How would you construct a chronological map of American history? Would you put your first "dot" in Puerto Rico, where Columbus initially set foot on what is now American territory? Or in Jamestown, Virginia, site of the first English settlement? For the turning point of the Civil War, would it be Vicksburg, Mississippi or Antietam, Maryland, places of fierce battles; or Appomattox, Virginia, where peace was made? Would you choose places where a railroad track was laid, or where a religious leader created a community?
Clearly any chronological map of American history would be unabashedly arbitrary and subjective. But also fun.
Following is a suggested chronological path of just over two centuries of American history, with one great benefit: all these places may still be visited today. In some cases they have been artfully restored, in others remarkably unchanged and in still others marked only by tantalizingly mysterious remains. And for history-loving travelers who like to build their excursions around very special events, fall is an ideal time to do so.
The Louisiana Purchase is
The Cabildo was built in 1795-99 as the seat of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans, and was the setting for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Devastated by fire in 1988, the State Museum's flagship building - a National Historic Landmark - underwent years of painstaking restoration and has now reopened to the public. Visitors to the "new" Cabildo can see a continuing evolution of dramatic social change and cultural and ethnic diversity. More than a thousand artifacts and works of art, integrated into cases, panels and interactive displays, tell the Louisiana story in a unique way.
The setting for die actual "purchase" is in the Cabildo's Sala Capitular. Because only a small inventory of 1803 furnishings survived, curators researched other Spanish colonial buildings and period furniture to re-create the setting of the Louisiana Purchase transfers. Artisans worked with staff to make the tables, chairs and benches referred to in records.
The very same room was also the site where several major court issues were argued, including Plessy vs. Ferguson, which established the doctrine of separate but equal, later sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other museum buildings include: the Old U.S. Mint, the oldest existing U.S. Mint building and home to an exhibition on jazz and Mardi Gras; and the Presbytere, originally intended as a home for priests, now housing exhibits on state history and culture.
Music dominates Louisiana's fall calendar with the Baton Rouge Blues Festival (October 14-15), begun 14 years ago to preserve the heritage of local musicians; and the Celtic Music Festival (October 28-29) in New Orleans which, besides music, boasts foods and crafts from Scotland, Wales, Brittany, and Ireland.
The Star-Spangled Banner is
Fort McHenry, Baltimore's star shaped fort, is the place Francis Scott Key had in view from a ship on the Patapsco River the night (September 14, 1814) he wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." To get the full history of the poem, visit the Maryland Historical Society in the city's cultural corridor where the original manuscript is on display.
Historic St. Marys City, an outdoor-living history museum that is home to such sites as the remains of the first English Catholic chapel in the New World, was originally founded as Maryland's first settlement and capital. On October 21 and 22, the annual Grand Militia Muster will feature 17th-century reenactments, pike and musket drill, swordplay, camp-cooking and historic costuming.
Railroads Begin to
Open the "West"
In 1817 American industrialists created the 37-mile Allegheny Portage Railroad - a series of 10 inclined planes constructed to lift rail cars from level to level over steep mountainside - to solve the problem of how to cross the Allegheny Mountains and extend shipping routes further west. …