"Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far." --Thomas Jefferson
WALKS THROUGH BOSTON, COLONIAL
WILLIAMSBURG, AND PHILADELPHIA
I think the best way to find history is to walk right through it. I've found that pounding the pavement somehow makes history come alive, as if you were following in the footsteps of those who came before you. Places like Boston, Colonial Williamsburg, and Philadelphia offer many such strolls through history.
You just need a good pair of shoes and a little historical background to enjoy a soleful view of these three meccas of American history. There's lots to do on foot, but only if you know where to look (and walk).
Beantown is best by way of walking. Town officials have made it easy with the Freedom Trail, a legendary three-mile walking tour passing 16 historic sites from the Colonial and Revolutionary period. If it sounds like a boring history lesson, just lace up your shoes and follow the bright red line conveniently painted on the street.
I'm not one to follow the tourist hordes. But most popular tourist sites are popular for good reason. There's something to see. So I often head to where the hordes head, but I try to do it early in the morning or later in the day, when it's often less crowded.
The National Park Service, one of our government's true success stories, provides an information center for the Freedom Trail at 15 State Street. Just pick up a map and look for the red line.
The Freedom Trail begins at the Boston Commons, a former pasture and military training ground. It now serves as the oldest public park in the country and a great place to get your bearings and plan a walk. The State House, with it's landmark gold dome, and Park Street Church, where "America" was first performed, both sit on the Boston Commons.
Cemetery- and history-buffs will enjoy strolling through the Granary Burying Ground next to Park Street Church. It's easy to find the graves of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as those of Benjamin Franklin's parents, Peter Faneuil, and Paul Revere (you can almost hear him yelling "the British are coming").
As a lover of books, I'm always happy to reach the Old Corner Bookstore on my Freedom Walk forays. This location was a thriving literary center in the mid-1800s and served as the publishing company for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and meeting hall for more than 240 years and it is in a perfect position for walkers to do some marketing and meeting along the Freedom Trail. This is a great place to take a break from history with some food and fun.
I love the Faneuil Hall hubbub. This busy hall led the resurgence of urban marketplaces in the U.S. There are more than 100 shops and 20 unique eateries. My favorite food stops include the Boston Beanery for Durgin Park (great Boston fare), the Boston & Main Fish Company (lobster heaven), and the Coffee Connection. Super shopping stops include the Bill Rogers Running Center (the running legend's own shop), the Yankee Candle Company, a "Cheers" show shop, and many Boston-oriented stores.
I usually leave Faneuil Hall with a full stomach and a need to walk off the calories. The long red line leads to Old North Church, of "one if by land, two if by sea" fame. The church featured the signal to start the American Revolution, as the British headed toward Concord by sea (and two lighted lanterns in the church's steeple).
The U.S.S. Constitution and Museum is hard to miss. "Old Ironsides" was undefeated in 44 major encounters during the War of 1812. Up the hill, the Bunker Hill Monument marks the spot of the first battle in the American Revolution with a 220-foot obelisk monument overlooking the city center.
Bunker Hill also marks the end of the Freedom Trail. By this time, I'm usually ready to try one of my favorite Boston restaurants for justifiably famous fare, a ballgame at Fenway Park, or head back to my lodging of choice.
For lodging in keeping with the flavor of Boston, contact the Bed & Breakfast Agency of Boston at (617) 720-3540 or (800) CITY BNB. A few favorites for dining include: Little Italy; Chinatown; and Ye Olde Union Oyster House (617) 227-2750; the "Cheers" setting inspiration, Bull & Finch Pub (617) 227-9600; and any Legal Sea Foods location (617) 783-8084.
Though many may view Colonial Williamsburg as an historic amusement park, I find much more substance. This is literally living history at its very best and you can walk right through it. You'll finish your stroll knowing much more about Colonial times and having loved the learning.
Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia until it was moved to Richmond during the Revolutionary War. It had lost most of it luster before 1926, when John D. Rockefeller provided big bucks for the restoration and establishment of Colonial Williamsburg. It's now a thriving tourist center.
Walking the streets and exploring the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg provides a tasteful step back in time. The Historic Area is typically alive with period actors performing their daily life routines as they did more than 200 years ago. There are cobblers, blacksmiths, candlemakers, farmers, gardeners, and all sorts of shopkeepers.
When I'm ready for a stroll into history, I make sure to get a current copy of "Visitor's Companion." Along with a detailed map, visit recommendations, walking highlights, there are many special events and activities reviewed. The guide makes each walk in Colonial Williamsburg completely different. The Visitor Center film, "Williamsburg--The Story of a Patriot," provides a great introduction and often serves as a warm-up for my walks.
Colonial Williamsburg is best seen through random rambling. Let your eyes, ears, and nose be your guide to historic buildings, sites, museums, trade sites, dining, and shopping.
To see Colonial-style governing and living at its restored best, head for the Governor's Palace, the Capitol, the George Wythe House, the Peyton Randolph House, and Raleigh Tavern. If you need further recommendations, just ask one of the period actors.
Colonial trade is also a restoring experience. My favorites include the hardworking blacksmith, the printing office, the shoemaker, the silversmith, and the hair-raising wigmaker.
All of this walking usually leads to a Colonial-size thirst and hunger. I typically head for one of four period dining options: informal Chowning's Tavern, Christiana Campbell's Tavern (a favorite of George Washington), King's Arms Tavern (try the Virginia peanut soup), or Shields Tavern (I always get the Shields Sampler--a taste of 1700s food).
Besides the Historic Area, I love to walk around Merchants Square. This modern shopping district feature some 30 specialized shops. My favorite is the large Rizzoli Bookstore, but there are many other choices for shopping 'til you drop. The Trellis Restaurant and Cafe on Merchants Square is one of the state's best dining options, with the contemporary American fare of Marcel Desaulnier.
When it's time for bed, I head for lodging in keeping with Colonial times. Call Colonial Williamsburg Official Hotels at (800) HISTORY to spend the night at the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg Woodlands, or the Governor's Inn. Through Bensonhouse of Williamsburg at (804) 353-6900, there are also many B&Bs within an easy walk of the Historic Area.
Jefferson-mania hit historic cities and sites in 1993, as America celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson. Born on April 13, 1743, Jefferson went on to write the Declaration of Independence, serve as Secretary of State under George Washington, and ultimately the third president of the U.S. With Thomas Jefferson as a guide, Philadelphia tourism officials have prepared an excellent walking tour of this historic town, as well as many other events.
The city spruced up for the Bicentennial in 1976 and visitors still flock to town, even though W.C. Fields said, "I went to Philadelphia and it was closed." The historic sites are definitely open and so are the arms of the friendly people in this "city of brotherly love."
Philadelphia was America's first urban center and thus provides lots of history, ethnic diversity, and culture in a small space (you can walk "the most historic square mile in America"). The place to begin any exploration is the Visitor Center at Independence National Historical Park, where they provide maps, tours, and many interesting programs.
Offering much more than a cracked bell, the Jefferson walking tour celebrates places of importance to him and the birth of the U.S. Independence Hall hosted the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the drafting and signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Next door, Congress Hall hosted the meetings of the U.S. Congress, when Philadelphia was the nation's capital between 1790 and 1800.
You can make your way past the Liberty Bell to Declaration House, where Jefferson moved to escape the hectic pace of city life in 1776. It was here that he wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
One of my favorite stops along the walk is the City Tavern, a reconstruction of the famous colonial tavern where Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin spent hours discussing matters of state, business, and probably pleasure. I've always felt matters were best discussed over a cold beer.
Along with a Jefferson-guided walking tour, there are many other Jefferson-related events in 1993. American Trolley Tours, (215) 333-0320, features daily trolley rides focusing on Jefferson's Philadelphia. For an historic drink, head to Dock Street Brewing Company, (215) 496-0413, for beer brewed according to Jefferson's recipe.
Jefferson would have liked Philadelphia today. There is still strong ethnic diversity and the distinctive neighborhoods are also great for exploration.
To sleep as Jefferson would have slept, contact the Philadelphia Bed & Breakfast Service at (215) 634-4444 or Bed and Breakfast, City Center at (215) 735-1137. Philadelphia features great local food, including authentic hoagies, cheesesteaks, and Philly soft pretzel. Try the Italian market, the Reading Terminal Market, Jim's Steaks (215) 928-1911, or Lee's Hoagies (215) 925-6667. Any of these places provide fulfilling fare for the end of a walk.
From head to toe, there's little better for the mind and body than historic walking tours. It's a soleful way to take a walk back in time.