera are fully charged, ready to document those places that make the United States such an exciting place to explore.

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

 

I've guessed at the British folk rock band Mumford & Sons' affection for old and interesting places since seeing their "Sigh No More" album cover showing the band standing in an old London shop window. The music video for their popular song "Little Lion Man," which was filmed at London's historic Wilton's Music Hall, furthered that theory.

But it wasn't until I heard about their upcoming summer "Gentlemen of the Road" tour -- which stops to perform at and give back to four small main streets and downtowns across the country this August -- that I realized they were really serious about these places.

According to the band: "We want to stop off in towns where bands don't usually tour, and celebrate the people, food, and music that make them special. We’re keen to promote the town’s local businesses, and we’ll be using the local bars and venues for after-show parties, whilst working closely with the local people to get everyone involved in making these shows spectacular."

Another reason we love this idea? Two of the selected towns are National Trust Main Street communities: Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee (considered to be the birthplace of country music) and Dixon, Illinois. And get this: the tour producers are generously giving one percent of ticket sales to the local Main Street programs to help with their revitalization efforts, and have worked out agreements to bring in additional revenue from the shows and after parties.

Check out the full "Gentlemen of the Road" tour website for more information on ticket sales, interesting tidbits about the towns, and where to eat, drink, and visit while you're there.

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.

 

Starting in the late 16th century through to the 18th century, rich, young Europeans (and later Americans) traveled around Europe on something known as the "Grand Tour." Meant to be a capstone to formal education, the Tour involved a period of travel to some of Europe's great cities with the intention of introducing individuals to society, art, and culture.

For the last two weeks, as I made my way to two distinctive cities, I wondered what a modern Grand Tour in the United States would be like. What would be the unexpected places that would serve as a window into our culture, our architecture, and our people?


Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward neighborhood.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, I spent the last two weeks traveling to Wisconsin and Texas. I'll be honest -- if given a choice, I doubt that Milwaukee and Fort Worth would have been high on my list of intentional personal travel destinations -- but while I was there, each city succeeded in opening my heart in unexpected ways to what they had to offer.

I don't know what expectations I had for Milwaukee -- aside from its robust brewing past and present -- but I'll leave that alone for now and instead talk about its Historic Third Ward neighborhood, replete with converted warehouses, a fantastic Public Market, shops, and a river walk. Added to the National Register in 1984, the neighborhood is made up of enormous brick buildings that used to be centers of manufacturing. While some of the spaces are still vacant, the neighborhood is very much alive with residents, businesses, and creative public spaces.


The Mitchell Park Conservatory.

I also got a chance to visit the Mitchell Park Conservatory. Three mid-century domes replaced the old conservatory (which is probably an interesting preservation story in and of itself) in 1959. They loom high, and house three different ecosystems, each arrayed with a magical array of smells, sounds, and temperatures: tropical, desert, and a show dome for fancy flowers. I took delight in the way the arcing lines of the dome mimick the curve of the earth upon which these plants grow. ... Read More →

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.

 

Written by David Alpert

I recently visited an American city with many downtown buildings from a long-departed industry. The city's downtown is now experiencing new life, and many of the historic buildings are finding new uses after sitting vacant for many years.

 
This is a complex of old warehouses which have now become retail and offices. The developer added a really amazing water feature, a long river which cascades down waterfalls at various intervals. There are small footbridges across the river and even stepping stones to cross in one place.

The old chutes for the products remain and now serve as decorative flourishes. In the center is an old railcar, like those that once transported goods to and from the facility.

 
At another location nearby, people have turned several old garages into bars and music halls. They've also become a popular spot for food trucks, and two were sitting outside as we passed by on a Saturday.

 
Both of these [examples] demonstrate the preservation concept of "adaptive reuse." Old, historic buildings can become a valued part of a changing community by taking on different functions that residents need today. The distinct architecture of the structures and the small details that nobody would build today adds character and interest.

Can you guess the city?

[Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington]

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington. He has had a lifelong interest in great cities and great communities.

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

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Travel is almost always at least a little stressful, but it's also incredibly exhilarating -- because with it comes the chance to experience new (or familiar) places, and to make new stories both for yourself and about the places you're visiting. In my case I'm headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by five days in Fort Worth, Texas.

I have about two hours before I head out on the road (well, the air really) for two weeks. As usual, a few hundred thoughts are running through my head: Did I finish all the perishables? Did I pack enough clothing that will work in both climates?


Milwaukee's vibrant riverwalk and warehouses of the Third Ward neighborhood. (Photo: anaxila on Flickr)

But packing my physical bag is not enough. Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.

For instance, did you know that Milwaukee is where the typewriter was invented? Or that Fort Worth is where 60 percent of our money is minted? Both random, fun facts that I've encountered in my research.

The purpose of both trips is not limited to vacations in disparate parts of the United States. Rather, they already include time spent on preservation and history. My trip to Milwaukee is for the National Council on Public History/Organization of American Historians annual meeting, while my Fort Worth travel involves tours and conversations regarding issues facing preservation nonprofits across the country. But outside the meetings I want to make sure that I make the most of the time away from the office.


The historic Fort Worth Stock Yards. (Photo: samuel_belknap on Flickr)

So I'm feeling the pull -- that urge to make sure that I don't miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.

What do you go see when you visit a new city or town? Do you look for its history? The museums, the art, the culture? Do you look for the social scene or the main street?

And -- as I blatantly use this post for recommendations -- if you know Milwaukee or Fort Worth well, let me know what the "must see" places are. I promise to report back!

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.