By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
In our own times, it can be tough to make a living. But imagine building a railroad without heavy equipment. Mining wouldn’t have been a picnic either. In really hard times, such as the Great Depression, the government stepped in to create jobs for the unemployed masses. And private organizations often have helped share the load.
A number of national historic parks and sites help us to reconstruct, at least in our imaginations, what the working world was like in the age of our parents, our grandparents, and even before that. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, Gallitzin, Pennsylvania
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was the first to cross the Allegheny Mountains, which led to the rail’s name. And even though it operated for just two decades, from 1834 to 1854, it was a technological wonder at the time. It also played a critical role in opening the nation’s interior to both settlement and trade. Today’s park covers 1,249 acres of southwestern Pennsylvania. At the main unit, located approximately 12 miles west of Altoona, you’ll find the Summit Level Visitor Center, the historic Lemon House, the Engine House #6 Exhibit Shelter, the Skew Arch Bridge, plus a picnic area and hiking trails. The Staple Bend Tunnel unit is located approximately 4 miles east of Johnstown.
2. Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Maryland
Up until the 1930s, this land was used for making charcoal to feed iron furnaces, farming, and harvesting trees for timber. During the Great Depression, the land was purchased by the government and used by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps to get people back to work with building projects. The park’s original purpose was to provide recreational camps for federal employees, and later one of the camps became Camp David, home of the Presidential retreat. Obviously, the latter is neither open nor accessible to the public, but the forests of Catoctin have other attractions that include camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, and scenic mountain vistas.
3. Clara Barton National Historic Site, Glen Echo, Maryland
In the words of Stephen E. Barton, nephew of Clara Barton, “[The] first view of the home was the fluttering of the United States flag from the tall flagpole above the house, and next, the Red Cross flag floating in the breeze … ” Clara Barton’s home, Glen Echo, was both headquarters and warehouse for the American Red Cross during the final 15 years of her life. From there she organized Red Cross relief efforts for victims of natural disasters and war.
4. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, Dayton, Ohio
Three Dayton men “” brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar “” made significant contributions to the country’s history as well as its culture.
In 1903 the Wright brothers, self-trained in the science of aviation, built “the world’s first power-driven, heavier-than-air machine capable of free, controlled, and sustained flight.” During the next two years they perfected their invention in their hometown to earn their reputation as the fathers of modern flight.
Paul Dunbar, an African-American, wasn’t into aviation; he was a first-class writer, reaching prominence in a world where most published authors were white. The man was both prolific and gifted. His published work includes novels, plays, short stories, lyrics, and more than 400 poems. By reflecting the African-American experience in his writing, he roused readers’ social consciousness and an increased cultural identity for African-Americans. The site includes the Wright Cycle Company building, the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, the Aviation Trail Visitor Center, and much more.
5. Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, New Jersey
Although this historic site is closed for major rehabilitation, it will reopen in 2006. How could we write about industry and leave out the best-known American inventor? Edison’s laboratory and home remind us all of the impact he made in people’s lives. Yes, he invented the light bulb, but he also was responsible for the motion picture camera, vastly improved phonographs, sound recordings, and much more. Edison National Historic Site is in its second year of restoration and renovation, but site officials say that the results will be worth waiting for.
6. Essex National Heritage Area, Essex County, Massachusetts
This Heritage Area begins 10 miles north of Boston and continues 40 miles along the Atlantic coastline and the Merrimack River shore. White, sandy beaches and 400 years of New England history and culture abound in this 550-square-mile region. You’ll find historic seaports, clapboard buildings, art and cultural museums, antique farms, boat-building shops, early industrial mill complexes, and wildlife refuges. The area follows three themes of New England’s history: Colonial settlement, maritime commerce and sailing, and the early Industrial Revolution. And that’s not all. You can visit two national parks and hundreds of historic structures and museums.
7. Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Elverson, Pennsylvania
This is a fine example of a rural American 19th-century iron plantation. Hopewell was founded in 1771 and operated until 1883. Located in an area most known for its cultural resources, Hopewell consists of 14 restored structures in a historic area on 848 mostly wooded acres surrounded by French Creek State Park.
8. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Ganado, Arizona
Here you’ll see industry on a far smaller scale than those above, but that doesn’t lessen its impact as the oldest continuously operating trading post of the Navajo Nation. John Lorenzo Hubbell purchased the trading post in 1878, 10 years after Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland from their government-compelled exile to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. While in New Mexico, the Navajos were exposed to trade items, and Hubbell was happy to supply them when they returned home. The Hubbell family operated the trading post until 1967, when the National Park Service took over. It’s still active today, so step back in time and experience the 160-acre homestead, trading post, family home, and visitors center, the latter featuring weaving demonstrations.
9. Klondike Gold Rush-Seattle Unit National Historical Park, Seattle, Washington
When news of a gold strike in the Canadian Yukon reached the United States in 1897, it launched a stampede west. Between 1897 and 1898, tens of thousands of people from across the United States (and around the world) descended upon Seattle’s commercial district, where the hopeful miners purchased millions of dollars worth of food, clothing, equipment, pack animals, and steamship tickets. The miners may or may not have struck it rich, but the stampede certainly helped shape the Seattle of today.
10. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Philip, South Dakota
“Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.” These words were spoken by President Dwight Eisenhower during the 1961 opening of the missile site. Now a historical site, it reminds us of the history of the Cold War, the arms race, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. You’ll see two Cold War sites, a launch control facility, and a missile silo complex.
11. New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, New Bedford, Massachusetts
This area was the world’s pre-eminent whaling port in the 19th century, and a variety of cultural landscapes, historic buildings, museum collections, and archives remain. The park spreads over 13 city blocks and includes a visitors center, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Seamen’s Bethel (church), the schooner Ernestina, and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum.
12. Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, Pennsylvania
At this site you can feel the heat from the firebox, hear the bell and whistle, smell the hot steam and oil, and feel the ground vibrate under your feet. The site includes a huffing, puffing Turntable Demonstration, plus numerous train rides, the Locomotive Shop Tour, two museums, a theater, and a living history program. Programs and ride-times are approximately 20 to 40 minutes each.
13. Saugus Iron Works, Saugus, Massachusetts
Here lies the site of the first major ironworks in North America, active from 1646 to 1668. Visitors see the reconstructed blast furnace, forge, and rolling mill, plus a restored 17th-century house. The ironworks emphasizes the role iron-making played in 17th-century settlement. Visitors tour an open-air museum with working waterwheels made using appropriate engineering and design methods, iron-making technology, and operations “” all part of life and work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.