Tag Archives: National Park Service

History: Jamestown


The Jamestown settlement was about to fail, but then it found a crop it could sell to the folks back home for supplies and food. The crop that saved Jamestown? Tobacco. Uploaded by hill.troy.k12.mi.us.

What Sir Walter Raleigh and his Roanoke Island colonists failed to accomplish, the Jamestown settlers achieved: the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The first settlers arrived on Jamestown island on May 14, 1607, and though they endured hunger and disease and other hardships, they persevered.

Uploaded by kirkwood.k12.mo.us.

“Permanent” is somewhat misleading in this context, however. The settlement finally thrived once it based its economy on a profitable crop, tobacco. And Jamestown was the capital of the colony of Virginia until 1699, when it was moved to Williamsburg. Following that, Jamestown actually consisted mostly of farms, and housed no actual village.

Today, visitors to Jamestown can visit two historic exhibits, one operated by Virginia and one by the National Park Service. Jamestown Settlement grew out of Jamestown Festival Park, an exhibit created in 1957 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the settlement. Nearby is Historic Jamestowne, which has focused on unearthing archaeological relics that help tell what life in 17th century Virginia was like.

Most visitors to Jamestown stay in Williamsburg, which is connected to Jamestown by the historic Colonial Parkway – an enjoyable drive in itself.

Travel: Yorktown, Virginia

The Moore House in Yorktown, site of Cornwallis's surrender to George Washington. My father gave tours of the building as an employee of the Park Service. Uploaded by history.org.

Yorktown existed as a town beginning in 1691, or 80 years before it became famous. It was named “York” after the city in England (a trend in the area; witness “Portsmouth,” “Norfolk,” and “Hampton”), but it could just as well be called “Cornwallis’s Mistake.”

Uploaded by williamsburgcc.com.

This post isn’t about the particulars of the battle that served as the de facto end of the Revolutionary War. You can find out all those details at the National Park Service sites that dot the town. You can visit the redoubts, the Moore House (where the surrender was signed – Cornwallis didn’t attend because he was “sick”), and two attractive museums, the Yorktown Victory Center and the Yorktown Battlefield and Visitor Center.

The town of Yorktown is a quiet little community set alongside the York River. A trip could entail visiting 18th century homes, exploring the town’s quaint shops, strolling the new Riverwalk, even sitting on the little beach beside the river. Yorktown is one town in the Colonial Triangle, connected to Williamsburg (Great American Things, July 23, 2009) and Jamestown via the 23-mile-long Colonial Parkway.

Yorktown has a special sentimental value to me because it’s where my father grew up. My grandfather was a laborer on the Colonial Parkway, gratefully getting work from the WPA during the Depression. My father worked for the National Park Service, giving tours of the Moore House to visitors. Though the family moved to nearby Newport News after World War II, my father always had a special place in his heart for Yorktown. As do I…

History: Ellis Island

Those who came to the US as first and second class passengers didn't come to Ellis Island. But the poor, the hard cases, entered there. Uploaded by users.drew.edu.

For the twelve million immigrants who came through Ellis Island, and their now 100 million descendants, these 27.5 acres are sacred ground.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be Americans were processed at Ellis Island each year between 1892 and 1924, when immigration was strictly curtailed. Its busiest year was 1907, when just over a million people were processed. Its busiest day ever was that April 17, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. The center stayed open until 1954, serving mainly as a site for processing those to be detained or deported.

The vast majority of arrivals came aboard huge steamships. Those traveling first and second class received a brief screening aboard ship, but weren’t processed at Ellis Island. The belief was that if you could afford those tickets, you had the resources to make it without public assistance. Upon arriving in New York, they were free to go.

Those traveling third class or “steerage” had an altogether different experience. If their papers were in order and they were reasonably healthy, their processing took somewhere from three to five hours. Doctors were so used to seeing certain conditions that they were often able to pull the sick out out by a visual inspection. These became known as “six-second physicals.”

Uploaded by zeteacher.free.fr.

Ellis Island became part of the National Park Service in 1966 as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, its neighbor a half mile to the north. There’s an amazing museum on Ellis Island today, and you can get there by ferry from Jersey City or from the lower tip of Manhattan.

Here are just some of the notable people who entered the United States as immigrants on Ellis Island: Isaac Asimov, Charles Atlas, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, Xavier Cugat, Max Factor, Bela Lugosi, Knute Rockne, Rudolph Valentino, and Henny Youngman.

Americana: Gettysburg

About 50,000 Americans died on the Gettysburg battlefields. Uploaded to Flickr by Gregg Obst.

About 50,000 Americans died on the Gettysburg battlefields. Uploaded to Flickr by Gregg Obst.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous speech in American history, delivered at our most famous battlefield.

I’ll leave it to Civil War historians to dissect the strategies the competing armies employed on July 1-3, 1863. Suffice it to say it was the most lethal battle of the entire conflict, with some 50,000 casualties. Robert E. Lee had taken the fight to the North, and the defeat of his army by Union forces caused him to retreat to Virginia, and is generally considered the turning point of the war.

Ten sentences that will never be forgotten. Uploaded to Flickr by Second Story.

Ten sentences that will never be forgotten. Uploaded to Flickr by Second Story.

Lincoln visited the site four months later to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery, using the opportunity to say ten sentences, no more than three minutes, that would resonate forever among his countrymen. All Americans, not just Northerners, share Lincoln’s dream that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today, the National Park Services administers Gettysburg National Military Park, 6,000 acres of battlefield and surrounding land. A new Museum and Visitor Center that opened a year ago provides perspective not just on the Battle of Gettysburg, but the entire Civil War. There are also a variety of Ranger-led walks and programs around much of the sacred grounds.

America is one nation, and romantic notions of Southerners notwithstanding, we are fortunate to have a unified country. That ideal was in jeopardy – until three days in 1863 in a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.

Travel: Blue Ridge Parkway

uploaded by sebastien.mamy

uploaded by sebastien.mamy

Now, this is what a stimulus project is supposed to be. Authorized by Congress during the Great Depression, much of the early work on the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed by New Deal Agencies. The Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps all took part in construction and landscaping.

uploaded by StevenLPierce

uploaded by StevenLPierce

Although the work began in 1935, the full 469 miles weren’t completed for 52 years. The last stretch to be finished was near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Now the Parkway takes you from the southern end of the Skyline Drive through Virginia and North Carolina to Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Or at least, you can drive the full route in warmer months. Because of the altitude and frequent ice and snow, much of the Parkway is closed for extended periods during the winter.

Dogwoods and wildflowers bring the roadside to life in spring, but the most popular time of year, of course, is fall. One of the most beautiful and inspiring outings a family can enjoy is a drive along the Parkway to view the breathtaking fall colors. From late September through early November, this National Park Service property is more than a Great American Thing; it’s a national treasure.