From the pilgrims landing in Plymouth to the signing of Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, the United States’ origin story is centered in the Northeast. The region, therefore, is innately historical and thus naturally filled with locations teeming with historical significance.
But the area’s historical pedigree goes far beyond the political realm. Some of the country’s most brilliant and creative minds, including inventors, artists and authors, lived and worked in the Northeast.
With such a storied past, there may be no better place to travel through if you’re on the lookout for historical sites than the Northeast. Here are just a few of the locations that should be on your list.
Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.
Old State House and Old South Meeting House
The entire city of Boston is one big historical site, so formulating a list of notable locations can be a task. But few buildings in the city hold as much historical significance as the Old State House. Throughout the 1770s, this building was home to a merchants’ exchange, the seat of colonial and later state government, and the highest court of the Massachusetts colony.
The Old State House is most famous, however, as being the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre. This event would go on to be known as the first bloodshed of the American Revolution. The building is now a museum and Boston National Historical Park.
Just down the street from the Old State House sits the Old South Meeting House. This historical site, the largest building in colonial Boston, served as a church as well as the most notable meeting place in Revolutionary Boston. It was here where Boston citizens gathered for protests against the British.
Old North Church
Few events in America’s existence hold as much historical significance as Paul Revere’s midnight ride, a journey that culminated in two lanterns being lit in the Old North Church’s steeple. The lanterns were a signal that the British were traveling to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.
The Old North Church still stands in the same spot on Salem Street, making it Boston’s oldest surviving church. The building remains an active place of worship but is also open for tours.
In many ways, the history of America began when the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, making Plymouth Rock one of the most significant historic sites in the Northeast – and the country. Although there is no evidence that the particular rock was, in fact, the pilgrims’ steppingstone, several Mayflower passengers are said to claimed it so. In some ways, it’s a moot point, as Plymouth Rock serves more as a symbol than a marker.
The rock is part of Pilgrim Memorial State Park, which also includes the Mayflower II museum and attracts more than one million visitors each year.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The newest, and most somber, location on this list is lower Manhattan’s 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Through artifacts, personal stories, and interactive experiences encompassing 110,000 square feet of space, the museum gives visitors an unparalleled look at the events of both the attacks of 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, all at the site where the Twin Towers once stood.
Outside, the memorial remembers the 2,977 people killed on 9/11 and six in the 1993 bombing. All of their names are inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding the twin memorial pools, which feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.
The Susan B. Anthony Museum & House
Susan B. Anthony, mother of the country’s modern women’s rights movement, did much of her work in her red brick house in Rochester, N.Y. The home was the site of her famous arrest for voting in 1872, the National American Woman Suffrage Association headquarters, and where Anthony passed away in 1906.
The Susan B. Anthony Museum & House houses artifacts of her life and work, which included the pursuit of suffrage, abolition, and education and labor reform.
No list of the country’s top historical sites is complete without a spot remembering presidents past. Located on the north shore of Long Island, Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt’s summer house. It’s most notable for being a site where Roosevelt hosted luminaries from around the world while serving as president in the early 1900s. The National Historic Site contains parts of Roosevelt’s extensive art collection, many personal items, as well as letters and other artifacts.
Mark Twain House & Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
The Northeast has more than its fair share of literature-themed historical sites. Sleepy Hollow and Walden Pond come to mind. But in Hartford, Conn., you get two for the price of one. Mark Twain, the famous Missourian, lived in the Connecticut city for several years, during which time he penned classics like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Amazingly, just around the corner lived Harriet Beach Stowe, author of arguably the most famous American novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Thomas Edison National Historical Park
The home and laboratory of the country’s most famed inventor, Thomas Edison, sits in our own backyard. Now a museum and National Historical Park, the complex is open to visitors. A visit to the site, located West Orange, N.J., just 30 minutes outside New York City, allows guests to stand in the same place where Edison devised inventions that would forever alter our lives.
The museum’s collection is estimated to include more than 300,000 items, making it the third-largest museum collection in the National Park Service. Some of these artifacts include electrical lighting equipment, phonographs, family photos and decorative art.
The Newport Mansions
Take a trip back in time to the extravagant gilded age with a trip to the mansions of Newport, R.I. These homes, built in the late 1800s, served as summer “cottages” to the wealthiest families in the country.
The grandest of them all is The Breakers, first owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. In 1893, he hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa. Hunt commissioned an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create the 70-room Italian Renaissance-style mansion. In 1972, the Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the home from the Vanderbilt heirs. Along with the other mansions, the Breakers now serves as a historical and architectural, allowing guests to see first-hand how well the other half lived a century ago.
Need a ride as you tour the historic sites in the Northeast? AAA members can save up to 20% on Hertz rentals. And up to four additional drivers (who are AAA members) can drive for free, so everyone can take in the scenery.