By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
National Historic Landmarks are so designated when the federal government recognizes a property’s national significance — places where significant historical events occurred or where prominent Americans worked or lived; or places that present outstanding examples of design or construction or represent ideas that shaped the United States. From personal experience, they’re terrific! This month’s column will concentrate on landmarks east of the Appalachians; next month, we’ll travel a little farther west.
1. Adam Thoroughgood House, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The 17th-century house may look large from the outside, but it contains just two rooms downstairs and two above. No longer part of a plantation, it’s now owned by the Chrysler Museum of Art. The museum features an extensive display of light sources spanning the decades from open fire to the light bulb. For more information, call (757) 460-0007.
2. De Wint House, Tappan, New York
This small stone and brick house looks much like other houses of Dutch builders in the Hudson River Valley. It has only four rooms — a kitchen and a living room downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. The year 1700 is marked in brick on the side of the house, thus enabling historians to claim it’s the oldest standing residence in Rockland County. General George Washington stayed at this house four times during the American Revolution. For more information, call (845) 359-1359.
3. African House at Melrose Plantation, Melrose, Louisiana
The African House is just one of several buildings at Melrose Plantation. One of the first things you notice is its broad roof, shaped like an umbrella. It was so designed to protect the plantation’s slaves from the hot sun and the rain. After the 1883 death of Melrose’s owner, the house was left in the care of former slaves Jane Johnson and Alice Sims. This was a wise choice. The two women managed the house and property, resisting attempts to “restore” the house and to remove its fine furnishings. Johnson died at the age of 103 and Sims at age 96. For more information call (318) 379-0055.
4. Old South Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House was the largest building in colonial Boston. It’s not surprising that the church also was used for town meetings. Samuel Adams and his “Sons of Liberty” held a meeting there in December 1773 to protest a tax on tea. It led to the Boston Tea Party. For more information, call (617) 482-6439 or visit www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org.
5. African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts
By the beginning of the 19th century, Boston had one of the largest communities of free blacks in North America. This, the oldest African-American church in the United States, was built in 1806. Before the Civil War, the meeting house also was used as a place to cry out for the end of slavery. The famous and fiery abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke there. For more information, call (617) 723-8863.
6. Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This narrow street in downtown Philadelphia looks almost the way it did 250 years ago. People who lived there were merchants and tradesmen of modest incomes. Their small houses were connected side by side in rows with a narrow alleyway between to provide for foot traffic and horse-drawn carts. Many of the alley’s 33 houses were built prior to the American Revolution, but they’re wonderfully preserved. For more information, call (215) 574-0560 or visit www.elfrethsalley.org.
7. Octagon House, Washington, D.C.
Octagon House, built in 1800 by Colonel John Tayloe, has provided hospitality to at least two U.S. presidents and many prominent men of the day. It is said that George Washington advised Tayloe to build the house in Washington. When the British burned the White House during the War of 1812, it was put to use as a substitute executive mansion for President James Madison. The shape of the house does not befit its name. It takes a stretch of the imagination to claim the three-story house is an octagon when, in fact, it is a combination of a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle. For more information, call (202) 638-3221.
8. Phoenix Shot Tower, Baltimore, Maryland
In the 19th century, you couldn’t shoot a pistol or cannon without first loading it with “shot” — “drop shot” for pistols and rifles. Drop shot was made just as its name implies — molten lead was dropped from the top of the “shot tower,” passed through a sieve, and caught in a tub of water at the bottom. Lead droplets, like raindrops, form into perfect spheres as they fall. The Phoenix Shot Tower stands more than 234 feet tall and was the tallest structure in the United States until the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., was completed following the Civil War. The shot tower is undergoing renovation and is scheduled to reopen later this year. For more information, call (410) 752-1624.
9. Boston Common and Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Boston’s Common and Public Garden provide 75 acres of green space between Beacon Hill and downtown. Boston Common offers an uninterrupted view of greenery, city buildings, and people. The Public Garden is famous for its swan boats, inviting walks, and lovely bridge views. For more information, call (617) 426-3115.
10. Harrisville Historic District, Harrisville, New Hampshire
Harrisville still looks much as it did in the first half of the 1800s as an industrial woolen mill community. Now it’s a historic district with remnants of boardinghouses and single-family homes built to rent to factory workers. The site offers restored brick factory buildings, a scenic village center, and lakes for boating. For more information, call (603) 827-3722.
11. Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester, New York
Susan B. Anthony fought hard against slavery in the years before the Civil War, but today she’s best known for her struggle for women’s rights. Around 1854 she began rousing women on the issue of voting rights. Not all states protected a women’s right to vote, to say nothing of controlling her own earnings, or gaining custody of children after a divorce. For most of her life, Susan B. Anthony did her writing and organizing in this red brick house, but she didn’t live to see the fruits of her labor. Fourteen years after her death, women’s suffrage was guaranteed in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. For more information, call (716) 235-6124 or visit www.susanbanthonyhouse.org.
12. Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan-Brooklyn, New York
When completed in 1883 after 14 years of construction, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world. Stainless-steel cables were used there for the first time — supported by massive stone pylons 350 feet high. The bridge still carries thousands of trucks and cars to and from Manhattan every day — proof of the engineering skill available at the time. Leave your motorhome outside of town, and enjoy crossing the bridge by foot on a special walkway.
13. Lucy the Elephant, Margate, New Jersey
Lucy is what used to be called an architectural “folly.” It preserves a bit of the Victorian Era, when craftsmen hand-fashioned ornate buildings. The structure is as tall as a six-story building, incorporating nearly a million pieces of timber and 200 kegs of nails. Lucy was constructed by a real-estate promoter back in the 1880s who used it as an attention-getting way to sell property. Visitors were invited to check out the elephant’s innards and, of course, see the property. Afterward, Lucy served as a tourist attraction for nearly 80 years. She was moved to her current location in 1970, restored, and reopened to visitors. For more information, call (609) 823-6473.